Spartan Lore: Top Kirk Cousins Performances

With the 2012 college football season just weeks (weeks!) away, most of the discussion regarding the Michigan State Spartans revolves around Andrew Maxwell stepping into the starting quarterback spot for the departed Kirk Cousins. Maxwell, who’s spent several years being groomed for the starting job, is sure to get his share of press clippings this fall.

While everyone in East Lansing prepares for the passing of the quarterback torch, I for one am not quite ready to let go. In his time at MSU, Cousins had a lackluster career, only managing to become the all-time winningest quarterback in school history, the all-time leader in passing touchdowns, yards, completions, passing efficiency, total offense AND 200-yard passing games.

[caption id="attachment_530" align="alignright" width="192" caption="Still a little strange to see him not in green & white!"][/caption]

With numbers like that, it goes without saying that Cousins will have a significant place in Spartan history. Drafted by the Redskins back in April’s draft, Cousins will likely back up Heisman winner Robert Griffin III in Washington. But before we see him don the no. 12 during a Redskins preseason game, let’s take one more look back at some of the top moments of a tremendous career.

These rankings are not just Cousins’ best statistical games (though that’s certainly a factor), but rather the big-time performances when his team needed them most.

Without further ado:

5. At Purdue – 11/14/09

A game that was not only crucial to Cousins’ success but the success of the program as a whole (a common theme throughout his career), Michigan State’s dramatic victory over Purdue was arguably the most meaningful of the tumultuous 2009 season. While the win over Michigan earlier in the year was a significant step, this November showdown in West Lafayette secured a trip to the postseason while simultaneously combating the Spartans’ reputation for folding in November (“Same Old Spartans”).

Even in a season as up and down as 2009, which saw the Spartans stumble out of the gates to a 1-3 start, Dantonio, Cousins & crew pulled together and salvaged a bowl-eligible season. Looking more comfortable after the end of a long quarterback battle with Keith Nichol, Cousins helped the Spartans in a shootout, throwing for 208 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. While Keshawn Martin was rightfully the star of the game (making huge plays on special teams and in the ground game), it was Cousins’ touchdown passes that helped secure victory.

4. At Iowa – 11/12/11

A year after marching an undefeated Spartans’ squad into Kinnick Stadium and leaving with a disappointing 37-6 loss, Cousins and Co. returned to Iowa City to exact revenge on the Hawkeyes. And that’s exactly what they did.

Completing passes to seven different targets, the Spartans displayed a balanced, seemingly unstoppable attack in a terrific 37-21 win. Not only an important game in terms of the Legends division race, MSU’s win in Kinnick exorcised the demons of the year before. Cousins tossed for 260 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions, a stark departure from the three-interception performance in the teams’ previous meeting. Whereas the 2010 Spartans seemed to be overwhelmed by the Hawkeyes and their raucous atmosphere, the 2011 trip saw a team (and quarterback) in control and ready to win.

3. At Northwestern -10/23/10

In one of the gutsiest performances of his career, Cousins led the Spartans back from a 17-0 deficit to beat Northwestern 35-27. Better known as the “Mousetrap” game, for Aaron Bates’ wounded duck that somehow found Bennie Fowler to convert a fake punt late in the game, the Spartans’ trip to Evanston symbolized a step forward for the both the team and its quarterback.

The Spartans came out extremely flat, and the upstart Wildcats quickly jumped out to a three-score lead. Slowly but surely, the Spartans willed themselves back into the game, with the offense coming to life just as the defense started tightening up on Northwestern’s spead attack.

[caption id="attachment_531" align="aligncenter" width="248" caption="Cousins will haunt Pat Fitzgerald for years."][/caption]

Having trailed most of the game, Cousins threw a dart to the back of the endzone to B.J. Cunningham, who made an acrobatic grab to haul in the go-ahead score with two minutes left. Edwin Baker later ran in a touchdown to seal it, but the late-game heroics of Bates, Cunningham and Cousins showed just how far the Spartans had come. After years of watching teams struggle to handle adversity, the 2010 Spartans saw a 17-point deficit and simply went to work.

More than anything, the comeback showed that with Cousins (and other leaders like him), the Spartans were never out of a fight.

2. At Michigan – 10/9/10

Didn’t think it would take this long to get to a Michigan game, did you? Even though Cousins recorded three victories over the Wolverines, his lone start in Ann Arbor may have been his best performance. Whereas defense dominated the 2011 contest, the Spartan offense put on an absolute clinic versus the Wolverines in 2010. After a slow start, Michigan State dominated the second and third quarters to take control of the game (a Dantonio staple, by the way).

[caption id="attachment_540" align="aligncenter" width="220" caption="3-0 vs. Michigan. 'Nuff said. "][/caption]

While the Spartans displayed a very balanced attack (each of their top three tailbacks ran for a touchdown), Cousins was very sharp, often shredding the Wolverine defense for huge gains. Completing 18 of 25 passes (to EIGHT different receivers) for 284 yards and a touchdown, Cousins was dialed in from the start and ensured the Paul Bunyan Trophy would stay in East Lansing. Even in the unfriendly confines of The Big House against their archrivals, Cousins & Co. made an easy victory look like business as usual.

1. Wisconsin – 10/2/10 AND 10/22/12

Alright, fine. I cheated. I couldn’t pick just one. Both of the Spartans’ regular season matchups with the Badgers the last two years were absolute classics, and it’d be unfair to leave one off the list. Plus, how awful would the list have been with just one home game? Let’s start with 2010.

Coming off “Little Giants,” the fake-field goal overtime win over Notre Dame, the Spartans had their work cut out for them with a visit from undefeated Wisconsin. With Mark Dantonio recovering from a heart attack, Cousins’ leadership may have been as valuable as his efforts on the field.

Playing inspired football, the Spartans beat the Badgers 34-24, clinching the game on a one-yard, fourth down touchdown pass from Cousins to Cunningham. Even though he threw two interceptions, Cousins was exceptional, tossing for 269 yards and three touchdowns.

[caption id="attachment_535" align="aligncenter" width="275" caption="Feelin' the Spartan Stadium love."][/caption]

Still, it’s tough to top a Hail Mary. One year later, the Badgers again visited East Lansing, this time in a primetime bout on national television. While the ‘Flutie-esque’ ending will be replayed at every opportunity for the conceivable future, one play does not a football game make.

Cousins was terrific from start to finish, completing 22 of 31 passes for 290 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. His steadying presence helped the offense bounce back from an early fumble that lead to a 14-point deficit. His 44-yard heave to Keith Nichol may get all the glory, but the entire game was quintessential Cousins.

Honorable Mention:

Notre Dame in 2010 (Little Giants), Michigan in 2009 or 2011, Outback Bowl vs. Georgia 2012.

You often hear quarterbacks coming out of college get marginalized as ‘system QBs’ because the simplified offense they ran in college was the main reason for their success. Kirk Cousins is no system QB. Kirk Cousins is a program QB. Both on and off the field, Cousins handled his career with undeniable class, integrity and toughness, traits Mark Dantonio wants to characterize the entire football program. He leaves East Lansing not only as a winner, but as an inspiration to all those who follow him.

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