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Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and quarterback Connor Cook discuss the Spartans' win over UM.

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East Lansing — Matching last season's effort was going to be a tall task for the Michigan State defense on Saturday, but in the 35-11 victory over Michigan, it came pretty close.

It wasn't quite the minus-48 yards rushing allowed in last season's victory, but the defensive performance was dominant all the same. The Spartans allowed only 186 total yards to the Wolverines, including 65 on the ground, while intercepting a pair of passes, recovering a fumble, recording two sacks and collecting seven tackles for loss.

"We didn't want to look back at what we did last year," defensive end Marcus Rush said. "We know we have a new defense. We knew we had to stop the run. We know if they have Devin Gardner back there passing the ball then we're in good position. We're confident in our third-down package. That definitely showed today."

The Spartans certainly made it a one-dimensional game, and it was too much for the Wolverines. Gardner was just 13-for-28 for 121 yards and one of his interception was returned for a touchdown by RJ Williamson.

It was a big play for the junior safety, who lost his starting job in the Big Ten opener against Nebraska to freshman Montae Nicholson. On Saturday, Williamson was back in as the starter.

"RJ played very well last week and earned the start," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "It is always about playing the best guy. He knows what he is doing out there. (The interception for a touchdown) is a play that will be remembered for a long time and there will be a lot of highlights from that play. I thought he played extremely well. He was focused and had a great week of practice and is a very good football player."

Senior linebacker Taiwan Jones also had an outstanding game, leading the Spartans with eight tackles and adding a sack and an interception.

"I thought Taiwan Jones played outstanding," Dantonio said. "I saw him go up in the air a few times and make some big plays. He was aggressively blitzing. He is the Mike linebacker so the different zone plays go to him if they are running up inside. He was crucial to some stops."

Michigan State's streak of holding Michigan without a touchdown ended at 11 quarters when the Wolverines scored with 3:30 to play.

"We were very frustrated," linebacker Ed Davis said. "We had a chance to stop them on third down and it was real frustrating. We didn't want them to score a touchdown but we played great overall."

The numbers prove that the defense has been solid all year. They have held five opponents under 100 yards rushing and the 121 passing yards allowed were the third-fewest this season. They gave up 11 against Indiana and 115 against Eastern Michigan.

The Spartans also created three turnovers and continue to lead the Big Ten in that category.

And it was the defense, once again, that continued Michigan State's mastery of its rival.

"It means everything," Rush said. "It's amazing to walk out of here at the end of the year knowing we beat them again. I won't have to look back and think about losing to Michigan when I'm older. It's something special for sure. It's awesome. Beating Michigan always feels great."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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