Watching Jalen Watts-Jackson's 38-yard game-winning fumble return linger for just a brief moment when he was slowed down by Michigan's Wayne Lyons around the 15-yard-line, I was expecting the Spartans redshirt freshman safety to step out of bounds and save his team those few seconds it needed to attempt a game-winning field goal.
Could you imagine having all that chaos transpire and it leading to no points? That's how it might have ended if Michigan tight end Jake Butt would've gotten to Watts-Jackson right before he reached the goal line with the clock on the verge of expiring. There was also a point where Michigan State's Jermaine Edmondson clearly holds Lyons down the sideline, allowing Watts-Jackson to steamroll ahead, cutting back inside and accelerating for the final yards before Butt finally runs him down and tackles him into the end zone, giving the Spartans a 27-23 walk-off win.
A yellow flag would've probably commanded free meals in Ann Arbor for the rest of time, but instead, a play that's going to live forever becomes the defining moment of the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry the same way Auburn/Alabama has their missed field goal return and Cal/Stanford have their trampling of the band. Timeless.
Spartans can turn break into monster season
Because this was Jim Harbaugh's first one of these rivalry games as head coach, it was always going to be historic. The fact the Wolverines have been better than anticipated and carried an impressive three-game shutout streak into the festivities added spice. They were favored by 7.5 points on a night when a primetime stage assured the full attention of the college football world. What we all got to see appeared destined.
Punter Blake O'Neill fumbled, sure, but what he did after that miscue compounded the entire situation. Instead of scooping it up in the direction his momentum was taking him, he circled the ball on a weird u-turn and nearly came up with it cleanly. If he'd just cut his losses by diving on the football and downing it there, he would've at least forced Michigan State to drive a few yards to set up a field goal. Instead, five Spartans converged and O'Neill didn't see them. He ends up batting the ball in the air, unintentionally lateraling it into Watts-Jackson's waiting hands.
Head coach Mark Dantonio called it "letting the lion out of the cage," putting 11 players up at the line of scrimmage and hoping for the best. It was one huge helping of madness in a college football season that has already offered up its share.
The question that looms now is what Michigan State is going to do with this gift, besides rub it in rival Michigan's face every chance they get over the next 12 months. They'll host Indiana next week before a Halloween hiatus, enjoying a bye week to prepare for a final stretch comprised of road games at Nebraska and Ohio State in addition to home dates against Maryland and Penn State. Running the table and defeating the Big Ten West champ in the conference title game would certainly guarantee the Spartans a spot in the College Football playoff.
Dantonio's team lost to only Oregon and Ohio State last season, so falling just short is a sour taste they know all about and want to avoid, which may turn this reprieve into a weapon. Connor Cook has already failed. Passes to Aaron Burbridge, Josiah Price and Macgarrett Kings late in Saturday night's comeback bid often missed their mark only barely. Avoiding a loss in Ann Arbor could be a galvanizing force in Lincoln and Columbus if Michigan State responds the right way. They know they'll never be out of any game, enjoying a shared belief in one another that few other teams can boast. Ironically, the Buckeyes are in that priviledged minority, looking for a 20th consecutive win this weekend at Rutgers.
Maybe an undefeated Michigan State coming into Ohio Stadium would simply serve to ensure the defending champs don't come out sleep-walking like they have for most of the season, but it will at least guarantee that the Big Ten will get another bid into the national semis. All the Spartans have to do over the next month is clear a few hurdles and get to Nov. 21 unscathed, but they've already done the heavy lifting on a special season.
Ironically, Watts-Jackson underwent surgery on Sunday after dislocating and fracturing his hip upon being tackled from behind. That he couldn't celebrate his season-altering heroics because he was writhing in pain added a strange twist to an unforgettable story. We'll see what post-script Michigan State writes the rest of the way.
NCAA Football Week 7 recap snapshot
1. Michigan State 27 Michigan 23, 2. LSU 35 Florida 28, 3. Rutgers 55 Indiana 52
1. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: 25-243 4 TDs vs UCLA, 2. Seth Russell, Baylor: 20-33 380 yds 5 TD, 14-160 rushing yds, 1 TD vs. West Virginia, 3. Derrick Henry 32-236 yds 2 TD vs Texas A&M.
