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October 02, 2010

The D is heard

Here you go, MSU and Michigan. Both unbeaten for the game for the first time since 1999, both ranked for the first time since 2003. So in a sense, the Spartans must have been happy to hear that the Wolverines escaped their shootout at Indiana with a win. Right?

    "I'm never glad that Michigan won," Joel Foreman said. "I can never say I'm glad."

    And here we go.

    First, let's examine what I believe is the most impressive win of Mark Dantonio's tenure -- even with Dantonio confined to his hospital room, calling and texting coaches in the box throughout the game, then joining in the fight song afterward via the speaker function on Don Treadwell's Blackberry -- and the most complete defensive effort at Michigan State since ... the 49-14 win over No. 4 Wisconsin in 2004? Maybe. The Badgers were supposed to hang 40 on the Spartans in that one, too.

    Let the record show:

    * Treadwell is making a name for himself as a head coaching candidate, and fast. He went for it three times on huge fourth downs, getting two with terrific play calls -- the Le'Veon Bell option pitch late in the first half and the play-action to Cunningham to seal the game -- and MSU was stuffed once.

    Pat Narduzzi said Dantonio was in constant contact with coaches in the box and was offering suggestions and approvals, but Treadwell made those calls. Consider his game management while coaching from a different perspective, the plays he has called in key situations and the fact that MSU's entire operation has been able to function well amid all the turmoil and, well, you have to be impressed. With Treadwell and with the rest of the staff and players.

    * The defensive effort is even more of a surprise considering MSU played without Colin Neely (hand) and Kevin Pickelman (shoulder), gave up 10 points directly off turnovers and still didn't get much pressure without blitzing. Greg Jones stepped up in a defining matchup for him, others such as Jon Misch and Jerel Worthy were key, but you have to give the defensive game ball to the secondary. They were on everything, all day, and those are good receivers. Scott Tolzien also was off the mark a few times for no apparent reason, but the defense deserves a large share of credit.

    * Back to Treadwell for a minute, how about the decision to go with Larry Caper on the clinching drive? He actually said RB coach Brad Salem suggested it, and it paid off big. Caper was fresh, and the 35-yard screen was one of the biggest plays of the day. I still say it's hard to keep three backs happy, but all three can go home satisfied with their contributions after this one.

    * Special teams needed to be a difference, and it was. How critical was the Wisconsin false start on the punt that didn't count to Keshawn Martin? That was a fair catch. Then came a liner, his 74-yard burst up the middle, and the emotional tide flipped back to MSU. Dan Conroy, meanwhile, is now 7 of 7. Remember, that position was one of the key reasons for caution before the season.

    * Third downs and penalties, two MSU problems coming into the game and two major MSU advantages in the game. They made up for a turnover deficit of 3-0. Kirk Cousins had a bad pick and another that was tipped, but I would think the talk that he's shaky in the clutch would cease now. The slant to Mark Dell on third-and-9 from the MSU 17 was a cool delivery at a sweaty-palm moment. And the touchdown to Cunningham was perfect, putting it in a spot where only Cunningham could get it. Cousins came up big, and MSU's defense had none of the Spartans' four penalties.

    * Milestones. MSU is 5-0 for the first time since 1999, a season that started 6-0 with a win over Michigan. Dantonio now has his highest-ranked victim at MSU and his second win over an AP top-25 team (U-M was No. 22 last season, although Penn State in 2007 and Northwestern in 2008 were ranked in the coaches polls at the time of those wins). Also, Cousins is now No. 10 on MSU's all-time passing list with 4,122 passing yards, and he's the 10th MSU quarterback in history to eclipse 4,000. Greg Jones now has 400 tackles, moving past Josh Thornhill (395) into fourth on MSU's all-time list.

    * Michigan? Oh, we'll have plenty of time for that in the next few days. I do think there's a real chance ESPN's GameDay goes to Ann Arbor, and I think there's a great chance we're going to see a lot of offense and points in that game. I have no idea if we're going to see Mark Dantonio, but I know the Spartans will be hearing him.

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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