Move Over, John Elway: There’s A New ‘The Drive,’ Courtesy of Michigan State
Michigan State is the champion of the Big Ten and almost assuredly will be representing the conference it just conquered in the College Football Playoff.
And the Spartans got there with what will go down as one of the greatest championship drives in the history of football.
I would propose it is, in fact, the greatest.
When you hear the words "The Drive" you think of John Elway's clutch leadership of the Denver Broncos down the field for a tying touchdown against the Cleveland Browns in the 1987 AFC championship game. But from now on, "The Drive" should evoke images of Michigan State methodically moving down the field against Iowa on the backs of its dominant offensive line in the 2015 Big Ten title game.
Let's compare, shall we?
Elway's Broncos went 98 yards in 15 plays to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation (the Broncos went on to win the game in overtime).
On Saturday, MSU drove 82 yards in 22 plays, draining 9:04 off the clock to take a 3-point lead and leaving Iowa with just 27 seconds left.
The Spartans didn't just display mental toughness on their game-winning drive, they defined it.
Firstly, of MSU's 22 plays, it threw on just five of them. And only three of those were completions. And to that point, their leader and arguably all-time greatest quarterback was grounded during the drive.
Connor Cook was clearly not himself as the game wore on, as was evidenced by his inability to generate any kind of normal velocity on the ball. He appeared to still be feeling some discomfort from the shoulder injury he suffered three weeks ago, and that just makes what the Spartans accomplished and how they accomplished it even more impressive.
MSU had to overcome the reversal of a huge first down through the air in the middle of the drive.
The game's officiating crew ruled Aaron Burbridge left the field of play on his own before hauling in a catch that would have given State a fresh set of downs. The resulting illegal-touching call cost the Spartans a down and set up third-and-8.
How did they respond? By Cook going right back to Burbridge and the QB somehow threading the needle on a throw through tremendous defensive coverage from Iowa for another critical conversion, extending the drive.
Of the 22 plays on the drive, MSU handed the ball to a true freshman more than a dozen times.
LJ Scott had 14 carries during the final Spartans possession. He gained 40 yards, including the clinching 1-yard touchdown run when he twisted away and stretched the ball past the plane of the goal while being wrapped up by multiple Iowa defenders near the line of scrimmage.
Up until the final MSU drive, Scott had just eight carries for 30 yards on the night.
Obviously, a Big Ten championship and a likely trip to the College Football Playoff were on the line Saturday night. But think even more about the circumstances.
That game epitomized Big Ten football. Nothing came easy for either team. It was painful. It was punishing. Everything was an absolute grind.
And perhaps the most salient detail of all was the way Michigan State got it done. Earning every single inch, yard by yard, play by play. Overcoming setbacks. Conquering adversity.
It was a fitting encapsulation of what MSU has built and become under Mark Dantonio.