The 2011 season was filled with more amazing plays than I can even recount — not only for the highlight level of the play itself, but the moments and significance. Combining the factors of significance and highlight worthiness, I put together a two-part series on the top ten plays. In case you missed it, here is part 1 with numbers 6-10.
And now, here is the final part of my list of the top ten plays of the season:
5. Keshawn Martin double-reverse touchdown against Wisconsin (Oct. 22)
Highlight: Anytime the ball is in Martin’s hands, it is bound to get interesting. This time, he took the ball on a pitch from B.J. Cunningham — who Kirk Cousins handed off to at the start of the play — and broke it outside and past a diving Wisconsin defender and down the field for the score.
Significance: Martin’s touchdown was the first of the game for the Spartans and followed a safety, bringing it to a 14-9 game.
4. Johnny Adams sack of Denard Robinson against Michigan
Highlight: Fourth and one from the MSU 9, Adams blitzed off the edge and caught Robinson in the backfield and brought him down at the 19.
Significance: The sack ended the final legitimate scoring chance for Michigan in the game and all but sealed the Spartans’ fourth consecutive victory against in-state rival Michigan.
3. Denicos Allen’s sack against Ohio State
Highlight: Have you ever seen a sack where a player leaped over a blocker? Yeah, neither had I. Ohio State was pinned on its own 12-yard line facing a third and four, when Allen blitzed off the edge — as he often does this season — and jumped over Buckeye running back Jordan Hall and brought down quarterback Joe Bauserman.
Significance: One of nine Michigan State sacks in the game, this one represented the freaky athleticism and domination of a Spartans defense that only got better and better.
2. Keith Nichol lateral to Cunningham against Wisconsin and Brad Sonntag for two (Big Ten Championship Game)
Highlight: Undesigned and unpracticed, Nichol made a play that defied all sense and logic after taking a pass from Kirk Cousins and as he was being knocked out of bounds, turned and lateraled the ball back to Cunningham. Cunningham took a couple steps and dove into the endzone for the score. Gus Johnson wet his pants while screaming, “KEITH NICHOL! AWARENESS 99!”
Significance: The touchdown brought the Spartans within one of Wisconsin, and the two-point conversion game them the lead 22-21.
1. Rocket Man
Highlight: Arguably the play of the year in college football. It really needs no explanation for any college football — let alone Michigan State — fan.
Significance: Michigan State beats the sixth-ranked Badgers on national television with College Gameday on hand. It set the stage for the Big Ten Championship Game and cemented Nichol in Spartan history and folklore forever.
Best of the rest:
— Cousins fakes two handoffs, passes downfield to Martin against Florida Atlantic
— Le’Veon Bell pulls off a trademark spin against Florida Atlantic
— Forced safety against Wisconsin
— Adams interception against Iowa
— Cunningham touchdown catch against Iowa
— Cunningham leaping catch against CMU
— Jerel Worthy jumps the snap against Ohio State
— Martin touchdown catch on the sideline against Indiana
— Cousins pass to Cunningham in triple coverage in the Big Ten Championship Game
— Martin punt return against Northwestern
— Cunningham bobbling touchdown catch against Northwestern
— Cunningham touchdown on fourth and one in the Big Ten Championship Game