Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News talks about Michigan State ending its five-game skid by shutting out Rutgers. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Piscataway, N.J. — Nope, it turns out the Michigan State football team did not forget the words to the fight song.
That much was clear on the field at SHI Stadium Saturday and in the locker room after Michigan State’s 27-0 victory over Rutgers, a game that ended a five-game skid and moved the Spartans one game closer to reaching a bowl game.
“Oh, yeah, we most definitely we did,” junior linebacker Antjuan Simmons said laughing after he was asked about singing the fight song. “We've been itching to sing that song.”
For the first time in almost two months, the Spartans (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) got to sing that song, and suddenly malaise that had fallen over the program was lifted for at least a day. There are no guarantees — Michigan State must still beat Maryland next week to become bowl eligible — but for one day the Spartans looked like a team ready to impose its will.
It was highlighted by Cody White’s big day as the junior had 11 catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns. The three scores matched a single-game record at Michigan State as White had scoring grabs of 21, 16 and 7 yards, the last one a one-handed beauty in the fourth quarter.
“He’s making me look good,” said quarterback Brian Lewerke, who was 21-for-30 for 239 yards.
The Spartans also ran the ball well as redshirt freshman Elijah Collins gained 109 yards on a career-high 31 carries while the defense finally looked like its old self, pitching the first shutout since a 49-0 win over Rutgers in 2016 and Michigan State’s first road shutout since blanking Northwestern, 34-0, in 1999.
Rutgers (2-9, 0-8) gained only 140 total yards and did not pick up a first down in the first half as it remained winless in the Big Ten this season.
It all added up to Michigan State ending a nearly two-month drought, its last win coming back on Sept. 28 when it beat Indiana, 40-31. In between was a slide made worse by two bye weeks that were mixed in blowouts to the Big Ten’s top team and a fourth-quarter collapse at home to Illinois.
For one afternoon, though, that all went out the window.
“It felt really good and we had a lot a lot of fun in the locker room,” Lewerke said. “It doesn't matter who you beat, a win's a win and it feels really good to get another one.”
Added coach Mark Dantonio, “Very, very proud of them. I keep talking about life’s lessons and I guess in football that’s what you do. Things won’t always go the way you want them to go and they found a way to sort of get the monkey off the back a little bit — our back a little bit. We haven’t sung the fight song in a while.”
They were singing it thanks to the connection of Lewerke and White which was rolling early. The Spartans got on the board first when Lewerke hit White with a 21-yard pass in the corner of the end zone to give the Spartans a 7-0 lead with 5:03 left in the first quarter. The Spartans added a 46-yard field goal from junior Matt Coghlin on their next drive to push the lead to 10-0 with 1:11 left in the first quarter.
Michigan State later failed to take advantage of an interception by sophomore safety Xavier Henderson in the second quarter, failing to pick up a first down before Coghlin’s 33-yard field-goal attempt banged off the left upright. However, the Spartans closed the half with an impressive two-minute drive, marching 77 yards on seven plays and taking a 17-0 lead on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Lewerke to White to close the first-half scoring.
“Everything,” Rutgers interim coach Nunzio Campanile said of what went wrong in the first half. “We missed a couple opportunities in the pass game that really killed us. They're a tough team to run the football on. They mixed up some pressures, some different coverages early in the first half. Teams tend to challenge us a little bit more because the way we've struggled to throw the football. They don't really give some of the free-access throws you're hoping to get. We missed some throws that we needed to make.”
The Spartans continued to move the ball in the second half, but its first drive ended when White had a ball pulled from his hands in the end zone and intercepted by Rutgers’ redshirt freshman linebacker Deion Jennings.
“He punched it right when I had caught it,” White said, “So he made a good play on the ball.”
Michigan State later added a 37-yard field goal from Coghlin to push the lead to 20-0 with five seconds left in the third quarter. Then in the fourth quarter, junior cornerback Josiah Scott forced a fumble then recovered the ball to set Michigan State up at the Rutgers' 29. Four plays later, Lewerke hit White for his third touchdown catch of the game, this one for 7 yards that put Michigan State ahead, 27-0, with 12:39 to play.
The action was mostly done by then, allowing Michigan State to do something it hasn’t done in a long time — soak up the final minutes of a win while looking ahead to the home finale.
“It’s almost been two months to the day from the last time we got a win,” Lewerke said, “so we were just having fun. And this is my last game, last regular-season game next week, and I'm just trying to enjoy it all and obviously getting a win makes it a lot better.”
Michigan State's Tyriq Thompson, Antjuan Simmons and Xavier Henderson talk about the shutout win over Rutgers. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News