If every Big Ten championship game is as good as the first one, the conference may have really stumbled upon something.
Russell Wilson and Montee Ball
Wisconsin made history Saturday night by winning the inaugural Big Ten championship game in dramatic fashion. The 15th-ranked Badgers took a wild 42-39 win over No. 11 Michigan State before 64,152 at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium to secure the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl berth for the second year in a row.
"It makes it twice as nice," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said as he lofted the championship trophy. "They came out today, they weren't going to be denied, and to do it here, first time ever -- Big Ten champs, twice!"
The Badgers (11-2) will have a date with No. 8 Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2. The Ducks (11-2) defeated UCLA 49-31 in the first-ever Pac-12 championship game Friday night. Wisconsin also avenged an Oct. 22 loss at Michigan State, where the Badgers fell 37-31 after a Hail Mary touchdown on the last play of the game.
The Spartans (10-3) will likely be sent to one of the Big Ten’s top two Jan. 2 Florida bowl tie-ins, either the Capital One Bowl or the OutbackBowl, to face an SEC opponent.
This was an offensive onslaught as the teams combined for 81 points, 39 first downs and 816 yards total offense. The teams took turns slugging it out. MSU battled back from a 21-7 first-quarter deficit to take a 29-21 halftime lead.
The Wisconsin defense forced a chip shot MSU field goal to make it 39-34 with 8-1/2 minutes left. The Badgers then drove for the game-winning touchdown – including an amazing fourth-down conversion with a 36-yard heave from Russell Wilson to Jeff Duckworth. Montee Ball’s fourth touchdown of the game and a two-point conversion pass by Wilson to Jacob Pedersen then gave UW its 42-39 lead with 3:45 left.
MSU was in position to get the ball back with about 1:30 left. But MSU’s Keshawn Martin had his 64-yard punt return to the Wisconsin 3-yard line negated by a running-into-the-punter penalty. Worse yet, the 5-yard penalty gave the Badgers a first down and allowed them to run out the remaining clock.
The unfulfilling ending does not negate the fact that this was an Instant Classic, which will be replayed on the Big Ten Network well past the end of time.
For Wisconsin, Ball had 137 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries and also caught a TD pass on a shovel pass. Ball also threw a 32-yard pass.
“All the accolades I get, I be sure to mention my offensive line because I wouldn’t be able to do anything without them,” Ball said.
Wisconsin’s Wilson was named as the Griffin Grange MVP of the game after going 17 of 24 passing for 187 yards and three touchdowns.
“To play in and win the very first Big Ten championship game ever, it’s an awesome feeling,” Wilson said. “To beat a great team like Michigan State and have a chance to go to the Rose Bowl, it’s pretty spectacular.”
UW receiver Jared Abbrederis accounted for 217 all-purpose yards, including three catches for 65 yards and a score and 152 yards on returns.
MSU QB Kirk Cousins was 22 of 30 passing for 281 yards and three touchdowns with an interception.
“This is very hard,” Cousins said. “We’ve come close two years in a row, but we fell short. It’s tough. It’s pretty frustrating.”
RB Le’Veon Bell had 18 carries for 106 yards with a touchdown. Edwin Baker added a TD run. MSU receiver B.J. Cunningham had five catches for 115 yards and three touchdowns. Martin had nine catches for 115 yards.
“The ball just didn’t bounce our way,” Cunningham said.
As It Happened
Wisconsin had the ball to start the game and moved 71 yards in eight plays to their first touchdown. Ball carried the ball six times for 43 yards on this drive, including a nifty 26-yarder. A key play was Wilson’s 22-yard post pass to Nick Toon down to the MSU 6. Finally on third-and-goal from the 3, Wilson hit Jeff Duckworth on a simple slant pass in front of MSU’s Chris Norman for the 3-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 10:04 left in the first quarter.
Michigan State’s Nick Hill returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to the MSU 41. The Spartans answered with a six-play, 59-yard touchdown march. Bell ripped off a 26-yard run and Cousins hit Keshawn Martin for 13 more and a first down at the Wisconsin 20. Finally on first-and-goal from the 8, Baker took a give out of the spread and went untouched around right end for the 8-yard touchdown that tied it at 7-7 with 6:44 left in the first quarter. On the play, receiver Keith Nichol and linemen Joel Foreman and Fou Fonoti sealed the edge and sprung Baker for the touchdown.
