Dantonio's risky fake punt backfires, but MSU prevails

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

West Lafayette, Ind. Mark Dantonio has never been afraid to take chances on the football field, building a reputation for calling trick plays in key points of a game.

But during Michigan State's 45-31 victory over Purdue on Saturday, Dantonio took it to a new level by calling a fake punt from the Spartans 29 on fourth-and-6 with 7:31 to play in the game.

To say it was risky was an understatement, and when Lawrence Thomas took the direct snap and gained just 1 yard, it became a substantial failure. That's because four plays later Akeem Hunt scored on a 3-yard run to cut Michigan State's lead to 38-31 with 6:19 to play.

"The fake punt backfired on us a little bit," Dantonio said. "Fakes are about execution and timing. I thought the time was right and the execution didn't happen the way we wanted it. But I thought it was set up right. … I felt that momentum sort of swung their way and I felt like 'Hey, 5 yards. We can get 5.' And we had been working on it for a long time. If you're not gonna use it, don't work on it."

While it might have appeared the time was right the Spartans were unable to get the key block to spring the play.

Giving the ball to Thomas was a good plan considering the junior spent the 2012 season as a running back. But even though he broke through one tackle, it wasn't enough.

"I was gonna carry as many (tacklers) as I needed to get that first down," Thomas said. "That was the only thing I was thinking in my mind. We've been practicing it so we called it and you can't second-guess it.

"But it didn't work so we had to bounce back. We got the win and that is all that mattered."

Dantonio does have the luxury of a solid defense to fall back on, and he said that was definitely a factor in his decision.

It's a position the defense was fine with.

"It just shows that he has a lot of faith in us and we have to execute," defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. "Whether or not we get (the first down) we have to come out and play and stop their offense from scoring."

The Boilermakers got the score after the fake, taking advantage of a pass interference call in the end zone on Darian Hicks, but in the end the defense came up with the big play with Darien Harris intercepting a pass and returning it for the touchdown, meaning the botched fake didn't come back to haunt the Spartans.

"We rallied and got a big play by Darien Harris," Dantonio said. "We walked away with the win and we just continue to lay one brick at a time."