By Jeff Ghiringhelli
The 2009 Michigan State Spartans football season came to an end on Saturday night, and one word can be used to sum it all up: Frustration. This frustration lasted from the second week of the season all the way to the Alamo Bowl against Texas Tech.
Before the season started, hopes were high for Spartan fans. The team went 9-3 in 2008, and landed a spot in the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day against Georgia. Granted, MSU lost the game, but they were competitive throughout and had plenty to build on going into this season.
Despite losing running back and team leader Javon Ringer, as well as quarterback Brian Hoyer to the NFL, the Spartans were projected to finish third in the Big Ten. This placement virtually guaranteed another New Year’s Day Bowl, so Spartan fans had plenty to be excited about.
However, after an expectedly easy start against Montana State, the season began to take some cruel turns. Everyone knew that Central Michigan would not be a cake walk in week two, but no one could have predicted the way the game would go. Not only did Central recover an onside kick with 30 seconds left, they connect on a game winning 42-yard field goal with 3 seconds left to seal the upset. This came after the kicker missed a 47-yard attempt, but were given another chance when the defense jumped offside. And so began the roller coaster ride.
The bad luck would continue next week in South Bend against Notre Dame. The game went back and forth all the way, but it was MSU’s game to win in the end. The Spartan offense was at the four yard line with less than a minute left. Worse case scenario, Brett Swenson would be called on to tie the game and send it into overtime. Then, Kirk Cousins made two massive mistakes. First, he missed a wide open Larry Caper in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Then, on the next play while under pressure, Cousins threw one up for grabs and it was picked off by the Irish. Two weeks, two very painful losses, and thousands of concerned fans.
The Spartans limped into Madison for their Big Ten opener against Wisconsin and were outplayed for the majority of the game. They lost 38-30, but the score was not indicative of how the game went. That meant three straight losses, and fading hope. The Spartans were in a free fall, but what is the best remedy for a losing streak? Playing your most hated rivals at home.
In the game of the year, MSU dominated Michigan for three and a half quarters before the Wolverines surged back to tie the game with just a few seconds left. Every Spartan football fan in the country was thinking one thing: This cannot happen again, can it? Then, Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier was intercepted on their first overtime possession. Three plays into MSU’s possession, Larry Caper offically introduced himself to the Spartan nation with a 23-yard game winning run. Spartan Stadium went bananas, and it appeared MSU was back. Finally, something went their way.
As hoped for, MSU went on a nice run after the Michigan win. They beat both Illinois and Northwestern 24-14, and all of a sudden were 3-1 in Big Ten play and right in the thick of the title race. A win against undefeated Iowa at home would tie the Spartans for first place, and with the game scheduled to be under the lights, there was an added excitement in the air.
A defensive struggle most of the game, the score was 9-7 Iowa late in the fourth quarter. Then, with less than two minutes left, Cousins found Blair White in the end zone for the go-ahead Spartan touchdown. Spartan Stadium was in danger of imploding and fans in danger of going deaf with all the commotion. One more defensive stop was needed. It was not granted. Iowa scored a game-winning touchdown as time expired, and took the Spartan’s season along with it. You could all of a sudden hear a pin drop in East Lansing when just a few minutes prior you would barely hear a fighter jet pass overhead.
Michigan State went 2-2 the rest of the season, finishing 6-6 and barely qualifying for a bowl. A far cry from the preseason rank given to them. Still, they had a chance to finish the season on a high note by beating Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl. But what would the bowl game be without controversy? A dorm fight on campus resulted in the suspension and dismissal of 14 team members, so MSU would be severely shorthanded for the game. Those that did play put up a good fight, but an emotionally-challenging season culminated in a 41-31 loss to the Red Raiders.
MSU will return a lot of key players next season, so the chance at redemption will be there. The preseason rank has a good chance to be around where it was last year, but the Spartans have to do a better job of backing it up. The hope is that the team learned from all of those tough losses last season and turns them into wins next season. We will find out starting September 4th against Western Michigan.