Wisconsin roared right back with a seven-play, 60-yard touchdown drive. The key play was a 32-yard pass back from Ball to Wilson down the left sideline to the MSU 9. Two plays later, Ball went up the middle for the 6-yard touchdown run that put UW ahead 14-7 with 3:44 left in the first quarter.
Disaster then struck MSU as Hill was hit by UW’s Conor O’Neill on the ensuing kickoff and fumbled. UW’s Jacob Pedersen recovered it at the MSU 24. The Badgers needed two plays to find the end zone. Ball went through a huge hole up the middle for 18 yards on first down. Then he went back up the middle again and bounced off several tacklers on his way to the 6-yard touchdown that staked the Badgers to a 21-7 lead with 3:12 left in the first quarter.
Michigan State needed an answer and that’s what happened as the Spartans went 80 yards in seven plays. Cousins found Martin for 17 and Baker then had an 11-yard run to get it started. Cousins then hit B.J. Cunningham for a 13-yard gain. The first quarter ended with MSU facing a fourth-and-1 at the Wisconsin 30. Dantonio opted to go for it. Cousins faked a toss left and rolled on a naked bootleg right. He had multiple options and chose the wide open Cunningham on the deep out route for the easy 30-yard touchdown that made it 21-14 with 14:55 left in the first half.
MSU then forced its first three-and-out of the game and took over on its own 43 after a punt. The Spartans moved 57 yards in six plays to their third touchdown. Cousins completed pass of 13 yards to Bell, 18 yards to Martin and 11 to Cunningham. Finally on first-and-goal at the 10, he threw quick right to Nichol. UW’s Aaron Henry hit Nichol at the 5. The receiver had the presence of mind to lateral it to Cunningham, who took it the last 5 yards for the touchdown.
“(The lateral) was not part of the play,” Cunningham said. “That was a bubble (screen) to Keith. I went to go get the guy off of him and he turned around and handed me the ball. I just tried to run it in. It wasn’t planned. Luckily, I was there to get the ball and take it in.”
MSU then got tricky on the conversion as holder Brad Sonntag pulled the ball up and rolled around right end for the two-point conversion that put the Spartans up 22-21 with 10:21 left in the first half. MSU forced two more three-and-outs – sandwiched around a Cousins interception to UW’s Shelton Johnson – before rolling for another long touchdown drive (eight plays, 84 yards).
Cousins connected with Martin on a perfect 28-yard lob on an out pass to get it started. He also hit Nichol for 17 more yards. Bell capped it with runs of 9 and 5 yards for the touchdown that put MSU up 29-21 with 3:26 left in the half.
The MSU defense forced another three-and-out, leaving the Badgers with minus-4 yards for the second quarter. The Spartans then drove down to the UW 34, but Dan Conroy’s 51-yard field goal on the last play of the half was wide right.
That capped a half that saw the teams combine for 50 points and 478 yards – 317 of them by MSU. In the half, Cousins was 15 of 17 for 181 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Ball had 16 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
Wisconsin forced an MSU three-and-out to start the second half and the moved 62 yards in eight plays to their fourth touchdown. The drive seemed stopped as UW faced third-and-17 at the MSU 42. Wilson was pressured and shrugged off a face mask by MSU’s Johnny Adams to dial up a 42-yard bomb down the left sideline to Jared Abbrederis.
“They brought a corner blitz and he came pretty much free,” Wilson said. “I just kind of made a move. He grabbed my face mask and may have broken my nose. I knew Abbrederis was running down the sideline. I had to get it to him and he made a big-time catch.”
Bielema eschewed the two-point conversion. Philip Welch’s PAT kick cut the MSU lead to 29-28 with 9:13 left in the third quarter.
MSU backed Wisconsin up to its own 1-yard line with a punt midway in the third. When the MSU defense then forced a punt, the Spartans took over at the Wisconsin 48. The Spartans needed three plays to find the end zone. On third-and-6 at the 44, Cousins hit Cunningham on a crossing pass in front of UW’s Antonio Fenelus. Cunningham picked up a block from Nichol and was gone down the sideline for the 44-yard touchdown that made it 36-28 with 1:41 left in the third quarter.
