It is hard to outlive the hype after being considered a Heisman candidate through the first half of the season. But when you score five touchdowns and single-handedly lead Michigan State to a comeback victory over its bitter rivals from Ann Arbor, your name will forever be etched in Michigan State football history.
Today, junior running back Kenneth Walker III put on a show once again; this time in the biggest game of the year for Michigan State. Walker had 23 carries for 197 yards and all five of MSU’s touchdowns to lead the 16-point comeback.
Three of Walker’s five touchdowns today were 20 yards or longer. He took advantage of Michigan’s aggression and burst past the second level consistently for highlight after highlight. The biggest run of the day was a 58-yard touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 30.
The Wolverines found its most success on third down today and jumped out to a lead because of it. Michigan was eight for 17 on third downs. Michigan State’s defense could not get off the field on third down all game and allowed Michigan to build drive after drive or just score outright on third down.
The Wolverines scored two of its three touchdowns on third down. They attacked MSU with quick routes over the middle to counteract the Spartans’ third-down blitzing and were able to find acres of space between freshman wide receiver Andrel Anthony and junior tight end Erick All, who had 10 catches for 98 yards.
Anthony, an East Lansing native, torched Michigan State’s secondary in the first half to give Michigan a nine-point lead and confidence entering the second half. He had his coming-out party on his first trip back to East Lansing. After having only one touch for six yards all season prior to today, Anthony had four catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the first half to give the Wolverines a 23-14 edge after 30 minutes.
On the opening drive, MSU reached Michigan’s 39-yard-line on the opening drive and faced a third and short. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne was flushed out of the pocket by senior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and threw the ball deep to redshirt junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor in double coverage and it was intercepted at the Wolverines two-yard line.
Michigan capitalized on the mistake immediately to get the scoring started. On the third play of the drive, Michigan junior quarterback Cade McNamara found Anthony on a crossing route. The former track star for East Lansing put on the burners and outran MSU’s safeties for a 93-yard touchdown pass to put Michigan up 7-0 early.
The early woes continued for the Spartans throughout the first quarter. After a quick punt on its second drive, MSU started moving the ball again on its third drive. They gained 31 yards quickly before being left with third and short at midfield.
MSU’s offensive line did not pick up the blitz from junior safety Daxton Hill and Hill had a free run at Thorne. Thorne tried to get the ball out quickly, but the pass hit off Hill’s helmet and flew straight up into the hands of junior defensive end Mike Morris. Michigan started its drive at the MSU 30-yard line looking to add to the lead off another turnover.
The defense stood strong with its back against the wall. They did not let the Wolverines into the endzone again, forcing a field goal. Senior kicker Jake Moody extended the lead to 10-0 and a silence fell over Spartan Stadium.
Michigan State finally got up off the mat and started playing after falling down two scores early. The offense answered the field goal by driving 75 yards on five plays which was capped off by a spectacular run from Walker, this time for 27 yards.
Walker provided a jolt to MSU after the sleepy start to get them back into it; then put MSU in the lead a couple of minutes later. After Michigan State successfully converted a fourth down at midfield on a beautiful play-action pass to Nailor, Walker scored again, this time from eight yards out, to give MSU a 14-13 lead halfway through the second quarter.
Anthony got in the endzone for a second time to give Michigan the lead again. He elevated over junior cornerback Chester Kimbrough to make an impressive catch to put Michigan up 20-14.
Michigan added its third touchdown on the day to take a 30-14 lead halfway through the quarter after McNamara found junior wide receiver Mike Sainristil on a crossing route in the red zone.
Michigan State had its back up against the wall again and needed an answer. The MSU offense started putting together a drive but it stalled in Michigan territory. On fourth down, Thorne found redshirt junior wide receiver Jayden Reed on a fade to move MSU to Michigan’s two-yard line. In the next play, Walker punched it in to cut the lead to eight.
MSU was able to get another rare stop on third down and get the ball back. Walker was the man once again for MSU and broke a 58-yard touchdown run to set up a two-point conversion to tie the game. Thorne found Reed on the fade and just like that it was all square.
Michigan answered the two consecutive touchdowns by kicking its fourth field goal of the game to retake a three-point lead with 9:20 remaining.
Walker was the one, for the fifth time, with the answer. After manufacturing a drive to Michigan’s 23, Walker bounced the ball out wide and outran the safety for his fifth touchdown of the game and MSU’s second lead with 5:08 remaining.
Michigan State’s defense stood strong for the final five minutes of the game and Michigan State escaped with a 37-33 victory over Michigan. Paul Bunyan will stay in East Lansing for another year.
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