They’ve faced each other as starters just twice in the NFL, but from their one year in the Big Ten together, Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson have enough memories against the other to last a lifetime.
Wilson transferred to Wisconsin for his final year of eligibility after playing at North Carolina State, quarterbacking a loaded Badgers team in 2011 that had Montee Ball, James White and a young Melvin Gordon in its backfield. The Badgers were ranked No. 4 in the country and were harboring national championship hopes when they traveled to Spartan Stadium to face 15th-ranked Michigan State on Oct. 22, 2011.
The game was tied at 31 on the final play of regulation and appeared headed to overtime until Cousins uncorked a 44-yard Hail Mary that former quarterback Keith Nichol caught off a deflection at the Badgers’ 1. Nichol stretched for the end zone, barely breaking the plane before he was pushed back, and a replay review overturned the call on the field, giving the Spartans a touchdown and a 37-31 win that knocked Wisconsin out of the national championship picture.
Wisconsin did get to the Rose Bowl after a win in the rematch, though, defeating Michigan State 42-39 in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. Wilson rolled to his left before hitting Jeff Duckworth for 36 yards on a 4th-and-8 with four minutes to go, setting up Ball’s game-winning touchdown.
“They were all great games, in big part because of what he can do as a quarterback,” Cousins said. “Certainly, two in college that were two of my more memorable games I ever played in. And then in the pros, we played in the playoffs — I didn’t really play much — but played in the playoffs my rookie year, and then again in ’14 on Monday night, and last year, and now again on Monday night. Hopefully it can be another exciting one, and I’m excited to see what we can do.”
Cousins was Robert Griffin III’s backup in 2012 in Washington, and stepped in to face the Seahawks in the NFC wild card game after Griffin returned from a LCL sprain before he’d been cleared and famously injured his knee against the Seahawks. Cousins went 3 of 10 for 31 yards in that game, as Seattle overcame a 14-0 deficit to win 24-14.
The two quarterbacks also trained together before the 2012 draft in Florida, and were both on the North team at the 2012 Senior Bowl, where they were led by former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier — through a process that left Frazier and the team’s former coaching staff enamored with Wilson.
“From the end of the college season to the combine, we spent a lot of time together,” Cousins said. “That’s when you could see, not only his ability — which you obviously saw from a distance when we were playing against each other in college — but just his work habits, his intelligence, his leadership and command. You could see all the traits that have enabled him to go on to great success in the NFL. I think all the guys who trained with him there in Florida, when we were together, are not surprised by what he’s been able to do. Bobby Wagner was there, as well, training with us. There were a lot of good players that you come across as you play in this league.”