East Lansing — Before a heated pregame exchange between Michigan and Michigan State players and before a 75-minute weather delay, the Wolverines had heard all the doubters picking them apart and questioning what they have accomplished so far.
If it wasn’t enough, Michigan was playing its in-state rival that had won eight of the last 10 meetings.
One week after dismantling Wisconsin, No. 6 Michigan checked another box by walking into Spartan Stadium and beating No. 24 Michigan State, 21-7, in dominating fashion in front of a crowd of 76,131.
It was also Michigan's first win over a ranked opponent on the road since 2006.
Michigan (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) held Michigan State to only 94 yards of total offense and held the ball for more than 40 minutes, winning in East Lansing for the second straight time and remaining in a tie for first place in the Big Ten East with Ohio State.
“Every week it seems that people find reasons to critique us or talk about why we don’t deserve to be a top-ranked team,” said Michigan running back Karan Higdon, who rushed for 144 yards on 33 carries against the Michigan State's top-ranked rush defense.
“Last week (before facing Wisconsin) it was we don’t show up in big games. This week, it’s Michigan State has the No. 1 run defense, blah, blah, blah. We showed up and did our job. That’s all that matters.”
Michigan running back Karan Higdon said the Wolverines were motivated from the start. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Higdon said the Wolverines ignored what he called trash talk from the Michigan State side on social media all week and played it cool.
“We knew when the whistle blew, we were going to let it all out — all our frustration, all the personal things we felt about this game, we were going to let it out,” Higdon said. “We came here, they were talking trash. When the whistle blew there was nothing they could do, and we won.”
Shea Patterson threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns, including a 79-yarder to Donovan Peoples-Jones late in the third quarter that gave Michigan a 14-7 lead. The Wolverines finished with 395 total yards of offense, including 183 on the ground.
Michigan State (4-3, 2-2) lost to its rival for just the fourth time in 12 seasons under coach Mark Dantonio. While the defense held up as long as it could, the Spartans offense was brutal. Quarterback Brian Lewerke was 5-for-25 for 66 yards before being pulled late in the game while Michigan State was 0-for-12 on third down.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called the incident before the game with MSU "bush league." Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“Our defense was lights out today to hold an opponent to (94) yards of total offense and 0-for-12 on third down conversions,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I mean, that’s the kind of statistics you dream. That was a dream game. Offensively against a highly ranked running defense, our guys didn’t back down. They kept pounding and got the job done.”
The Wolverines also said they drew motivation after a pregame exchange between players from both teams. The Spartans usually walk with arms linked across the length of the field when the other team is not on the field. Michigan State was delayed 10 minutes and several Michigan players were on the field.
The two groups crossed paths, appeared to have a heated exchange and cornerback Lavert Hill’s headphones were knocked off his head. Linebacker Devin Bush then dug his feet into the Spartan logo at midfield.
“Total bush league,” Harbaugh said. “Apparently Coach Dantonio was five yards behind it all smiling. I think it's bush league, that’s my impression of it. Our guys, they didn’t blink. They didn’t come here to back down or get intimidated by anybody. Never have in this game. Guys did what they had to do. Happy bus ride home.”
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio talks about his team's performance in Saturday's 21-7 loss to rival Michigan. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Harbaugh was asked if that motivated the team
“Yeah, could have,” he said. “Certainly, it wasn’t going to intimidate us.”
Dantonio said “that’s B.S.” when told what Harbaugh described.
That pregame drama was a bit more intriguing than the first half, which was tough to watch only partly because of the weather delay.
With the game scoreless coming out of the stoppage, Michigan State was in position to get a quick stop and get the ball back. But on third-and-8 from its 43, Patterson’s pass to Grant Perry bounced off Perry and an MSU defender and shot in the air. That’s when Nico Collins dove to catch the ball for a 10-yard gain and a first down. The Wolverines capitalized by eventually marching down the field and taking a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard pass from Patterson to Collins on the first play of the second quarter.
From there, it was all defense as Michigan State managed 49 total yards and six punts in the first half. The Spartans’ defense kept their team in the game, holding the Wolverines out of the end zone despite good field position. Michigan’s deepest penetration into Michigan State territory ended with a 36-yard field goal attempt from Quinn Nordin that missed badly.
Michigan State managed to come up with a big play early in the second half as Raequan Williams knocked the ball from Michigan running back Chris Evans and the ball was recovered by Brandon Bouyer-Randle at the Michigan 7. Two plays later, the Spartans used some trickery to get in the end zone.
Higdon said the Wolverines’ focus never wavered. They relaxed and they discussed the game plan.
“We knew they didn’t want to play us,” Higdon said. “They were tired, they were hurting, and we knew it was going to be a pound-for-pound game and they weren’t going to be able to last with us.”