MSU seniors have fun against Rutgers in home finale

By Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Keith Mumphrey(25) roars down the sidelines in the first half as MSU hosts Rutgers, Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. (Dale G. Young  / The Detroit News )

East Lansing – It wasn't just any day at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, but the end result was certainly familiar.

In an obvious nod to the 18 seniors on the roster that continue to close in on matching the school record for most wins, No. 10 Michigan State faced little resistance in a 45-3 victory over Rutgers in front of an announced crowd of 70,902.

The seniors were the center of attention, led by fifth-year running back Jeremy Langford and fifth-year receiver Tony Lippett. Langford ran 16 times for 126 yards and two touchdowns, marking the 15th straight game he ran for more than 100 yards against a Big Ten opponent.

And Lippett became the eighth in Michigan State history to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season, catching catching five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. He also played on defense, getting extensive action at cornerback and breaking up a pair of passes. It was the first time Lippett saw that side of the ball since starting five games at corner as a redshirt freshman in 2011.

Fifth-year senior Nick Hill added two touchdown runs of 1 and 16 yards. And late in the fourth quarter, former walk-on and fifth-year senior offensive lineman Connor Kruse gained a yard on an end around run.

"It is chapter one for me," coach Mark Dantonio said. "It is the last game in Spartan Stadium, which means the end is near. … If you have guys with you for five years, I think you can get every element of human development. So we see our guys leave five years later with their degrees in hand. A lot of our guys have graduated or will graduate in January, and are walking out as men. That is chapter one. Chapter two will be next week and chapter three will be the bowl game. So there is three different times where you have to step back and say, 'This is the last time I will be doing this.' It is very emotional because you are attached to guys."

The seniors now have 40 wins in four years and victories next week at Penn State and a bowl game would tie them with last year's class for the most at Michigan State.

And Saturday against an undermanned Rutgers team, five of Michigan State's six touchdowns were scored by seniors — the exception being a 7-yard pass from Connor Cook to R.J. Shelton.

But offensive coordinator Dave Warner insisted it was a coincidence.

"We're trying to get our playmakers the ball," he said. "When their names are called they need to make a play. Langford obviously played well and broke a lot of tackles and Nick Hill did also on his last touchdown run. In a way it wasn't planned; except for Connor Kruse."

It was easy for the Spartans (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) to have fun at the expense of Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights (6-5, 2-5) turned the ball over three times and were outgained 520-234 while running for 95 yards to 234 for Michigan State. Their only score came on a 44-yard field goal in the third quarter.

Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova finished 11-for-26 for 108 yards and two interceptions while Robert Martin ran 16 times for 68 yards.

"We were disappointed in the outcome," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "We couldn't really find a rhythm offensively in the first half. Michigan State certainly got into a rhythm on offense and were able to get up on us. Not a lot of things went right for us in that first half, but I am pleased with the effort level that we came out with in the second half."

That left the Spartans plenty of time for fun, something Dantonio said was a big part of Saturday's game.

"You didn't see me smiling out there?" he deadpanned. "It was about that, and I don't mean to throw it as an insult towards anybody."

Michigan State took a couple of minutes to start having fun, overcoming a fumble by Cook on the opening drive by scoring touchdowns on five straight possessions.

It began with Lippett's 30-yard touchdown catch and an 18-yard run by Langford in the first quarter and was quickly followed by Langford's second score, a 38-yard run, in the second quarter followed by Hill's 1-yard run. The Spartans closed the first half with Shelton's scoring catch to lead 35-0 at the break.

Rutgers got on the board late in the third quarter with a 44-yard field goal from Kyle Federico that was answered by Michael Geiger's 23-yarder early in the fourth quarter. Hill capped the scoring with a 16-yard run with 5:53 to play.

For Hill, it was an emotional close to his career that has been highlighted by eight touchdowns this season.

"It got emotional just seeing my parents out there at midfield, waiting for me to come out there, along with my little siblings," Hill said. "That was emotional for me, and it was more emotional coming off the field. I remember the first time I stepped on the field in pads was in the Spring Game in 2010. I was just soaking it all up because it was the last time I was going to be on the field in pads."

Hill's sentiments echoed those of most of his teammates, but they all agreed this was just one step. The next is winning at Penn State and closing out the season in a bowl game, one they hope is a marquee matchup.

"If you win, good things happen," Dantonio said. "It doesn't matter how much you win by necessarily, although some people will point to that. Just win. If you do that, things will take care of themselves."