Michigan State gets best of Michigan again
East Lansing — The scoreboard and the stat sheet described a familiar scene on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
No. 8 Michigan State once again dominated its in-state rival, beating Michigan, 35-11, the sixth victory for the Spartans in the last seven meetings with the Wolverines. It was the fourth straight win at home in the series for Michigan State, which outgained Michigan, 446-186, intercepted a pair of passes — one returned for a touchdown — and ran for 219 yards against the fourth-best run defense in the nation.
But there was something extra this time around. It was evident on the first drive of the game when quarterback Connor Cook ran over Michigan defensive back Delano Hill inside the 5-yard line. He got up and jawed at Hill who retaliated with a shove and drew a penalty. A play later, Jeremy Langford scored the first of three touchdowns.
"I don't think anything other than a quarterback lowering his shoulder and running over a guy gets a team more hyped," Cook said. "If there's one thing that can get the team going, it's someone lowering his shoulder and trying to be physical. I had that in the back of my mind and I feel like being a QB, for my running ability, people don't expect to see that. It got the sideline going, it got the crowd into it. It gave us a little bit more momentum at the time."
The momentum gained by the Spartans might have come on that play, but the incentive was added before the ball was even kicked on Saturday. As the Wolverines came out of the tunnel, a player planted some sort of spear in the turf near its sidelines.
It didn't go unnoticed, by the Michigan State players or coaches. And when Langford scored a 5-yard touchdown with 28 seconds to play instead of the Spartans kneeling on the ball, it was that moment that was still pushing them.
"They ran out and stuck the dagger on our grass and disrespected us right out of the gate," Cook said. "We weren't having that."
It's not as if Michigan State (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) has needed much motivation in this series, but they rode it on Saturday. In addition to the gaudy team numbers, Langford carried 35 times for a career-high 177 yards, the 12th straight game against a Big Ten opponent he has gone over 100 yards. Cook was 12-for-21 for 227 yards and a touchdown, a 70-yarder to wide receiver Tony Lippett. Lippett finished with three catches for 103 yards, his sixth 100-yard receiving game, and he now has nine touchdowns this season.
And while the fire for the Spartans in this series began after Michigan's win in 2007, fuel was added this time around.
"As far as the score at the end," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, "I knew we were going to pop one when they had everybody up there, so we popped one and I just felt like we needed to put a stake in them at that point.
"You might as well just come out and say what you're feeling at some point in time because you can only be diplomatic for so long. The "Little Brother" stuff, all the disrespect, it didn't have to go in that direction. We try to handle ourselves with composure. It doesn't come from the coach, it comes from the program. Throwing the stake down in our backyard out here, coming out there like they're all that, it got shoved … in the last minute or half. We were not gonna pull off of that. We didn't want to kick a field goal. That wasn't the MO, but if our guys could get it in we would get it in."
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said after the game he didn't have an issue with the touchdown scored with 28 seconds left on the clock.
"We had 11 guys out there, they had 11 guys out there," Hoke said. "We're trying to compete, they're trying to compete. That's what athletics and competition is."
As for the incident before the game, "I think I was aware that something happened, but I'm not fully aware," Hoke said. "I think it was Joe (Bolden)."
The competition proved too much for the Wolverines (3-5, 1-3), who at least stopped its streak of quarters without a touchdown against the Spartans at 11 with De'Veon Smith's 1-yard scoring run late in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked twice, lost a fumble and threw a pair of interceptions, one returned 29 yards for a touchdown by Michigan State safety RJ Williamson. Gardner was 13-for-28 for 121 yards while the Wolverines gained only 186 total yards — just 65 came on the ground — with the Spartans recording seven tackles for loss.
"It all starts off in the first half," Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said after the Spartans allowed 0 yards rushing in the first two quarters. "In the first half, that was the game really as far as stopping the run. We shut down the run about as well as we've stopped it against these guys and that was the key to the game."
After Langford's touchdown to open the game, things slowed down. Michigan's Matt Wile kicked a 48-yard field goal with 3:30 left in the second quarter to get the Wolverines on the board before the Spartans marched right back behind Langford. He took a screen pass 18 yards to the Michigan 7 and appeared to score on the next play. But a replay review said he was down at the 1. It mattered little as Langford scored his second touchdown two plays later to extend Michigan State's lead to 14-3 with 21 seconds to play in the half.
After teams traded punts to open the second half, Michigan State's defense came up with a big play when Williamson intercepted a Gardner and took it back 29 yards, giving the Spartans a 21-3 lead with 8:33 to play in the third quarter.
The Michigan State defense followed with a three-and-out and the Spartans' offense needed only one play to extend the lead when Cook hit Lippett for the 70-yard score as Lippett made a move and danced down the sidelines for the score.
"I just thought our guys played extremely focused," Dantonio said. "I would say that focus is the right way to put that. We wanted to make sure that we measured up. We understood all week that just because we've won in the past does not mean we are going to be entitled. We wanted to stay confident and grounded in what we were doing and focus on the task at hand. I thought we were able to do that."
And while Michigan State takes next week off as it prepares for its showdown with Ohio State on Nov. 8, the Wolverines are fighting just to become bowl eligible.
"Obviously, not the results we worked for," Hoke said. "Putting 11 points on the board and giving up 35, that's not what we're accustomed to. We made some progress during the week we thought, but we've got to go back to work."
Added defensive end Frank Clark, "We've got more season left. It's one game. They got the better half. Whether we didn't prepare well enough or we didn't come out to play in the second half. The defense didn't execute too well on stopping the run. We gave up over 150 yards. We can't do that. Any time you do that, you're not going to win many games."