After 3 consecutive poor defensive performances, late interception, pressure define rivalry win
Junior linebacker Greg Jones and sophomore defensive end Johnathan Strayhorn sack Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson on Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium.
As Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier’s overtime pass was tipped in the air Saturday, junior cornerback Chris L. Rucker dove and came up with the interception in the end zone. Three plays later, freshman running back Larry Caper busted a 23-yard touchdown run, the game-winning Spartans score.
It was redemption for Rucker, who had struggled in the secondary this season and had been demoted from his starting position.
“We are so happy for Ruck and all the defensive backs,” junior linebacker Greg Jones said. “They did everything they could to win this game.”
Earlier in the week, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said he would continue to say Rucker was the team’s best cornerback until he was blue in the face. He reiterated his comments following the game Saturday.
“I’m sure everybody’s happy,” Narduzzi said. “Again, Chris Rucker has confidence. I’ll say it again. He’s our best corner.”
Junior cornerback Chris L. Rucker tackles Wolverine wide receiver Martavious Odoms. Rucker recorded three tackles in the Spartans’ 26-20 victory Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium.
U-M’s offense came into the game averaging 240.2 rushing yards per game and 422.2 yards of total offense. Saturday, the Spartans’ defense gave up just 28 yards rushing and 251 total yards to the Wolverines.
Senior defensive end Trevor Anderson credited the defense’s stellar play to the game plan the coaches drew up and the scout team’s execution.
“They did everything that we practiced this week,” Anderson said. “When they decided to put in (Denard Robinson), we knew they were going to run the ball. They couldn’t throw it with him. As far as Forcier, we knew about his little stutter step, he’s going to jab to the outside and come back in. Everything that they practiced, we did. Our scout team did a great job this week. I got tired of running against them more than I got tired of going against Michigan outside.”
The Spartans pressured U-M’s quarterbacks for the majority of the game, something they hadn’t been able to do most of the season against opponents.
“(We) didn’t have to blitz as much to get to him and everything like that,” Anderson said. “I think we did a good job.”
The Spartans’ defense finished with three sacks for 33 yards.
Going into Saturday, the team that won the rushing battle in the rivalry had won 36 of the last 39 games. The Spartans outrushed the Wolverines on Saturday, 197-28.
“It’s still the Big Ten,” Anderson said. “You’re going to have to run to win the game.”
The Wolverines only had three rushing yards at halftime, as the Spartans went in with a 10-6 lead.
Anderson said the Spartans knew the Wolverines would come back strong in the fourth quarter. Following the loss to Central Michigan, Anderson said teams that run a spread offense are built for the second half.
“The thing about a spread team and what we had to understand at halftime was that they don’t mind being down at halftime because of the way they condition,” he said. “They condition to play fast at all times but the way we condition during the fourth quarter program and over the summer is that we just keep plugging away no matter who we play or what style of offense they play.”
This week, Anderson said the lack of respect he received from U-M last season was “sickening.”
When asked if he felt the same way after Saturday, Anderson wouldn’t say if he felt any different.
“That would be a question you’re going to have to ask next year,” he said.