Jan. 2, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
TAMPA, Fla. - The thrill rides ridden by the Michigan State Spartans last week at Busch Gardens had nothing on the Outback Bowl they played in at Raymond James Stadium on Monday.
The Spartans fell behind Georgia, 2-0, on their first offensive play from scrimmage, trailed 16-0 at halftime, had their first possession in overtime end on an interception, held the Bulldogs scoreless on their first possession, and blocked a field goal in the third overtime period to win, 33-30.
And that's the heavily abridged version of what happened in MSU's first bowl victory since defeating Fresno State in the 2001 Silicon Valley Football Classic, which no longer exists.
"I can say it was the most fun I've had in a game this year," said defensive end William Gholston. "The ups and downs were just crazy and got me so amped, so geeked. I'm just ecstatic right now."
Gholston was one of three Spartans with a team-high seven tackles, and he had two of MSU's four sacks.
His last, on which he dropped Bulldogs' quarterback Aaron Murray for a 4-yard loss, was the biggest of his career. Instead of Georgia keeping the drive alive by passing for a first down, or at least getting into better field-goal position, kicker Blair Walsh was even farther away from the goal post.
On the next play, Gholston's linemate, Anthony Rashad White, blocked Walsh's 47-yard try to seal the win.
"I was trying to strip the ball out of (Murray's) hand because he ran out of one my sacks earlier in the game," Gholston said. "But, it helped out for the field-goal block, so I think I played a part in it."
Add another call to the growing list of memorable plays under head coach Mark Dantonio that will forever be known by their catchy names.
Last season, the Spartans beat Notre Dame in overtime with the "Little Giants" fake field goal and defeated Northwestern with the help of a fake punt called "Mousetrap."
Earlier this season, MSU whipped Wisconsin on the final play with a Hail Mary called "Rocket."
They beat Georgia with a field-goal-block appropriately called "Monster," with 6-foot-3, 310-pound defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and the 6-2, 316-poundWhite running amok up the middle.
"We got the call from coach," White said. "Jerel got a good surge off the ball. I followed right behind him, jumped as high as I could and blocked it."
Gohlston has been smiling ever since.
"I'm really happy for my whole team," Gholston said. "The seniors get to leave with a bowl win, the first under Coach D (Dantonio) and as the most-winning senior class.
"I'm a part of a history-making team. You just can't quit. You have 60 minutes to play this great game of football, and we had a chance to play a couple extra minutes, but you just can't give up."
NOTES & QUOTES: Dantonio said that while MSU appeared to be stonewalled in the first half, it never stopped pushing back even when down 16-0. And when Le'Veon Bell's touchdown and Brian Linthicum's two-point conversion catch made it a one-possession game, things started to loosen up.
"We just got that big ball of momentum to move just a little bit," Dantonio said. "And once we got it rolling, regardless of what happened, they couldn't get it back. We kept it. When you have momentum, good things can happen."
Georgia's two-way star Brandon Boykin was name Outback Bowl MVP, based on a media vote turned in early in the fourth quarter, because he scored on a game-record 92-yard punt return, on a safety and a 13-yard pass play.
However, MSU kicker Dan Conroy respectfully disagreed with the selection.
On both of Conroy's field goals, a 35-yarder in the second overtime and the game-winner from 28, holder Brad Sonntag successfully managed tough pass-backs by back-up long snapper Steve Moore, who was pressed into duty because of Matt Giampapa's suspension for violating team rules.
"He did an absolutely phenomenal job," Conroy said. "Sontag's the MVP in my opinion. We had a new snapper, and he's thrown in the fire, and Brad did a great job of getting the ball up so I was able to hit it.
"It was extremely tough (for Moore). You're making your first appearance against an SEC division champion - that's unreal. Congratulations to him. We're a team from snap to hold to kick, so I'm proud of him."
Did Conroy feel pressure on the final kick.
"I did but I didn't," he said. "I really felt like someone was lifting a weight off my shoulders. I prayed before every kick when I went out there, and my body was almost numb. It was just different."
It's as close as an offensive lineman can get to feeling like he scored a touchdown.
"That's what you live for as an offensive lineman," Foreman said. "I just put my head down and ran into anyone I could find. I don't know if we have stats for assists, but it's a sense of pride that goes into it - you want your number called when the game's on the line."
Spartan sophomore cornerback and Georgia native Darqueze Dennard entered the game with one interception for the season and ended it with a total of three thanks to a pair against the Bulldogs.
His 38-yard pick-6 in the third quarter cut the Bulldogs' lead to 16-14, and afterward he felt vindicated for not being recruited by Georgia.
What did Georgia miss out on by not signing him?
"A win, a couple interceptions," Dennard said with a chuckle. "I feel like they missed out on a player, but everything happens for a reason. I ended up at Michigan State, and I love it there."
In beating Georgia for the first time in three meetings, MSU ended a three-game losing streak to the SEC that started after a 37-34 victory over Florida in the 2000 Florida Citrus Bowl.
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who was a Spartan assistant from 1996-98, as Dantonio was under former head coach Nick Saban from '95-99, acknowledged that teams measure themselves against SEC opponents.
"I think Mark does a great job, they're well-coached, they're disciplined, they play the game the right way," said Grantham. "They don't beat themselves and they find themselves in the fourth quarter able to win a game like that, and that's what they did.
"I think we're a team on the rise in the SEC. I think we improved, but if we want to get to where we want to go, we have to say why didn't we win the SEC Championship Game, why didn't we win the bowl game? You're margin for error goes down when you're your opponent's ability goes up."
Grantham also said, "It's tough when you care about people as much as I care about Mark because if you win that one you're excited because you work for the other person, too. Games like that aren't always fun."
Georgia head coach Mark Richt flatly rejected the notion that the Bulldogs dominated MSU with speed in the first half.
"I didn't see a great speed difference," Richt told reporters afterward. "Maybe y'all saw it from where you were, but I thought both teams had good team speed. I thought both teams had what it takes. You can't play good defense unless you're fast. You can't play good offense like (the Spartans) do unless you've got speed. I don't think that was an issue."