“I had a drag route,” Cunningham said. “I rubbed the tight end and got free. Keith had a great block downfield for me to get it into the end zone untouched. The credit goes to him.”
Wisconsin countered with a seven-play, 52-yard touchdown march. Wilson hit Pedersen for a 13-yard gain and Abbrederis for 12 more. A pass interference penalty on MSU’s Johnny Adams moved the ball to the 5. On second-and-goal at the 5, Wilson hit Ball with a shovel pass for the 5-yard touchdown that cut it to 36-34 with 13:25 left in the game.
Bielema went for two this time, but Wilson’s pass was batted down by MSU standout DT Jerel Worthy at the line and was incomplete.
Michigan State went for the knockout blow as Cunningham picked up 24 yards on a reverse down to the Wisconsin 13. But Cousins’ pass for Martin on third-and-5 at the 8 went off the receiver’s hands incomplete.
“It was a good play by the Mike linebacker,” Cousins said. “Keshawn beat him. He recovered quickly and made a play. It’s a game of inches.”
MSU kicker Dan Conroy hit a 26-yard field goal to make it 39-34 MSU with 8:28 left in the game.
Wisconsin mounted the drive of its season, going 64 yards in eight plays. The biggie was Wilson’s 36-yard heave to Jeff Duckworth on fourth-and-6 at the MSU 43.
“I went through my progressions and everybody was pretty much covered up,” Wilson said. “I thought I could run it, but they closed on me pretty quickly. I knew Duckworth was going to the back corner and I had to give the kid a shot. I trusted Duck and he came down with an amazing catch.”
That set up Ball’s 7-yard TD run on the next play, giving Wisconsin a 40-39 lead with 3:45 left.
Again, Wisconsin went for two. Wilson took a deep drop, stood in under pressure and found his tight end Pedersen in the middle of the end zone for the two points and a 42-39 lead.
MSU took over on its own 37 after the ensuing kickoff. Cousins and Martin appeared to convert a third down with 27-yard pass, but replay review overturned the call and MSU had to punt it away with 2:50 left.
The MSU defense held Wisconsin and forced a punt. But MSU’s Isaiah Lewis was flagged for running into punter Brad Nortman, negating a 64-yard return by Martin to the Wisconsin 3. Even worse, it gave Wisconsin a first down. The Badgers ran out the final 1:30 and won the game. It appeared that UW’s Beau Allen may have blocked Lewis into the punter.
"I don't know if he hit him," Dantonio said of the penalty. "You probably have seen all the replays, but he threw the flag. I thought he flopped a little bit."
* Lucas Oil Stadium appeared to be about 95 percent full. There were some empty seats in the upper deck in the north end zone and also in the expensive seats between the 40-yard lines on the lower level.
* Ball’s four touchdowns were his nation’s leading 35th, 36th, 37th and 38th of his season, leaving him one shy of Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season record of 39 touchdowns.
* Cousins’ touchdown passes were his 22nd, 23rd and 24th of the season, allowing him to break Drew Stanton’s MSU single-season record of 22.
* The loss negated a great performance by MSU linebacker Denicos Allen, who had nine tackles with three sacks and four tackles-for-loss.
* The Wisconsin victory gives the Badgers back-to-back Big Ten championships and back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances for the first time since 1998-99.
This is Wisconsin’s 13th Big Ten championship and the Badgers will make their eighth Rose Bowl appearance. UW is 3-4 all-time in the Rose Bowl. The Badgers lost last year’s Rose Bowl to TCU (21-19).
* This was the 51st all-time meeting between Michigan State and Wisconsin. MSU still owns a 29-22 edge. MSU had won the previous meeting, the dramatic 37-31 win in East Lansing on Oct. 22.
* Click here for the game box score.
We have a TON of great postgame videos.
Click here for video of Wisconsin’s postgame trophy celebration (we apologize that you can’t hear what’s being said because the acoustics on the field weren’t good) and singing the alma mater with the UW band. Great stuff here for Badger fans.
Plus we have postgame interviews with players on both sides. From MSU, we have Robinson, Cousins, Allen and Cunningham.
Here are postgame interviews for Wisconsin with Duckworth, Abbrederis, RT Josh Oglesby, Ball and Wilson.
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