Michigan State’s Top 5 Trick Plays
Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State teams are more than just hard-nosed. They can display impressive guile when opponents least expect it, as evidenced by our ranking of Michigan State’s Top 5 Trick Plays under him. The rankings, done in advance of MSU's showdown with No. 20 Notre Dame on Saturday, are based on the degree of difficulty and creativity.
Keith Nichol switched from wide receiver to quarterback in 2010. The Spartans are thankful he didn’t lose any of his QB headiness as a result.
Trailing Wisconsin, 21–14, in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game last December, Nichol caught a short pass from Kirk Cousins. As he was being wrestled out of bounds at the six-yard line, Nichol shoveled the ball backward to teammate B.J. Cunningam, who scampered into the end zone for a touchdown.
After this play, Wisconsin fans and players had to be really annoyed at Nichol. He was the same player who came down with Cousins’ "Hail Mary" pass in East Lansing earlier in the season, ending the Badgers’ hopes of an undefeated campaign in a 37–31 Michigan State win.
While we can't rank this too high because it wasn’t a called trick play, the Spartans might want to think about practicing this for real.
Trailing 24–14 in the fourth quarter at Northwestern in 2010 and with its undefeated season on the line, Michigan State (8–0) needed a change in momentum. They got one on a fake punt play called “Mousetrap” - so named because “We had to get ‘em to take the cheese,” as Dantonio later explained.
The Wildcat who took the bait was Jordan Mabin, whose blown coverage on Bennie Fowler allowed Spartans punter Aaron Bates to hit him for a 21-yard gain despite a strong head wind. The Spartans would score on the drive and eventually win, 35–27.
“Did we expect that fake punt?” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald opined after the game. “No, because we had never seen them do it before.”
Apparently, Notre Dame learned nothing from Dantonio’s trickeration in South Bend three years earlier (more on that in a bit).
Spartans kicker Dan Conroy had hit three field goals from 40-plus yards earlier in the day, so reason dictated that he’d kick a 46-yarder to tie the game at 31-all and send it into a second OT. Not in a million years did the Irish anticipate a fake field goal.
Holder/punter Aaron Bates received the snap, got up with the ball and hit Charlie Gantt over the top for a 29-yard TD pass to give Michigan State a 34–31 win. The play, called "Little Giants," was in line with the team naming such plays after movies.
Amazingly, Gantt wasn’t the intended target. That was Le’Veon Bell, who was covered on the play. Give credit to Bates — who also played QB and John Glenn High School in New Concord, OH — for having the patience to scan the field for other receivers.
And give credit to Dantonio for having the guts to make the call that would either win or lose the game. When the Irish travel to East Lansing again on Saturday, they best be on their toes this time.
Dantonio must have watched Boise State’s “Circus” play against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and thought, “Hey, why didn’t I think of that?”
He got his chance to show off his own variation in 2009. With the Spartans trailing No. 6 Iowa, 9–6, late in the fourth quarter and facing 3rd-and-18, tight end Brian Linthicum hauled in a Kirk Cousins pass only to dish it to a “cutting” Blair White.
What Iowa thought they had stopped for an 11-yard gain turned into a 38-yard play and put MSU deep in Hawkeye territory. Cousins’ 30-yard TD to White two plays later would give Sparty a 13–9 lead but Iowa eventually won on a last-second TD pass from Ricky Stanzi to Marvin McNutt.
But on this beautifully executed play, we all won.
On the last of Brian Hoyer’s four TD passes at Notre Dame in 2007, the junior QB salvaged the play with a 30-yard strike to Kellen Davis after fumbling the snap. On purpose.
“We’ve practiced that thing since the spring,” Dantonio said in his postgame press conference.
Indeed, Hoyer’s intentionally fumbled snap was enough to freeze Irish linebacker Maurice Crum, whom Davis ran by to haul Hoyer’s pass in. Hoyer jokingly said that he “prepared” for the gimmick play in the first quarter.
“I guess it helped that I fumbled on the second play of the game.”
The legal variation of the legendary "Fumblerooski" play used during the 1980s, the "Hoyer-rooski" is now also a part of college football lore.
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