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A look at the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry over the last decade

October 24, 2022
<p>Then-freshman safety Xavier Henderson (3) defends a pass to Michigan receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (9) during the game at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans, 21-7.</p>

Then-freshman safety Xavier Henderson (3) defends a pass to Michigan receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (9) during the game at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans, 21-7.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

The battle for the state of Michigan and the Paul Bunyan trophy is set for this Saturday. Michigan State football (3-4) is looking to come out of Ann Arbor with an upset win over rival No. 4 Michigan (7-0) after a not so hot start to the season.

In case you’re new to the rivalry, or if you’ve just been living under a rock, anything can happen in these games. Here’s a quick recap of the big game over the past 10 years, including record-setting performances and some pretty infamous endings.

2021: Michigan State 37, Michigan 33

It was a cold Halloween weekend matchup between two undefeated top ten teams. The Wolverines jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead after a dominant performance in the first quarter thanks to a 93-yard pass from quarterback Cade McNamara to wide receiver Andrel Anthony. Running back Kenneth Walker III got the Spartans within striking distance with two rushing touchdowns, but they still went into the locker room at halftime down 23-14. The Wolverines started right where they left off to begin the second half, scoring first to extend their lead to 16 points. It was then and there that Walker put the team on his back and began to carry them to victory. After two more rushing touchdowns, from their star running back, the Spartans found themselves tied with their rival 30-30 early in the fourth quarter. Michigan was able to get back on top thanks to a field goal from kicker Jake Moody, but Walker wasn’t ready to let his Heisman-worthy performance go to waste. He gave the Spartans his fifth and final touchdown of the day, the most in the history of the rivalry, to go up 37-33. Cornerback Charles Brantley then came up with a game-ending interception to move the Spartans to 8-0 with a defining win over the Wolverines.

2020: Michigan State 27, Michigan 24

2020 presented a unique challenge for college football. The COVID-19 pandemic forced fans to watch the big game from the safety of their homes, so the unranked Spartans traveled to Ann Arbor to play the No. 13 Wolverines in an empty stadium (apart from family and support staff). 2020’s matchup also served as head coach Mel Tucker’s first experience with the rivalry.

The Spartans got on the board first with a 30 yard pass from quarterback Rocky Lombardi, but Michigan answered quickly with a rushing touchdown from running back Blake Corum to tie it. Lombardi found running back Connor Heyward for a quick two-yard pass to break the tie in the second quarter, but this time the Wolverines had to settle for a field goal as an answer and the Spartans went into the locker room at half up 14-10. The third quarter was a battle between, believe it or not, Corum and MSU kicker Matt Coghlin. Coghlin notched a field goal to put the Spartans up by a touchdown, but Corum tied things up with a one-yard run to the endzone not long after. MSU sent the field goal unit out with just over 4 minutes to play in the third, and Coghlin gave his team the lead once again. Things didn’t get interesting again until there were under six minutes to play. Heyward found the end zone on a 13 yard pass from Lombardi, but running back Hassan Haskins answered with a two-yard rushing touchdown of his own, cutting into MSU’s lead, 27-24. However, the Spartans were able to hold onto the three-point lead to give Tucker his first rivalry win and bring Paul Bunyan back to East Lansing.

2019: Michigan 44, Michigan State 10

In what was head coach Mark Dantonio’s final rivalry game, the Spartans were handed a definitive defeat by the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. MSU scored one touchdown on a one yard pass from quarterback Brian Lewerke to open the game, but U-M quickly took over from there. The Wolverines finished the second quarter with a passing touchdown from quarterback Shea Patterson, a rushing touchdown from Haskins and a field goal from kicker Quinn Nordin to go up 17-7 at the half. The Spartans were able to get a field goal in the third quarter thanks to Coghlin, but the Wolverines outdid their rival once again with a field goal and a touchdown to grow their lead to 17 going into the fourth quarter. Patterson threw for two more touchdowns in the fourth, along with a field goal from Nordin to shut the door on any chance of a Spartan comeback. The Wolverine defense did its job and shut down MSU’s offense to keep Paul Bunyan in Ann Arbor for another year.

