John Niyo and Matt Charboneau discuss Michigan State's win over Michigan. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — The stat that often tells the tale in the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry held true on Saturday night — the team that ran the ball better won the game.
Michigan State finished with 158 yards to 102 for Michigan in its 14-10 victory, and while it was hardly a thing of beauty – especially considering the Spartans gained only 46 yards on the ground in the second half — it was effective.
It was effective because not only did it come in brutal weather conditions against the top rushing defense in the nation, it showed further development of the young offensive line.
“We ran the ball and we said we had to stay ahead of the chains,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “That was the other thing I said we had to be able to do. When I say run the ball, it was tough sledding in there, but we had to take that. We couldn’t become a third-and-12 team, a third-and-15 team because we took sacks and passed the ball 50 times in that weather. We had to endure whatever came with the run, and that meant running some.
“Up front, obviously, Brian Allen is playing very well and he controls a lot of things up there. Beyond that, everybody has their moments.”
The fact that every player is having his moments is critical to Michigan State’s offensive development this season. Allen was expected to be good, and he has been. The senior is the anchor of that line and is on the watch list for both the Outland Trophy and the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s top center.
But it’s the development of the rest of the group that has been critical.
On the left side are sophomores Cole Chewins at tackle and Tyler Higby at guard while the right side is even younger.
Redshirt freshman Luke Campbell has started all five games at tackle and true freshman Kevin Jarvis has taken over the last two games at guard in place of injured junior David Beedle.
The progress has been slow, but it is coming, as evidenced by the 112 first-half yards against the Wolverines.
“A lot of different things thrown at our guys relative to the things conceptually from Michigan’s defense,” Dantonio said. “A little more basic from Iowa, but they do it very, very well. Both games we knew we would be challenged up front. We knew it was gonna be tough to run the football. But nevertheless, we decided we were gonna run it.”
The Spartans (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) admit they still need more from the tailbacks as quarterback Brian Lewerke was the leading rusher again on Saturday. Some of that was because LJ Scott did not play because of a minor injury and fifth-year senior Gerald Holmes was hampered by an early ankle injury.
“There’s no question we have to get our tailbacks running the ball,” Dantonio said. “The production has to come, I think, for us to continue to grow as a football team.”
That growth gets tested at 8 p.m. Saturday at Minnesota.
But add in the fact the pass protection has been outstanding — Lewerke has been sacked just six times this season and not once against Michigan — and Michigan State believes it’s making progress up front while knowing it must come quickly.
“The production might not be there as much as we want, but we were gonna run it and we were gonna force the issue at the very least in terms of not getting behind the chains,” Dantonio said. “I think our quarterback is creating. He’s making some plays with his feet. He’s also got a couple called runs maybe that we’ve used as well. But there’s just been a different dynamic in terms of what we’ve done offensively maybe than what we have before.”
Homecoming time announced
Michigan State’s homecoming game against Indiana on Oct. 21 will kick off at 3:30 p.m., it was announced on Monday. The game will be televised on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.
This Saturday's 8 p.m. game at Minnesota will be on the Big Ten Network.