FRED GOODALL,AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — As he’s done so often over the past four seasons, Kirk Cousins kept his composure and found a way to help Michigan State win.
The senior shrugged off a slow start Monday and gave the 12th-ranked Spartans a nice parting gift — a 33-30 triple overtime win against No. 18 Georgia in the Outback Bowl.
The victory ended a five-game bowl losing streak dating to Michigan State’s win in the 2001 Silicon Valley Bowl. It also stated the Spartans’ case for a top-10 final ranking.
“We knew going into the game that it wasn’t going to be perfect,” said Cousins, who threw for 300 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
“Georgia has two first-team All-Americans. They have the third-best defense in the country. They have record breakers on offense. … They’re going to make plays. It was a matter of weathering that storm and being able to come back and not give up. We did that time and again, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Cousins led an 85-yard drive scoring to tie it in the closing seconds of regulation, and Dan Conroy’s 28-yard field goal in the third overtime won it. The Spartans, who trailed 16-0 at halftime, had been 0-4 in bowl games under coach Mark Dantonio.
“All week, all month, really, there was a sense of urgency in our preparation because the fact that for me as a senior, this was the last shot,” Cousins said. “Certainly all game long we felt that same way.”
Georgia’s Blair Walsh became the Southeastern Conference’s career scoring leader with a field goal in the second extra period. But he missed a 42-yarder in the first overtime after conservative play-calling and had a 47-yard attempt blocked on the final play of the game.
Nose tackle Anthony Rashad White got a hand on the potential tying kick, setting off a celebration among Spartans fans in the crowd of 49,429 at Raymond James Stadium.
The Spartans handed the Big Ten its lone win in three bowl matchups Monday against SEC opponents — Florida beat Ohio State and South Carolina stopped Nebraska.
“Big win against a great football team, against an SEC team, against a team that won their division and that was 10-2 in the regular season. … There’s not a football team that we cannot play with and not win against,” Dantonio said.
“We’ve beaten every football team in the Big Ten in the last four years. The standard has been set by our seniors. … Two 11-win seasons. There’s not too many football teams in the country that are saying that right now. I would think that this, hopefully, helps solidify a top-10 ranking in this year’s final polls.”
Georgia (10-4) finished on a two-game losing streak, including a lopsided loss to top-ranked LSU in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs beat Michigan State in the 2009 Capital One Bowl, one of four bowl losses the Spartans had under Dantonio during their stretch of postseason futility.
“It’s rough,” Georgia receiver Tavarres King said. “Every time you lose a game you think about it until you play another one, and we don’t play another one for over 200 days. So it’s going to be on our minds and in the back of our heads.”
Cousins guided Michigan State on its late drive without the aid of any timeouts, and Le’Veon Bell’s second touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run erased a 27-20 deficit. Cousins threw a 7-yard TD pass to Keith Nichol midway through the period and finished the day as Michigan State’s career passing and total offense leader.
The senior from Holland, Mich., was intercepted in the first overtime. After the Bulldogs had a short run on their first play in overtime, coach Mark Richt elected to simply center the ball for a field goal try on third down, and Walsh’s kick was wide.
“It just went a little bit to the right. I don’t know what pulled it that way,” said Walsh, who moved ahead of Billy Bennett on the SEC career scoring list with 412 points when his 47-yarder gave Georgia a 30-27 lead in the second overtime. “I’d trade all the points I could to just have three points (at the end) for us. I mean that.”
The Spartans’ comeback overshadowed a standout performance by Georgia’s Mr. Everything, Brandon Boykin. The cornerback scored a safety, returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown and caught a 13-yard TD pass that helped the Bulldogs take a late lead that one of the nation’s stingiest defenses couldn’t protect down the stretch.
Aaron Murray was 20 of 32 for 288 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for Georgia. Back home and playing in a stadium a few miles from where he starred in high school for Tampa Plant, the redshirt sophomore teamed on an 80-yard scoring pass with King, who had six receptions for 205 yards.
Boykin tackled Keshawn Martin in the end zone for a safety on Michigan State’s first offensive play, converging on the receiver at almost the same time as Cousins’ side screen. The 2-0 lead stood for Georgia until Murray made his long TD throw to King, who settled under the perfectly thrown pass at the Spartans 25 and never broke stride to get into the end zone.
Less than two minutes later, Boykin brought Georgia fans to their feet when he settled under Mike Sadler’s punt at his own 8 and retreated to the 5 before cutting back toward the middle of the field, finding his way through a maze of defenders and outrunning the pursuit to score on the longest punt return in Outback Bowl history.
Boykin’s second TD, finishing a five-play, 81-yard drive fueled by Murray’s 53-yard completion to King, put Georgia up 25-20. Murray’s 2-point conversion pass to Malcolm Mitchell gave the Bulldogs a 7-point advantage before Cousins went to work and revived Michigan State’s hopes.
The Spartans were limited to two first downs and just 72 yards total offense to trail 16-0 at the half. Cousins finally got them on track after the first of Darqueze Dennard’s two interceptions set up a nine-play, 48-yard drive that Bell finished with an 8-yard touchdown run.
Dennard’s 38-yard interception return for a touchdown drew Michigan State within 16-14, and Cousins’ TD pass to Nichol gave the Spartans a short-lived 20-19 lead.
Boykin had 183 all-purpose yards, including four kickoff returns for 70 yards and 8 yards rushing on two carries. The senior said he’d trade of all his production if the Bulldogs had been able to finish off Michigan State.
“Of course I’m upset right now that we lost and I’ll never get to play a college game again,” Boykin said. “Without a doubt, I’d take away my performance if we can get a victory.”
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