2018: Michigan 21, Michigan State 7

No. 6 Michigan came to East Lansing and took Paul Bunyan home with them. The game started out neck and neck as neither team managed to score in the first quarter. Michigan finally managed to put points on the board in the beginning of the second quarter on a six-yard touchdown pass from Patterson to wide receiver Nico Collins. The Spartans answered with a special play of their own in which wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. acted as quarterback and threw the ball to Lewerke in the end zone to tie it up at 7-7 in the third quarter. MSU quickly lost momentum after Patterson threw a 79-yard pass to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones for a touchdown to end the third. The Wolverine defense dominated the Spartan offense, not allowing a single score in the fourth quarter which allowed the offense to get one more rushing touchdown to come away with the win 21-7.

2017: Michigan State 14, Michigan 10

Per usual, 2017’s matchup was a close one. Michigan got on the board first with a field goal from Nordin, but Michigan State took the lead just a few plays later. Out of options, Lewerke decided to take it himself on a 14-yard run to the end zone to put the Spartans up 7-3 late in the first quarter. He then added to the score on a 16-yard pass to running back Madre London in the second quarter. The Wolverines threatened a comeback in the middle of the third with running back Khalil Hill’s one-yard run to the end zone that cut the lead to four, but Michigan was unable to overcome its miscues, including five turnovers and various penalties. The MSU defense was able to hold them off for the rest of the game and took Paul Bunyan with them back to East Lansing.

2016: Michigan 32, Michigan State 23

No 2. Michigan traveled to East Lansing for the 2016 rivalry matchup. Running back LJ Scott got the Spartans on the board first with a five-yard rush to the end zone, but the Wolverines answered right back with a three-yard rushing touchdown of their own just a few minutes later. Michigan would add another touchdown before the Spartans would score again, this time a field goal from kicker Michael Geiger to cut the lead to four. Michigan kicker Kenny Allen then responded with a field goal of his own to put the Wolverines up by a touchdown and they didn’t stop there. They scored on another rushing touchdown and a field goal to go up 27-10 at the half. Neither team managed to score in the third quarter, but Allen put another three points on the board with a field goal to begin the fourth. Lewerke threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to attempt a Spartan comeback. They were able to get one more rushing touchdown but botched the two point conversion that was picked up and returned by Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers to end the game.

2015: Michigan State 27, Michigan 23

The 2015 matchup had undoubtedly the craziest ending in the history of the rivalry. It was another competitive game that got off to a slow start, with neither team scoring in the first quarter. The rest of the game was neck and neck until the final 10 seconds. Michigan had the game in the bag. Up 23-21, all they had to do was successfully punt the ball and victory was theirs. That did not happen. Michigan punter Blake O’Neil fumbled the ball before having it knocked out of his hands and into the arms of defensive back Jalen Watts-Jackson who was in the perfect position to recover it. He then ran it 38 yards into the end zone to stun the fans in Ann Arbor. The Spartans took Paul Bunyan home on a play now famously called “Trouble with the snap,” winning 27-23.

2014: Michigan State 35, Michigan 11

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The No.8 Spartans took care of business in 2014’s matchup. Running back Jeremy Langford scored MSU’s first two touchdowns on one and two-yard rushes, respectively, while the Wolverines had to settle for a field goal. Safety RJ Williamson came up with an interception in which he returned for a 29-yard touchdown in third quarter, and quarterback Connor Cook threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to put MSU up 28-3. Michigan gave a last-ditch effort with a one-yard rushing touchdown to make the score 28-11 with just under four minutes to play. Dantonio did not let up and called for a play that allowed Langford to score on a five-yard rush with 28 seconds left giving the Spartans the 35-11 victory.

2013 Michigan State 29, Michigan 6

The matchup between the No. 24 Spartans and the No. 23 Wolverines started as a battle of the kickers. Michigan punter Matt Wile got the battle started with a 49-yard field goal that was answered by MSU’s Geiger, who doubled the score with two field goals of his own. Michigan tied the score again with another field goal and then MSU took over. MSU then put up 23 unanswered points and the defense, led by defensive end Shilique Calhoun and linebacker Ed Davis, held off the Wolverines to decisively defeat their rival 29-6.

2012: Michigan 12, Michigan State 10

The 2012 matchup was one of the lower scoring games of the rivalry. Although the No. 23 Wolverines were able to edge the Spartans, they didn’t score a single touchdown. They got on the board first with two field goals in the second quarter. MSU scored the lone touchdown of the game in the third quarter on a two-yard pass from quarterback Andrew Maxwell, but Michigan got back on top with another field goal early in the fourth. Thanks to another field goal, the Spartans led by one in the final minute of the game, but Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons hit the game winning field goal with five seconds left to give his team the 12-10 win.


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