MSU improves to 3-0 with 38-17 road win against No. 24 Miami
Miami Gardens, Fla. – Mel Tucker said his team had to be ready for a 15-round fight.
Playing Saturday in the stifling heat of South Florida, on the road against a ranked team with a Heisman hopeful quarterback, the Michigan State coach got exactly what he was expecting — in both the matchup with No. 24 Miami and the response from his team.
“We were prepared to do that,” Tucker said. “We wanted to drag them into the deep water, where we live with the strain, the struggle, the pain, the pressure, the weight room, the discipline, the attention to detail — all of those things.
“There’s a plan and the players believe in the plan. They believe in the process. Today, we were able to get it done.”
That they did.
The Spartans (3-0) slogged through the first half before putting the gas pedal down in the second, forcing critical turnovers and then cashing in with big offensive plays and gutsy calls to beat Miami, 38-17, in front of 46,427 at Hard Rock Stadium, with plenty of those fans decked out in green and white.
The win lifts Michigan State to 3-0 for the first time since 2015, the season it went to the College Football Playoffs. And while getting to that point might be pushing it, the Spartans being unbeaten at this point would have been far-fetched even a few weeks ago.
“You should see our locker room,” Tucker said. “Our guys are extremely happy and excited that we won. (It’s the) 24-hour rule, so we're going to enjoy it like heck, because going on the road to win a game like this with all those Spartan fans in the stadium like it was, that's an outstanding victory.
“But you know, let's be real about it. We’ve played three games. We got a long way to go.”
For at least one day, though, Michigan State was going to celebrate one of its more complete efforts in some time as both sides of the ball were critical in the victory.
Payton Thorne threw for 261 yards and four touchdowns and, once again, didn’t turn the ball over. The Spartans also got 172 yards rushing from Kenneth Walker III along with a receiving touchdown, as well as two touchdowns each from Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor.
And on defense, the Spartans created four turnovers — with interceptions from Ronald Williams and Angelo Grose — along with three sacks. The biggest came with Michigan State clinging to a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Drew Beesley burst around the end to hit Miami quarterback D’Eriq King and force a fumble that was recovered by Jacub Panasiuk at the Miami 13. Three plays later, Thorne hit Reed with a 10-yard touchdown pass to push the MSU lead to 10.
“That was just the one of many plays that needed to be made in the game,” Beesley said, downplaying his effort. “That strip-sack fumble, it wasn't really going to mean anything unless we finished the game. It was a critical point in the game and I was telling everybody after, ‘We’ve got to finish. We’ve got to finish.’ That’s exactly what we ended up doing.”
They did so thanks to another critical play in the fourth quarter.
After Miami (1-2) had cut the lead to 24-17 on a 55-yard field goal from Andy Borregales, Michigan State faced a fourth-and-1 from the Miami 40. Tucker opted to go for it and Thorne scratched out a yard. On the next play, Thorne hit Nailor for a 39-yard touchdown to essentially put the game away.
“Obviously, I wanted to go for it because I felt like we could get a yard,” Tucker said. “We needed to do that. I felt like that was imperative that we get that first down. And then I tell our coordinators to call the game.”
Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson did just that, dialing up the deep ball to put the game away.
“I love the call from Coach,” Thorne said. “We were able to execute it well enough and Speedy ran a really good route and made the play.”
It all helped Michigan State overcome a potentially potent Hurricanes offense. Wide receiver Charleston Rambo had 12 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns and King was 38-for-59 for 388 yards and two touchdowns, but he did throw a pair of interceptions and lost two fumbles.
“The big message this week was get the guy with the football and try to take it away,” Beesley said. “That’s the name of the game, being able to create turnovers and put your offense in a good position. That ends up winning games and our defense did a really good job with that this week.”
Things didn’t start well for Michigan State, but it managed to take a 10-7 lead to the locker room at halftime. The Spartans were able to endure pressure from the Miami front four, which had three first-half sacks, and brushed aside two drives to open the game that essentially went backward.
On its third possession, Michigan State was able to find some offensive rhythm late in the first quarter, moving deep into Miami territory as the first quarter came to an end. After Walker was stuffed on third-and-5, Matt Coghlin kicked a 23-yard field goal to give the Spartans a 3-0 lead with 13:58 left in the second quarter.
Miami bounced right back as King did his best to pick apart the Michigan State secondary, moving the Hurricanes 75 yards on 10 plays. He capped the drive with a 3-yard pass to Rambo to give the Hurricanes a 7-3 lead with just more than 10 minutes to play in the first half. The teams each missed short field goals before MSU grabbed the lead back on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Thorne to Walker with 2:56 left in the second quarter.
After trading punts to open the second half, Michigan State had one of its best drives of the game, marching 85 yards on 10 plays. It ended with Nailor’s 11-yard touchdown pass from Thorne on which Nailor outran the defense to the corner of the end zone to put Michigan State ahead, 17-7, with 6:08 left in the third quarter. Miami responded with its own impressive drive, using only 2:15 to cut Michigan State’s lead to 17-14 with 3:53 left in the third quarter on a 14-yard touchdown pass from King to Rambo.
After Michigan State was forced to punt, Beesley made his play to change the momentum, setting up Reed’s 10-yard TD reception from Thorne. After Miami pulled within 24-17, Thorne got the fourth-down conversion and connected with Nailor to make it 31-17 with 4:12 to play before the late score from Reed on the ground.
“Obviously, we are disappointed in our performance and disappointed in the outcome,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “I have to give credit to Michigan State. Turnovers and the red zone told the story today. Missing opportunities and not creating any turnovers hurt — they won basically all the critical moments of the game. Like I said, it was very disappointing.”