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September 19, 2010

"Little Giants"

That's the name of a play that, if you follow MSU or Notre Dame football, you probably won't ever forget.

    It's also the name of a movie about a youth football team. Aaron Bates thinks it's the only movie Mark Dantonio has ever seen, because "all our trick plays are named after 'Little Giants.'" Dantonio said that he has, in fact, seen other movies.

    And he just made one. If you've seen a gutsier call, a bigger play, a more dramatic reversal of a football game in a shorter period of time, please let me know who, when, where and how I can get a copy of the DVD.

    This couldn't be more fitting, of course, given the circumstances. This was MSU-Notre Dame but it was also Dantonio-Kelly, let's be real. Dantonio needed to win this game because you can't lose to Kelly's first team. Kelly needed to win this game because he was already taking some heat for the Michigan loss, and his fan base knows how to manufacture heat.

    Kelly almost lost this game with a fourth-down gamble in his own end in the fourth quarter. He almost won it with an offensive game plan that made short work of the Spartans for much of the evening. Dantonio almost lost this game with a late timeout call, followed by MSU going backward fast in its own end, followed by a Kirk Cousins penalty that stopped the clock -- followed by a Notre Dame block in the back that saved the Spartans and sent this game to overtime.

    Dantonio finally did win it with a play he said MSU installed Wednesday. He said the Spartans used it against every possible Notre Dame look, and it worked every time. He called it as soon as Cousins took that third-down sack, not wanting to ask Dan Conroy to make a 46-yarder in swirling winds.

    "I'd rather the pressure be on us," Dantonio said, "or me."

    And he delivered. And Bates -- a three-year starting varsity quarterback -- delivered with a perfect pass. And Conroy deked the Irish. And Charlie Gantt leaked out and finished a play that has to be awfully close to the top of the MSU dramatics heap.

    This is not the first time Dantonio has gambled big, you may recall. He had some big fake punts in wins over Purdue and Penn State in 2007. He's called some other trick plays in his time here, most of which have worked. The hook-and-lateral last year against Iowa had a similar feel.

    But this time, MSU got the victory, and that may be the mark of a special team -- if not an overpowering one. We learned tonight that MSU can run the ball. This team is going to be able to run it on most opponents.

    We learned that the Spartans are going to continue to struggle defending the pass -- although if you look at the schedule, there is not a passing attack remaining that can match Notre Dame's. You may recall South Bend Tribune writer Eric Hansen saying that when Theo Riddick comes on, this Irish offense will be really dangerous. Ten catches and 128 yards later, I think we can all see what he means.

    Most of all, we learned that Mark Dantonio isn't afraid to throw it all out there. And frankly, I think you have to respect that -- even if "Little Giants" would have gone the way of "Ishtar."

 

 

 

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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