There’s a long-running college football tradition of jokes about “Sparty, No!”, defined on the Every Day Should Be Saturday wiki as “a meme based upon the tendency of the Michigan State University Spartans to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” Michigan State did their utmost to provide us with the Platonic form of the meme Saturday in their 39-31 triple-overtime loss to Northwestern. The Spartans were 6-1 heading into this, coming off four straight wins over Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana, were ranked 16th in the Associated Press poll and 18th in the coaches’ poll, and were significant favorites against the 4-3 Wildcats. However, Michigan State needed a final-minute touchdown drive just to get to overtime, and once there, they gave us one of the best horrible plays of the season on a second and 10 in the third overtime:
This play is great for everything that goes wrong. First, the left tackle gets beaten by Northwestern defensive lineman Joe Gaziano, who can’t quite get to quarterback Brian Lewerke, but manages to get behind him, reach in and knock the football loose. Lewerke does well to quickly recover the ball and then run outside to get some space, but at this point, he should really just throw it away, especially with two downs left. Instead, Lewerke tries to set himself and then throws across his body into double coverage, and Wildcats’ linebacker Nate Hall makes a great play on the ball to go up and grab it and end the game. Here’s a replay showing all that:
That’s a crushing loss for Michigan State, and even more notably for “Sparty, No!” status, a crushing way to lose. Yes, they’re still having a good season overall, and arguably outperforming expectations (our preview included “program in turmoil” following offseason dismissals, plus “it’s hard to pick out eight wins for this team in 2017.” So they’re doing much better than most would have expected. But that makes the “Sparty, No!” element even more apt.