Once again, Michigan State marches to victory on final drive

INDIANAPOLIS -- You might be excused if you didn't wait around for the drive late Saturday that won the Big Ten Championship Game and a berth in the College Football Playoff for No. 5 Michigan State. Even as we speak, chemists are trying to replicate the first 50 minutes of the game between the Spartans and No. 4 Iowa in pill form -- as an antidote for Red Bull.

Trust me: It wouldn't be habit-forming.

Just when it looked as if the Hawkeyes might find their way into a misshapen 13-0 record -- did Picasso have a black-and-gold Period? -- Michigan State found its best quality. You know the one: that ability to win a game when no one believes it can be won. And man, you should have seen it.

"I think we've proven you can't count us out of any game," offensive tackle Jack Conklin said. "No matter who's out there, we're going to play until the end."

The Spartans pulled it off in one play with the Miracle at Michigan. They did it again by knocking off No. 1 Ohio State without starting quarterback Connor Cook. Trailing Iowa 13-9 with 9:31 to play before 66,985 at Lucas Oil Stadium, Michigan State did it again Saturday.

The offense had only three field goals to show for the first three quarters. It had run a total of six plays in the Iowa red zone: three rushes for nine yards and three incomplete passes. Cook, who appeared to be struggling with the same shoulder injury that kept him out of the Ohio State game, missed several open receivers on throws to his left.

Maybe that's why one graphic on the monitors in the stadium referred to "Conner Cook." He didn't look like the guy who had won 33 games in his Spartan career.

"Obviously, I wasn't 100 percent," Cook said. "I got to grit it out being in a situation like this, playing for a championship."

Off the Spartans went. They drove 82 yards. They did it in 22 plays that took 9:04 in clock time and approximately three days in real time. Not that the drive lasted forever, but when it started, the Michigan State quarterback was Kirk Cousins.

The Spartans did it despite one holding penalty, five third downs and one fourth down. They did it even though, center Jack Allen said, the offense hadn't run a 22-play drive in practice since an August 2014 scrimmage. Michigan State kept coming, as inexorable as the tide, as unstoppable as, well, Michigan State.

On his 14th carry of the drive and 22nd of the night, L.J. Scott scored the touchdown that gave the Spartans their 16-13 victory. He said he refused to think about fatigue. His center, Allen, said, "Yeah, I was pretty tired."

After three Hawkeyes impeded Scott's progress from the 1-yard-line, he committed the cardinal sin of ball-carriers and reached the ball over the goal line.

"If something good happens, I guess they can excuse it," Scott said. "I never tried that before. It's risky. It's sketchy. You can fumble. That's why they say not to do it."

You could tell Michigan State's timing was off Saturday when the Spartans scored and left :27 on the clock. They beat Michigan and Ohio State with :00 on the clock. But that wasn't enough time for the Hawkeyes. Ferentz had spent his three timeouts on that last drive, hoping to salvage enough time for C.J. Beathard to create some magic. But Beathard had time for only three snaps, one of them a spike.

"We found a way," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. "We found a way."

For three quarters, it looked as if the favorite three words in the Big Ten would not be "Michigan State Spartans." Instead, they would be "body of work," for without those, the winner of the conference championship game would have had no chance to win a place in the sport's four-team beauty pageant.

The Hawkeyes and Spartans pushed and shoved each other between the 20s for pretty much the whole game. In the third quarter, Michigan State scored six points. Iowa gained 3 yards. But on the first play of the last quarter, trailing 9-6 with the ball on his team's 15, Beathard reared back and threw a 50-yard home run to Tevaun Smith, who outleaped corner Darian Hicks, caught the pass and sprinted the remaining 35 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.

It was the team's longest completion of the season. Iowa went ahead 13-9, and the way both teams were playing, it looked as if Iowa would be the unlikeliest of the four playoff teams. But after an exchange of punts, Michigan State took over at its 18-yard line.

The Spartans didn't drive like they do on Memorial Day in Indy -- fast and in circles. This was slow and methodical and straight down the field. When it was over, Michigan State had won its second Big Ten title in three seasons and made its invitation to the playoff a formality. If you were patient, you saw one of the great drives in Spartan history.

If you were a Spartan fan, you knew to wait around until the end. That's when good things happen.