Today marks one week and one day until Michigan State football returns. The Spartan defense will be looking to replace Jacub Panasiuk, today’s headliner.
Welcome to the 43rd article of my series highlighting the 2021 Michigan State football team’s defining moments. After today, I only have seven more articles in this series to write. This has been a joy for me so far and I am excited to share the last few moments of the series.
Similarly to yesterday, I strongly considered finding any play to move down one to give receiver no. 8, Jalen Nailor, moment no. 8, but these final few plays are so great that I could not find one to put down.
Today, the Spartans again capitalize and recover a late giveaway. Much like moment no. 31, Jacub Panasiuk is at the center of attention in this moment.
No. 8: Jacub Panasiuk’s recovery of JJ McCarthy’s fumble
This was the second McCarthy fumble of the quarter, with the difference being that this resulted in a Spartan recovery.
Why No. 8?
After a slugfest between the two in-state rivals, Michigan looked to be pulling away from the Spartans in East Lansing.
As mentioned in nearly every article regarding this game in the series, the Wolverines had a 16-point advantage at one point. Michigan State football then fought back into the game, scoring two touchdowns (one having an article already, that being moment No. 28) and having both of them result in successful two-point conversions (moment Nos. 18, 25) to tie the ball game up. The Wolverines drove back down the field to reclaim the lead, and Michigan State had an untimely three-and-out. With a three-point lead and the ball, either a long Michigan drive or any touchdown drive would likely sink the Spartans. This brings us to moment No. 8.
On this play, J.J. McCarthy and Blake Corum line up in the backfield. Corum is having a bad day, as he will finish with under 50 yards rushing in the game. Meanwhile, McCarthy, despite being a situational quarterback seeing very limited snaps, is having an even worse day. Besides his touchdown pass, the most noteworthy McCarthy play came on the last Wolverine scoring drive, where he fumbled the ball out of bounds. With Cade MacNamara being checked out for an apparent injury, McCarthy trots out onto the field. Both players are looking to make a splash and redeem their days.
McCarthy takes the snap and looks to hand the ball off to Corum. Jacub Panasiuk spies down the line, as the play call was for a read-option opposite him. Panasiuk has a single tight end meant to block him while Drew Jordan is meant to be read by McCarthy. McCarthy elects to hand the ball off, while Corum believes this play will be an option keeper. McCarthy lets the ball go and it falls to the ground. By this point, Panasiuk is able to rip free from his block and instantly dives for the ball, a split second before McCarthy can turn back around to grab for the pigskin.
Any attempt by McCarthy to recover the ball back would be useless, and it is Michigan State football’s ball on the Wolverine side of the field.
There is a lot of credit to give on this play. To start, I want to credit punter Bryce Baringer. Yes, I am crediting a punter on a defensive play. Bear with me here, please. After an impressive punt, one where he outkicked the coverage, Baringer was just able to push returner A.J. Henning out of bounds before midfield. This would set up the field position of the turnover and ensuing Spartan possession. If Baringer did not make this play, Henning would have much more room to cut back and potentially end the Spartan upset bid without the offense having one more real chance.
Secondly, I want to mention another player who has not had their name called this entire series until today: Drew Jordan. The former Duke player showed his smarts on this play, reading the play and not crashing in, forcing the Wolverines to have to account for him and preventing any easy read for McCarthy. Staying disciplined and not making the decision for McCarthy sets the stage for the fumble.
Finally, the man himself, Panasiuk, deserves praise. Once he sees the play is not going towards him, he could have shut down and played half speed on the rest of the play to save energy for a later moment. Instead, he gives his all on this rep, powering through the blocking tight end at the perfect moment to see the ball come free. He then dives onto the ball and covers it completely, ensuring the Spartans will be the ones snapping the ball the next play.
While not planned or a “wow” turnover, this play was extremely crucial to the season and game. Forcing a Michigan drive to last less than five seconds after previous Spartan defensive struggles was a blessing for the Michigan State football team.
When re-watching this game, I cannot help but notice that this was the fourth fumble or instance of the ball being on the ground in three drives, as well as the third in three plays. This was spread on both teams, with the Spartans holding one fumble and the Wolverines with three. McCarthy fumbled the ball on first-and-10 in the Spartan redzone and then David Ojabo forced a Thorne fumble on third down on the last Spartan possession.
After a Jarret Horst recovery, Henning originally muffed the ensuing Bryce Baringer punt. That leads to this play, where McCarthy again fumbled. While it was dreary that day with occasional drops, this is a ridiculous statistic from the game.
This play was critical to Spartan success, and I believe No. 8 is the perfect ranking for it. This was not a “wow” play, as mentioned above, but was one of the best moments across all other categories I judged. The Spartans also needed to score after this play, which bumps it down as the go-ahead touchdown needs a space in front of this.
Statistically, this was the second Panasiuk fumble recovery of the year, the other being the aforementioned moment No. 31. There was no forced fumble recorded on this play, as it was a muffed handoff. For McCarthy, this was his second fumble in his last two snaps, both being first-and-10 situation. I suppose the spotlight might have been too bright for the freshman in this instance. As mentioned previously, it was the third time in three plays that the ball ended up on the ground by errors committed by each team playing.
This play leads to a moment we all remember (“hello, New York”), but I will not discuss that moment any further as I will be writing about that within the next week.
For those wondering about what tomorrow brings, Kenneth Walker III returns, with one of his most forgotten-about runs of the season.