MSU topples Michigan 29-6 at home
It was evident from the first play. Even before that, actually.
There was no mistaking this rivalry showdown for anything but – and it started when players from both teams met at midfield to trade words before the game.
Seldom did a snap end without a little extra jawing, a little extra push, one last gesture toward the opponent. That held up for most of a rainy, overcast Saturday in East Lansing.
By the fourth quarter, the heated exchanges lessened. There was less chirping after the whistle. The once-exuberant Wolverines walked away dejected, caked in mud after being physically worn down throughout the afternoon.
In the end, it was MSU players clad in all green uniforms dancing on the soggy Spartan Stadium turf, celebrating a 29-6 victory against Michigan. The Spartans (8-1 overall, 5-0 Big Ten) won the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the fifth time in the past six seasons, putting themselves in the Legends Division driver’s seat in the process.
Senior linebacker Denicos Allen, one of many headaches for the U-M (6-2, 2-2) offense, called it a more thorough beating than the 2011 version, infamously known as the “60 minutes of unnecessary roughness,” game. Allen registered a team-high nine stops including pair of sacks.
“I think we did it worse today. Two years ago (was) nothing,” Allen said. “It was a lot worse today, and I think they felt it.”
The Spartan defense harassed U-M quarterback Devin Gardner right out of the blocks and never let up, forcing an interception, sacking him seven times and hurrying him seven more. All those tackles in the backfield contributed to the Wolverines’ net rushing total of -48 yards.
Gardner left the game in the fourth quarter and freshman Shane Morris finished out U-M’s final possession.
“(Gardner) had taken a lot of shots earlier in the game, and he’s a little bit worn out,” U-M head coach Brady Hoke said. “I wouldn’t say he has an injury. I’d say beat up. If that’s an injury, that’s an injury.”
Leading up to the game, the Wolverines talked about not getting bullied similar to how they felt in 2011. U-M tackle Taylor Lewan said that’s exactly how he felt after this year’s loss, pinning the blame on his offensive line as a whole. A freshman, redshirt freshman and sophomore comprised the interior of U-M’s line and the Spartans fed on their inexperience with a variety of blitzes.
Similar to most teams tasked with solving defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s scheme, U-M had relative success on its first drive of the game – going 51 yards in nine plays for a field goal – but very little after that.
MSU tied it once it got the ball on a 40-yard field goal from freshman kicker Michael Geiger, and took a 6-3 lead when he connected from 44 yards out early in the second quarter.
The Wolverines knotted the score with another field goal before MSU took the lead for good with less than a minute left in the first half. Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook found junior receiver Tony Lippett for a 10-yard gain, and then tossed a beautiful 14-yard touchdown pass to Bennie Fowler in the back corner of the end zone. Fowler had a catch jarred loose at the last minute in the exact same spot two drives earlier.
Cook worked through some accuracy troubles early on to complete 18 of his 33 passes for 252 yards.
The game’s defining moment came after Cook’s lone interception. U-M began with prime field position on MSU’s 41-yard line following a 17-yard return.
On first down Gardner was stopped in the backfield for a loss of 5. On second and third down he was sacked for losses of 9 and 7 yards. When fourth down came around the Wolverines were out of field goal range and forced to punt.
It was as impressive as MSU’s defense has looked all season – which is saying a lot for the No. 1-ranked unit. Spartan Stadium never was louder than those three plays.
“We’re gonna bully people and that’s the game of football,” Narduzzi said. “… I mean that’s what the game is, it’s a bullying between the whistles. It’s a physical football game and our kids played their tails off.”
Cook responded by leading a nine-play, 68-yard drive that ended with him high-stepping off the field after a 1-yard touchdown run that put the Spartans ahead 22-6 at the 10:31 mark in the fourth quarter.
Junior running back Jeremy Langford had a relatively quiet day before bursting 40 yards to the house late in the fourth quarter to officially put the game out of reach.
“We talked all week about keeping the lion in the cage, just peaking at game time,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “Don’t worry about all the things that are being said, just keep your mouth shut, get ready to play, start the game and finish stronger than when you started. We were going to let the lion out of the cage at 3:30 (p.m.) and that’s what happened.”