While I got some joy out of beating my younger brother 24-4 in a one-on-one game of basketball, it didn’t give me the joy that I feel whenever Michigan State beats Michigan on the football field. Ever since I was a child, the belief was that Michigan had the superior football team, and it was mostly true. Besides that damn fight song of theirs, Michigan’s football program is elite, just off of reputation alone. And when the Wolverines weren’t seemingly relying on their reputation, they were actually doing some winning. They had a Heisman winner in the early 90s, a Heisman winner in the late 90s who led them to a national title, were a top-10 team for the first half of the 2000s and rebuilt themselves in the late 2000s into the solid program they are today, even one that won the Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech in 2012.
Yesterday was a joyous one, as the Michigan State Spartans dominated their “big brother,” the Michigan Wolverines, at Spartan Stadium, 29-6. This game was for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, something the Spartans have gone home with after 5 of the last 6 games. Ignoring the usual pregame trash talk, this was a matchup that Spartan HC Mark Dantonio had his boys clearly amped up for, especially on the defensive side.
It is a bit difficult to say whether or not Sparty’s defense is the best in the land, but yesterday, DC Pat Narduzzi’s unit made a very strong argument for their case. Michigan’s offense came into the rivalry game averaging almost 50 points and 500 yards of total offense over their last three games. On the season, they had averaged a shade over 42 points and 446 yards of total offense per game. In addition to scoring a measly six points against MSU, Michigan’s O was held to a pathetic 168 yards of total offense, 2.8 yards per play, 2-13 on third downs, punted eight times, was sacked seven times, tackled for loss 11 times, fumbled three times, was intercepted once and ran for the lowest amount of rushing yards in school history: minus-48 yards, surpassing the dubious mark the 1962 team set against Minnesota. MSU linebackers Denicos Allen and Ed Davis combined for 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. DE Shilique Calhoun was a one-man gang, notching 2.5 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. That, my friends, is dominance.
Early on, it looked as if the Wolverines wouldn’t have too much of an issue moving the ball. On their first drive, starting at their 17, QB Devin Gardner (14-27, 210 YDS, INT) hooked up with WR Jeremy Gallon (5 REC, 67 YDS) three times for 57 yards before the Wolverines had to settle for a 49-yard field goal. That first drive was their best of the entire game and things only got worse from that point on.
When Michigan RB Fitzergald Toussaint (8 CAR, 20 YDS, one pregame insert of foot into mouth) wasn’t getting bottled up at the line of scrimmage, Gardner was running for his life. He was sacked five times in the first half and hurried probably twice as much. The Michigan offensive line was manhandled all game and we even got to see the great tackle, Taylor Lewan…commit several petty acts after the whistle had blown. Left on an island against the Michigan receivers, the Sparty secondary answered the call repeatedly, settling down after a shaky first drive and neutralizing any potential threat thereafter. All-everything CB Darqueze Dennard intercepted his third pass of the season, this one coming with Michigan in the red zone and trying to rally late.
Offensively, Sparty was good enough to not screw things up. Connor Cook (18-33, 252 YDS, TD, INT) missed a few open receivers, but made enough plays, overall. He also ran for a 1-yard TD that was the effective dagger in Michigan’s hearts, putting MSU ahead, 22-6 with 10:31 left to play. RB Jeremy Langford (26 CAR, 120 YDS, TD) continued his hot stretch, running for 100+ yards for the fourth straight week. He also has scored six times in that stretch, including a late 40-yard TD scamper late in yesterday’s ballgame that was the epitome of icing on the cake. There were a few drops from the receivers and tight ends, but nothing that cost MSU, obviously. WR Bennie Fowler (6 REC, 75 YDS, TD) and Tony Lippett (5 REC, 62 YDS) led the way, and even FB Trevon Pendleton (2 REC, 62 YDS) had a good receiving day, including a 49-yard reception on the Spartans’ first offensive play from scrimmage.
Sparty just about mauled Michigan in 2011, the last time these two teams played in East Lansing. Not only did Narduzzi’s guys absolutely embarrass former Michigan QB Denard Robinson and his teammates, but they exerted the kind of physicality that inspires most, and enrages some (who support the maize and blue, mostly). Yesterday had to have been worse for the Wolverines, because this time around, there weren’t a handful of personal foul penalties called against the Spartans. MSU simply beat the hell out of Michigan, from start to finish. DOMINANCE.
This win wasn’t a great win because I feel like I, or any of the Michigan State football players and fans/students have something to prove to anyone affiliated with Michigan. It was great because Michigan State and Michigan are true rivals, and that mentality spills over into the student and even citizen populations of East Lansing an Ann Arbor, respectively. We’re still behind in the series, by far, but feel things are changing for the better. That 29-6 show of command was a big first step. Now, Michigan isn’t this bad, offensively. Yesterday, they just ran into a buzz saw. A very physical, determined, aggressive buzz saw. Little brother. Heh.
MSU will now have a week off before traveling to Lincoln, Nebraska to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-2, 3-1 Big 10 Legends). Nebraska beat Northwestern in Lincoln yesterday, 27-24, on a Hail Mary TD pass as time expired. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez has appeared in only 4 games this season because of a foot injury, his last against Minnesota two Saturdays ago, a 34-23 loss in which he also suffered a hip pointer. He’s questionable for this Saturday’s game at Michigan, and the team will have to once again rely on leading rusher Ameer Abdullah, one of the Big 10’s best running backs. MSU-Nebraska will be big for the standings in the Big 10 Legends Division, as Nebraska sits 1.5 games behind Sparty. We should all have a better idea of what MSU will be up against after the Nebraska-Michigan game, however. Until then… Go Green. Go White.