The five greatest games in the MSU vs. U-M rivalry
Ann Arbor is expected to be the center stage of this weekend in college football, especially since ESPN’s College GameDay will be setting up shop just outside Michigan Stadium. The battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, as well as state bragging rights, will be on the line Saturday afternoon.
With that being said, let’s take a look back at the five greatest games between MSU and University of Michigan, who have been bitter state rivals since the introduction of the Paul Bunyan Trophy in 1953.
Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler had lost his first meeting with the Spartans, who had owned the rivalry during the beginning years of the budding feud between the two schools. They were 11-4-2 since 1953, but 1970 is the year that all changed.
Schembechler led his Wolverines to a 34-20 victory, while collecting 460 yards of total offense. U-M running back Billy Taylor accumulated 152 yards on the ground and scored three times. The victory for U-M was the first of eight straight against MSU under Schembechler.
In one of the most controversial games of this rivalry to date, the Spartans marched into Michigan Stadium, prepared to battle the No. 1-ranked Wolverines. The game was knotted up at 14 until the fourth quarter, which is where the fireworks were set off.
Hyland Hickson waltzed into the end zone on a 26 yard touchdown run to give the Spartans a 21-14 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Wolverine stud and 1991 Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard returned the kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, and the game was suddenly tied again.
MSU engineered a nine play, 70 yard drive resulting in a Tico Duckett two yard touchdown run, and with only 1:59 left, U-M would have to march down the field quickly to answer.
That’s exactly what they did. Quarterback Elvis Grbac connected with Derrick Alexander on a seven yard touchdown pass with only six seconds remaining. With the score at 28-27, U-M head coach Gary Moeller attempted to go for a two-point conversion. There was no overtime in 1990, so they game would result in a tie if U-M decided to attempt the extra point.
The two-point conversion play was where the controversy lied, as Grbac tried to find Howard in the endzone. Cornerback Eddie Brown appeared to have tripped up Howard, who looked like he made the catch regardless. However, the ball trickled away from his grasp, the field was free of flags and MSU held onto a 28-27 victory.
In a game better known as “Clockgate," MSU and U-M met in East Lansing to continue their annual in-state battle. With Jeff Smoker leading the team, and weapons like TJ Duckett and Charles Rogers at his disposal, the Spartans jumped out to an early lead
U-M quarterback John Navarre instigated two long touchdown drives in the first half, giving U-M a 17-14 halftime lead. During the fourth quarter, with just under five minutes left in the game, Navarre threw a touchdown pass to backup quarterback Jermaine Gonzales to take a 24-20 lead.
Smoker and the Spartans went down the field, being saved by a personal foul flag on a fourth and 16 play at midfield. With only 17 seconds left and the ball at the U-M three yard line, Smoker scrambled and was ruled down at the U-M one. He hurried and spiked the ball, and the officials ruled that one second remained on the clock.
Smoker took the snap, scrambled, and lobbed a pass to a wide-open Duckett in the back of the end zone, giving MSU the 26-24 victory. Duckett finished with 230 total yards in the game, 211 of them rushing.
This one leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of Spartan fans everywhere. The cringe-worthy memory for MSU occurred in 2004, a triple overtime loss to the Wolverines.
It started well for MSU, with Deandra Cobb bursting through the line for a 72 yard touchdown. Cobb finished with 205 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. He was answered with a seven yard scamper by Mike Hart, who finished with 224 yards and one score.
The Spartans lost quarterback Drew Stanton during the first half to a separated shoulder, but it didn’t slow down the MSU offense. Cobb had another long touchdown, this one for 64 yards, to extend MSU’s lead to 27-10.
Skipping ahead to the fourth quarter, MSU held that same lead with only 8:44 remaining. That’s when freshman quarterback Chad Henne started slinging the ball to Braylon Edwards, who collected two touchdown grabs in the final six minutes to tie the game at 27.
Edwards made a leaping catch in the end zone during the third overtime, and the Spartans failed to score. Michigan won 45-37, moved to 8-1 with a 6-0 Big Ten record and MSU left Michigan Stadium devastated.
After the 2007 victory for U-M over MSU, Wolverine running back Hart went to his postgame press conference, where he made the infamous reference which resides in the heart of Spartans today.
He called MSU their “little brother.”
It was Mark Dantonio’s first game in the rivalry as MSU’s head coach, and those comments have translated to a 6-1 record versus the Wolverines since.
The most dominating of those six victories occurred in 2013. Behind a stifling defense, U-M only generated six points, and the Spartans walked away with a 29-6 victory. U-M allowed seven sacks, and finished with negative 48 yards rushing, their worst rushing output in the program’s storied history.
It was still a close game in the fourth quarter at 16-6, but a Connor Cook one yard rush and a Jeremy Langford 40 yard rush put the game out of reach. The Spartans eventually went on to play Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and behind that same defense, won the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.