Michigan State faced its toughest test yet but did not back down in an energizing 38-17 smashing of the No. 24 Miami Hurricanes.
Miami took the ball to start the game and found success driving down the field right away. However, redshirt senior quarterback D’Eriq King used his legs to scramble, coughed up the football and junior linebacker Quavarius Crouch fell on top of it.
Then, for the first time all year, Michigan State did not score a touchdown on its first offensive play from scrimmage. Rather than an aggressive play call like last week’s flea-flicker, offensive coordinator Jay Johnson dialed up a backwards pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Jayden Reed for a gain of nine yards.
No fireworks, but a positive play.
For the remainder of the opening quarter, both teams traded two punts each back and forth. After a combined total of 144 yards, both teams' offenses began to get rolling in the second quarter.
The Spartans got on the board first on a chip shot 23-yard field goal from graduate kicker Matt Coghlin in the beginning of the quarter. Miami responded though, taking the lead three minutes later.
MSU’s defense was backed up against its own endzone and got the three stops it needed with Miami on the three-yard line. The Hurricanes decided to go for it on fourth down as King scrambled to his right and found redshirt junior wide receiver Charleston Rambo standing wide open in the back of the endzone.
Both teams looked to strike again and they had good chances to do so. First, it was Michigan State, who drove down the field on a 51-yard screen pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Tre Mosley, plus an additional 15 for a horsecollar tackle. Coghlin was back on the field to attempt a 39-yard field goal but missed wide right.
The Hurricanes did the same, driving the other way and missing a 27-yard field goal.
Starting to settle back in, the Spartans went back to what has been successful for them through the first two games: getting the ball to its playmakers, particularly junior running back Kenneth Walker III. He contributed 53 of the 80 MSU yards on the drive and finished it off with a nine-yard receiving touchdown from sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne.
On the ensuing drive, the Spartans took the ball right back on a deep ball interception from sophomore safety Angelo Grose. MSU could not capitalize on the turnover and took the 10-7 lead into the second half.
Michigan State extended its lead to two possessions midway through the third quarter on a 11-yard touchdown reception from redshirt junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor on a unique misdirection play design.
Like they had all game to that point, the Hurricanes answered MSU’s score and got a touchdown of its own. King fired down the middle and found Rambo again for their second touchdown connection of the game, making it 17-14 and giving the Hurricanes some momentum heading into the fourth quarter.
On the first play of the quarter, King completed a pass to the left to freshman wide receiver Key’Shawn Smith and he was hit low and hard in the head by freshman cornerback Charles Brantley. Brantley was flagged and ejected for targeting, dismissing the Sarasota, Florida native from the game.
Then on the very next play, graduate defensive end Drew Beesley, who missed last week’s game with an undisclosed injury, strip-sacked King and the Spartans took over on Miami’s 13 yard line. Two plays later, Thorne found his high school buddy Reed for a 10-yard touchdown and a 24-14 lead.
Miami answered MSU for a third time however, with freshman kicker Andres Borregales banging a 55-yard field goal to keep the game within one possession and eight minutes to play.
Michigan State served the dagger to the Hurricanes with its defense failing to get a stop. After converting a fourth down in Miami territory on a play that needed measurement, MSU went for the gut punch and got it.
Walker was the star of MSU’s offense again, building on what could be a potential Heisman Trophy candidate in this early season, with 172 yards on the ground, 17 through the air, and a receiving touchdown. Thorne was excellent too, tossing 261 yards and four touchdown passes on 18 completions.
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But it was the defense that was the story of the game. It was not clean and pretty, but they held the Hurricanes to 17 points and got the job done. They capitalized on Miami’s mistakes, forcing four turnovers equating to 14 points.
With the win, Michigan State has positioned itself well to break the top 25. The Spartans will head back to East Lansing next week with Nebraska in town for a 7 p.m. game.
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