Big Ten football: Spartans upend Wolverines, stay unbeaten in league
Michigan State’s Ed Davis makes one of seven sacks of Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner. The Spartans defense limited the Wolverines to minus-48 yards rushing.
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Mark Dantonio always has embraced Michigan State’s rivalry with Michigan, but last week the confident coach took a fairly calm approach.
“Don’t worry about all the things that are being said — just keep your mouth shut,” Dantonio said yesterday. “Get ready to play, start the game and finish stronger than when you started.
“We were going to let the lion out of the cage at 3:30, and that’s what happened.”
Dantonio’s Spartans battered their biggest rivals for the full 60 minutes yesterday, and 24th-ranked Michigan State remained unbeaten in the Big Ten with a 29-6 victory over No. 23 Michigan. The Spartans finished with seven sacks and limited the Wolverines to minus-48 yards rushing, the worst output in the program’s history.
This after the Wolverines had vowed that this game wouldn’t be a repeat of the one in East Lansing in 2011, when Michigan State’s physicality was too much for Michigan.
“Two years ago was nothing,” Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen said. “It was a lot worse today, and I think they felt it.”
Michigan State (8-1, 5-0) has won five of the past six meetings with the Wolverines (6-2, 2-2), and this was their most-lopsided win in the series since 1967.
Connor Cook threw for a touchdown and ran for one, but the game belonged to Michigan State’s defense, which solidified its spot among the nation’s best with an overwhelming performance on a rainy afternoon. Shilique Calhoun and Ed Davis had 21/2 sacks each, and Allen added two more.
“We’re going to bully people — that’s the game of football,” Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said.
Michigan State entered ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, and the Spartans looked positively dominating for most of the game. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked four times in the first quarter, and things only got worse for the Wolverines on one drive in the second.
On first down from the Michigan State 49-yard line, a shotgun snap sailed over Gardner’s head for a 20-yard loss. After a sack on third down and a Michigan penalty, the Wolverines finally punted on fourth-and-48.
With the score tied at 6, Michigan State’s slumbering offense finally broke through, driving 75 yards on 10 plays for the game’s first touchdown. It came on a 14-yard pass from Cook to Bennie Fowler with 23 seconds left in the first half.
Fowler’s sliding catch came in the same back corner of the end zone where he was unable to hold onto a potential touchdown pass earlier in the quarter.
The second half was more of the same. Michael Geiger’s third field goal of the day made it 16-6, and the Wolverines were stuck deep in their own territory for much of the third quarter.
Michigan finally caught a break when Cook’s pass was intercepted by Raymon Taylor, giving the Wolverines the ball at the Michigan State 41. But that only gave the Spartans another chance to shine on defense.
“We’re excited to play, we’re excited to go out there,” linebacker Max Bullough said. “In those situations, they think they have the advantage. They think they’re going to score, it’s a momentum change for them. If we go out there and we stuff them, and we keep them out of even scoring a field goal, it’s double. It takes away theirs and it gives us momentum.”
Gardner lost 5 yards on what looked like a designed run, then Allen sacked him for a 9-yard loss. Michigan called a timeout, and several Spartans danced to the sideline, motioning for the crowd to make more noise.
Gardner was sacked again on the next play, leaving the Wolverines punting on fourth-and-31 to start the fourth quarter.
Despite the one-sided loss, Michigan coach Brady Hoke insisted that he doesn’t think there is a gap at all between the programs.
“I think they played well, executed awfully well, and I don’t think we did,” he said.