On the final play of the game for Michigan State’s defense, a true freshman sealed MSU’s win against Michigan. With the Wolverines down by four and just over a minute left in the game, Michigan junior quarterback Cade McNamara was pushing the ball down the field to try to score.
McNamara tried to deliver a strike to senior tight end Luke Schoonmaker on the sideline to stop the clock, but freshman defensive back Charles Brantley had different ideas. Brantley dropped from his zone coverage in the flat to track back and make a spectacular one-handed catch to seal Michigan State’s victory.
Following the game, senior safety Xavier Henderson used Brantley to take a dig at former Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards - who said earlier this week that he could not name a single player on MSU’s defense.
“Thanks Braylon,” Henderson said. “I bet you know Chuck Brantley’s name now, don’t you?”
After moving in and out of the lineup the past few games, the freshman cornerback showed why Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker trusts him in big spots.
“Man, I'm really proud of Chuck,” Henderson said. “I didn't know he was that mature but that's what that says about him. I know he was getting a little bit upset about not playing as much as he did earlier in the year. ... He kept his head up and was ready to play when his number was called, and I'm so happy for him, and that he got to make that play.”
The saving play from Brantley in the waning moments of the game was just one of many key plays from the Spartan defense to help complete the team’s 16-point comeback in the final 19 minutes of the game.
Michigan State’s defense struggled all game - giving up 33 points and 552 total yards to Michigan’s offense - but came up with plays when it mattered most to help MSU escape with a 37-33 victory over the Wolverines, keeping MSU’s perfect season intact.
The Michigan State defense particularly struggled against U-M’s passing game after preparing to stop its vaunted rushing attack. The Wolverines threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns against the Spartan secondary. Redshirt freshman linebacker Cal Haladay said they had to make in-game adjustments to stop it.
“The game plan this week was to stop the run and we thought they were gonna be running the ball every other play, every play pretty much,” Haladay said. “So when they started throwing the ball, we just had to adjust a little bit and start expecting it more than what we were planning on throughout the week.”
The Wolverines’ aerial blitz started from the opening possession when McNamara found true freshman and East Lansing native freshman wide receiver Andrel Anthony for a 93-yard touchdown to give them a 7-0 lead early. Michigan gained 333 yards in the first half and scored 23 of its 33 points to jump on the Spartans early.
Anthony caught both of Michigan’s touchdowns in the first half after only touching the ball once in a game all season before today. His speed, coupled with MSU’s prep to stop the run, completely caught the Spartans off guard in the first half. Haladay said the team put those plays in the past at halftime and focused on stopping the Wolverine offense during the second half.
The readjustment worked. After putting up the most yards on MSU in a half since Wisconsin in 2007, Michigan only gained 219 yards and scored 10 points in the second half.
Michigan State’s defense struggled to get off the field on third down all day. U-M was eight for 17 on converting third downs today, many of them coming on third and seven or longer. MSU tried to bring blitzes to pressure McNamara, and he got the ball out quickly to punish Defensive Coordinator Scottie Hazelton’s decisions.
In the second half, though, the Spartans were able to get stops on third down. The Wolverines started out seven of 12 on third down to take a 16-point lead but just converted one of its final five third downs down the stretch. Those stops to force punts came at the right time for MSU, whose offense was getting going thanks to Kenneth Walker III.
The emergence of complementary football, or harmony between offense, defense and special teams, helped fuel the comeback victory. After Michigan State scored to cut the lead to eight, the defense responded by forcing a punt quickly. The offense responded by scoring again to tie it up.
The offense and defense took turns making plays throughout the final quarter. After scoring the tying touchdown, the defense responded by forcing a field goal to keep Michigan’s lead to three. On cue, Walker scored his fifth touchdown of the game to give MSU a 37-33 lead, which the defense would hold onto thanks to Brantley’s heroics.
“We felt like we needed to execute better on both sides of the ball .... make some adjustments and find a way to make some plays,” Tucker said. “We started to convert more on third down on offense and guys playing extremely hard on defense. And, obviously, we got some playmakers that were able to make some plays but it was a team win.”
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