Five plays that changed the game
Written by Matt Pargoff   

The Wolverines reclaimed the Paul Bunyan Trophy on Saturday, dropping rival Michigan State 12-10 on a late field goal by kicker Brendan Gibbons. While the final kick will certainly be one that fans remember for years to come, there were a number of key plays throughout the game that led up to that moment. We take a look at five such plays.

Reynolds Springs Toussaint – The two squads entered the second quarter of the scoreless game, with each team having reached midfield once before seeing strong potential drives stall out. The Wolverines once again made it past the 50 when running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, as well as walk-on wide receiver Joe Reynolds, made impactful plays.

Toussaint slipped through the first line of defense on the right side off blocks from Michael Schofield, Mike Kwiatkowski and Patrick Omameh. The key to the play’s success though was the redshirt junior Reynold’s play on the second level. Initially taking an angle to block a linebacker, he adjusted his course and cut the Spartan safety that was bearing down on the play. The block freed up Toussaint to take the ball 38 yards to the Michigan State six.

While the Wolverines could not finish the drive with a touchdown, the long play was critical in moving Michigan into field goal range. The short kick from Brendon Gibbons gave the Maize and Blue a 3-0 edge in the contest.

Wide Left – After Michigan took an early lead, the Spartans attempted to respond quickly. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell completed a long pass to Bennie Fowler for 45 yards, allowing the Spartans to enter Michigan territory. Michigan State ran six consecutive running plays after that, moving the ball to the 21 yard line, where the drive stalled out.

Spartans kicker Dan Conroy has been perfect on three attempts of over 50 yards this season, so one would expect the short 38 yard field goal to have been no problem. That has not been the story for Conroy on the season, however, as he entered the game three-of-five on field goal attempts in the 30-yard range. Sending the chip shot wide left, the Spartans remained scoreless in the first half. More significantly though, those three points could be looked back at as the difference in game, with Wolverines winning by just two.

Kovacs Provides a Spark – With Just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Michigan trailed 7-6 in the game with Michigan State. The Wolverines had picked up just 21 yards in three possessions in the second half, going three-and-out on the previous two attempts. With the Spartans once again creeping past midfield to challenge, senior safety Jordan Kovacs stepped up to change momentum in the game.

Maxwell’s attempted third down pass was overthrown, allowing Kovacs to pick off his first pass of the season. While the Wolverines would have gotten the ball back with any incompletion and punt, and while an illegal block diminished the impact of the return, the play changed the atmosphere in the stadium and seemed to spark the offense. After struggling for much of the half, the Maize and Blue marched to within three yards of the goal line, before settling for a field goal to reclaim the lead.

Trick or Treat – Following the field goal, the home crowd was buzzing and the Wolverines had all of the momentum. Michigan State started a drive at its own nine and the possession seemed to quickly fizzle out after moving just 14 yards. On a fourth down and nine, Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio made the sort of call that is considered “gutsy” if successful and “reckless” if a failure. Despite needing nine yards for the first down, and sitting deep in Michigan State territory, the head coach called for a fake.

Punter Mike Sadler kept the ball, running around the right edge and picking up 26 yards. Reclaiming momentum, the Spartans ran 11 more plays after the fake, driving all the way to the Michigan one yard line before the Wolverines could make a stop. A field goal gave Michigan State the lead, which they would continue to hold until just five seconds remained.

Denard to Dileo – After trading possessions, the Wolverines received one final chance to defeat their rival, taking possession at their own 38 yard line with precisely two minutes remaining. It was not exactly the way one would draw up a two-minute drills. Michigan picked up 12 yards on a Vincent Smith run to start the possession, but then it got very scrappy. Picking up 10 yards over the course of three plays before losing one on the next, the Maize and Blue burned their final timeout with just 18 seconds remaining, sitting far from field goal range at the Michigan State 41.

The Wolverines needed either a few quick shorter passes with the receivers getting out of bounds or one big chunk up the middle. They received the latter in the form of a 20 yard catch from junior receiver Drew Dileo. In previous years, Michigan State had great success pressuring Denard Robinson. On the key play of the game on Saturday though, the offensive line stepped up to give the signal caller all kinds of time. Robinson himself deserves credit as well for patiently waiting for the play to develop and for throwing a good accurate pass to his receiver.

Dileo finished the game with 92 yards receiving; his four catches contributing to three Michigan scoring drives. The final grab, of course, was the most significant. It put the Wolverines well within kicker Brendan Gibbons’ range, allowing the Wolverines to take the lead with just five seconds remaining.

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