ANN ARBOR, Mich. — With the thousands of people that remained in The Big House enjoying the party, down on the field Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson put the final knee on the 14th-ranked Wolverines' 44-10 blowout win over Michigan State.
As Michigan's players charged on to the field to join in on the celebration, numerous guys waved goodbye to the Spartan players as they sulked down the tunnel with their heads parallel to the turf. Weirdly enough, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had a similar message to his players, but in a different context.
For the Spartans (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten), there is no more room for error — not if they want to play in a bowl game. So, his team needs to wave goodbye to whatever occurred in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon, and whatever has happened over the course of MSU's five-game losing streak, and focus on the final two challenges that remain on its schedule.
“That’s our focus," Dantonio said following the game. "Our focus will always be on what happens next, what happens next after this particular game. So that’s our focus and we’ll move forward.”
The Spartans make their final road trip next week when they head to New Jersey to play Rutgers on Nov. 23 (noon, FS1). Michigan State has never lost to Rutgers since it joined the Big Ten. It will have to keep that streak going if it wants to become bowl eligible at the end of the year. And the Spartans will have to reciprocate that the week after, when they host Maryland on Nov. 30 to close the regular season.
“We only got two more games," senior defensive tackle Raequan Williams said. "We only got two more and that third one is not guaranteed unless you win them.”
Despite entering Saturday's game against the Wolverines on a four-game losing streak — and having not won a game since Sept. 28 — Michigan State played as if it was focused on what was in front of it, rather than its past mistakes. The Spartans controlled most of the first quarter and escaped the first 15 minutes with a 7-0 lead.
But from there it went downhill. Michigan outscored the Spartans 44-3 in the next three quarters and gained 349 offensive yards in doing so.
“We came out today believing that we could win this game regardless," redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins said. "No matter win or loss, we got the next game and we’re looking to win that game. We don’t ever look to lose.”
With tons of senior talent on both sides of the ball, this obviously wasn't the season that Michigan State pictured. The Spartans had bigger goals than floundering to the finish and escaping the regular season for a meaningless bowl game in Detroit. But there is no changing the past.
Michigan State got itself into the situation and now they have to get out of it.
And the only way to do that is to focus on looking forward.
“I definitely didn’t think it would be the situation that we are in right now," fifth-year quarterback Brian Lewerke said. "But here we are. We need these two wins to get to a bowl game, so we’re going to be focused on that.”