1. Whether you call it Anguish in Ann Arbor or side with Spartan miracle, it was worthy of all the hype it's gotten. 2. It looked like the play of the year until Saturday night, but Stanford's Francis Owusu will have to settle for a brilliant runner-up, catching a pass from Kevin Hogan behind the back of UCLA DB Jaleel Wadood. It might just be the catch of the year despite ranking second on the week. Hard to imagine anybody topping it. 3. LSU's Les Miles contributed a Mad Hatter Special by calling for a fake field goal that kicker Trent Domingue wound up taking into the end zone with 10:40 left in the fourth quarter, snapping a 28-28 tie against Florida. Domingue juggled the shovel pass for added drama but managed to secure it and race away from Gators corner Vernon Hargreaves.
Best coaching jobs:
1. Justin Fuente delivered the week's biggest upset, taking down Ole Miss at home. 2. With a 40-10 blowout of Northwestern, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz got his Hawkeyes past their most accomplished opponent remaining on their schedule. There are challenges ahead against Minnesota and at Indiana and Nebraska, but Iowa may run the table and set up a Big Ten Championship game between undefeated squads. 3. Nick Saban stared down a talented spread team in College Station and crushed it with his calling cards of defense and discipline. The Tide got three TDs on interception returns and a monster day from Henry in a 41-23 win over Texas A&M.
Worst coaching jobs:
1. Bryan Harsin saw his team lose control on the road, coming out and commiting seven first-half turnovers in Logan to fall behind Utah State 45-10 at the break. The Aggies forced three turnovers and scored 21 points in the last 1:25 of the half to shut the lights out. The Broncos may not lose again since this is a down year for the Mountain West, but the Aggies got themselves a great inside track. 2. Indiana's Kevin Wilson saw his Hoosiers shoot themselves in the foot with three consecutive fourth-quarter turnovers to help blow a 52-27 lead. 3. Kansas State's Bill Snyder always gets the most out of his kids, but they didn't show up as he got crushed by former pupil Bob Stoops. Oklahoma came into Manhattan and emerged with a 55-0 win, blanking K-State for the first time since 1996 and the first time at home since '91.
Close calls and bad beats:
That 55-0 Oklahoma win got over the posted total of 53 without the Wildcats help when Joe Mixon ran it in. At least the Sooners didn't let it linger, scoring their final points with about 10 minutes remaining.
Utah RB Devonta Booker scored on a 62-yard run with just 1:11 remaining to get the over in the Utes/Sun Devils game in. Booker took the game over as he has multiple times this season and has a chance to find himself a Heisman finalist with a big next few weeks.
Tulsa-ECU featured the cover changing hands twice in the final 1:24, The Pirates (-14) were rolling by a 23-0 count through three quarters, but surrendered the cover by giving up 10 quick fourth-quarter points. They took it back after having to go just four yards when the Golden Hurricane failed to convert on a 4th down inside their own 5-yard-line. QB Dane Evans then managed to hit Keyarris Garrett for a 47-yard score with just 30 seconds left and the Redford Jones PAT delivered Tulsa a 30-17 loss.
Auburn and Kentucky played a riveting game to open the week that came down to the final minutes for both the side and total. The Tigers closed as a two-point road favorite and the total landed at 56.5, so over bettors rejoiced when the 'Cats closed within 30-27 with only 4:06 left.
New Mexico State trailed Georgia Southern 56-14 as a 31-point underdog, but pulled off a 56-26 cover with a pair of late scores.
The cover that you're telling your friends about for weeks came thanks to Troy, which was getting 30/31 at Mississippi State and trailed 45-14 in a game where they were down 38-0 at the half. The Bulldogs clearly took their foot off the gas, but still had Troy beat until the Trojans sent out kicker Jed Solomon to make a 21-yard field goal with just 27 seconds to go, covering the spread and aggravating all chalk-eaters.
Michigan State DB Jalen Watts-Jackson (Hip, OFY), Baylor DL Andrew Billings (Ankle, week-to-week), Miami (FL) LB Raphael Kirby (Knee, OFY), Ole Miss C Robert Conyers (ACL, OFY), Kentucky DT Melvin Lewis (Fibula, out indefinitely), LSU TE Dillon Gordon (Achilles, OFY).
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA