Senior safety Khari Willis said Michigan State had the intensity.
Willis said the 24th-ranked Spartans possessed effort and seriousness against No. 6 Michigan — the game every MSU player, fan and coach looks forward to every season.
But the Spartans (4-3, 2-2 in Big Ten) fell to the Wolverines (7-1, 5-0) 21-7 Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium, sending the Paul Bunyan Trophy to Ann Arbor.
“We didn’t win, but that’s about it,” said Willis, who had eight tackles. “I felt like the intensity was there, the effort was there and the seriousness of this game was there.”
The Spartans totaled 94 yards, the fewest in a game since 1947 (56 yards against U-M) with quarterback Brian Lewerke going 5-of-25 for 66 yards. Lewerke, whose 20 completion percentage was the worst by a Big Ten quarterback in the last 20 years (minimum 20 pass attempts), who said he wasn’t 100 percent because a right-shoulder injury suffered against Penn State.
“I tried to go the best I could,” Lewerke said. “The adrenaline helped a little bit — obviously helped last week when I got hurt.”
Running back LJ Scott, who played for the first time in four weeks because of an apparent ankle injury, ran 10 times for 25 yards along with catching a pass for 15 yards.
Wide receiver Felton Davis III didn’t catch any passes and suffered a left achilles tear with about a minute left in the first half, with MSU down 7-0, thanks to a 6-yard touchdown pass from Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson to wide receiver Nico Collins after coming out of a hour and 15 minute weather delay with 14:55 left in the second quarter.
Coach Mark Dantonio confirmed postgame Davis will miss the rest of the season.
“But he'll bounce back and have a successful pro career, I understand that, know that,” Dantonio said. “But that's unfortunate and you know it happened right before halftime, so that's something we have to regroup around at halftime, which I thought we did. Came out and played hard in the third quarter and did some things, but we're going to lose him in that regard.
“We've had quite a few injuries to wide receivers this year, but you gotta deal with it, that's part of the game. Nobody is crying.”
And the Spartans did rally around Davis’ injury. Three minutes into the third quarter defensive tackle Raequan Williams forced running back Chris Evans to fumble on U-M’s 7-yard line, with linebacker Brandon Bouyer-Randle recovering.
This led to a 4-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. to Lewerke to make it 7-7 with 11:12 left in the third quarter.
After Michigan State forced a U-M three-and-out, punter Will Hart punted it 50 yards to cornerback Shakur Brown, who ran it 10 yards but fumbled it, giving the Wolverines the ball on MSU’s 46.
Five plays later with 6:40 left in the third quarter, a bad handoff between Patterson and running back Karan Higdon caused a fumble recovery by linebacker Tyriq Thompson, whose dad, Clarence, played safety at U-M.
Defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said Thompson is playing “the best football of his career.”
“He's really playing good football right now,” Tressel said. “Michigan did some things to attack the boundary, where they're pulling everyone they can around the boundary end, and Tyriq went and took multiple people out. That's sometimes what you have to do because on the blackboard when they get that many bodies in there and we just trade one-for-one, then good things happen for the offense. Tyriq really played physical, and I'm proud of him.”
After the turnover, Lewerke and MSU’s offense went three-and-out — one of six on the afternoon for the Spartans.
“Tough day for us offensively — Brian included,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “But, it was a tough day for us. It’s not on Brian. He certainly did not have his best day, but we did not have our best day offensively. So, it doesn't all come down on him.”
Two U-M drives later, Patterson tossed it 79 yards to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones for his lone reception, giving the Wolverines a 14-7 lead.
“From the start, the line did a great job of giving Shea time to deliver, which I think is the most perfect pass that he delivered,” Peoples-Jones said. “The rest was just what we have been practicing. Be a tough runner, watching Karan, watching what he does motivates me. Watching Shea, what he does, motivates me too. We all motivate each other, and it's just fun to be around.”
Patterson finished 14-of-25 for 212 yards and two touchdowns, while running eight times for 24 yards, which is 236 of U-M’s 395 total offensive yards.
“I think that was one of the most crazy games I have been a part of,” Patterson said. “Defense put us in good situations, and I think that gave us confidence to know that we just stay with in ourselves and when we get that moment to break through, we aren't going to give it back.”
On U-M’s next drive, fullback Ben Mason ran it in from 5 yards out to make it 21-7 — the final score — with 10:21 left in the game, and finishing a 13-play, 84-yard drive.
Though Mason scored the lone rushing touchdown for the Wolverines, Higdon led the way with 33 rushes for 144 yards.
Which Higdon credits his offensive line for his success
“They are dominate, and they continue to dominate,” Higdon said. “I said last week we have the best line in the country and they've shown it.”
And though backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who replaced Lewerke after the junior led the offense to another three-and-out on MSU's first drive on the fourth quarter, tried to mount a comeback, he failed after back-to-back sacks and an incompletion to tight end Matt Dotson with 1:12 left in the game.
“Fabulous mood in the locker room,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Team feels great about itself, and it should.”
The Spartans next face Purdue (4-3, 3-1) at noon next Saturday in Spartan Stadium, with the network it will be broadcasted on yet to be announced.
But just like any other game, linebacker Joe Bachie said the Spartans will follow the 24-hour rule, and move on the Boilermakers.
“If we're not ready to play, anything can happen in that game,” said Bachie, who tied for a team-high 10 tackles. “As leaders, as coaches, everyone is going to move forward in the right direction. We have to come together again and regroup.”
Editor's note: This story was updated at 8:15 p.m.