Oct. 28, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
Michigan State outside linebacker Taiwan Jones wasn't lacking for confidence before going up against Wisconsin's vaunted rushing attack.
However, he never envisioned the Spartans' defense, as daunting as it's been in its own right, holding the Badgers to 19 net rushing yards and running back Montee Ball to 46 yards on 22 carries and no touchdowns in Saturday's 16-13 overtime victory.
"Actually, I wouldn't have believed it if you would have told me we were going to do this ahead of time because I know Montee Ball is a great back and they've always had a good offensive line," said Jones, a chiseled 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore. "Going out and shutting them down like we did is just a tremendous feeling and gives us good momentum going into next week's game against Nebraska.
"I think we basically came out and out-physicaled Wisconsin. I'll remember for the rest of my life how we went in there and played and shut down a Heisman candidate."
With defensive end William Gholston leading the charge with 4.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, MSU had 12 tackles for loss including five quarterback sacks, or just one fewer than they had in the previous eight games combined.
Ball, who entered the game with 982 yards on 196 rushes for a 5.0 yards-per-carry average, managed just 2.1 yards against the Spartans. Ball, who remains five touchdowns away from breaking the NCAA career TD record, averaged three touchdowns in his previous 17 Big Ten games.
In two games against Michigan State last season, Ball rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown in the Badgers' last-second regular-season loss in Spartan Stadium and for 137 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries in their last-minute victory in the Big Ten Championship Game.
"Everybody knew they wanted to run the ball coming into the game, so we just bowed up," said Gholston. "We knew what they were going to do; we just had to stop it."
Wisconsin, which amassed 645 yards of total offense in a 38-14 victory over Purdue two weeks earlier, finished with a season-low 190 against MSU. Gholston said the Spartans' performance validated their claim to being the Big Ten's top defense (No. 1 against the rush and first overall) and one of the best in the nation despite the team's four losses.
"I believe so," Gholston said. "Everybody played to their full capacity. I hope this silences some of the critics. Some of those critics motivated me to play the way I played today. I played like I only had four games left and gave it everything I've got.
"There was no big difference in the way we played. We came out more enthused and the offense came out with the same enthusiasm, and everybody had the same belief. But we can't get over-zealous about this and look too far ahead. The only thing we can control is how we play against Nebraska next week."
A major turning point in the game came on the first play of the second half when Badger quarterback Joel Stave left the game with a shoulder injury after Gholston sacked him for a 3-yard loss.
The defense survived a critical sudden-change situation in the fourth quarter after Wisconsin recovered a Lawrence Thomas fumble at the MSU 18-yard line. With the help two penalties, the Spartans forced the Badgers into a fourth-and-13 situation that ended on a 39-yard field goal. Instead of possibly trailing 14-3, Michigan State was down only by seven points.
"When we gave up that first (7-yard) run, there was a sigh of relief when it was called back because of a (holding) penalty," Jones said. "From then on, we shut down their running game.
"We feed off each other and just played to the best of our ability."
Wisconsin managed just 25 yards of offense in the second half and four of their eight possessions in the final two quarters and overtime netted negative yardage. Gholston stopped Ball for a 1-yard loss on the Badgers' first play in OT and after two incomplete passes by backup Danny O'Brien they settled for a 43-yard field goal.
"Personally, I feel like our defense has been dominating," Gholston said. "When we played Michigan, they didn't score a touchdown. They kicked field goals. Wisconsin came at us real hard and they didn't give up on any snaps.
"We had to fight for every play we made. From a team aspect, this shows we have the capability to finish and be strong in all aspects of the game."