Three “B’s” and special teams the difference as Michigan State dispatches Rutgers



Jayden Reed celebrates a touchdown in win over Rutgers on Nov. 12, 2022/ Photo credit: Jack Moreland

Cameron McClarren, Sports Brodacst Assistant

EAST LANSING — Michigan State Spartans defeated  Rutgers 27-21 on Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium.

 Playing the day after Veterans Day, the Spartans found themselves in a “war of attrition”, relying on the ground game and special teams to pull within one win of bowl eligibility. 

“Winning is fun, execution is fun,” said Payton Thorne. “I think we’re playing a lot better than we were earlier in the year as a team and we just have to keep rolling.”

After the Spartans and Scarlet Knights sputtered on their first few drives, the Spartans found a breakthrough with their junior tight end Daniel Barker. A week removed from being held without a catch in his homecoming at Illinois, Barker caught three passes on the drive including a 26-yard touchdown reception to put the Spartans in front late in the first quarter. The touchdown reception was his first since the season-opening victory over Western Michigan. 

“We knew that the tight ends would be a factor in the passing game,” said head coach Mel Tucker. “Obviously, they’re trying to take away some of our receivers, but obviously [running] backs and tight ends can be very effective in the passing game and we have good tight ends.” 

In addition to Barker’s performance on the first scoring drive, the Spartans would utilize the two “B’s” in the backfield: Berger and Broussard. After rushing for 112 yards against Illinois, the Spartans amassed 197 yards on the ground, tying their second-best performance on the ground all year and the most they’ve had against a Big Ten team. 

“It was good to see us run the ball well,” Thorne said. “Guys run the ball hard, the offensive line is opening up creases, receivers are doing a good job blocking on the edge, and just executing. That helped us a lot.”

After Rutgers went 96 yards in nine plays to tie the score on an Aaron Young 18-yard touchdown reception, the Spartans would turn to the running game to take the lead. On the strength of 23 yards rushing from Broussard and a two-yard punch in from Berger, the Spartans took a 14-7 lead that they held on to into the half. Berger and Broussard would finish with 85 and 80 yards, respectively. 

Jalen Berger reaches for endzone in win over Rutgers on Nov. 12, 2022/ Photo credit: Jack Moreland (Jack Moreland)

“They’re my guys,” Barker said. “We all know that they can run the ball hard. It’s just about everyone doing their job … that’s all it really comes down to. Those guys will handle the rest.”

At the beginning of the second half, Michigan State was able to utilize the full playbook going with a combination of passing and running plays that put Rutgers in a tough position defensively.

After consecutive chunk plays from Jayden Reed and Berger, Thorne found Reed in the endzone for a 25-yard touchdown reception to double the Spartan lead. Reed finished with four catches for 90 yards on 10 targets. 

However, Rutgers would pull within one score after a nine-play drive that covered 69 yards ended in a Johnny Langan one-yard touchdown rush. From then on, special teams would be the difference. 

After MSU failed to get going after their lone touchdown drive in the third quarter, Rutgers started the fourth quarter with a chance to tie the game. After dicing up the Spartan defense on the ground and through the air, the Scarlet Knights were stopped on third down in the Spartan red zone and sent out Jude McAtamney to attempt a 39-yard field goal. 

On the try, Michigan State got pressure on the interior offensive line which allowed Jacob Slade to get a hand up and block the try. The Spartans would march down the field and get within field goal range and Ben Patton’s 34-yard attempt was good to put the Spartans up by 10. 

“That was huge and we talked about that all week,” Tucker said. “We’ve been close in some other games this year, even recently we’ve been really close on blocking some field goals and extra points, we just didn’t get them. We knew that was going to be a difference in the game.”

Michigan State would rely on Patton’s leg late in the fourth as he would knock in a 48-yard field goal to put the Spartans up by 13 with under four minutes left in the game. Rutgers would score with under a minute left in the game to make things interesting, but the Spartans would recover the ensuing onside kick and run out the clock for the win. 

With the win, the Spartans move to 5-5 (3-4 Big Ten) while Rutgers falls to 4-6 (1-6 Big Ten) with two weeks left in the regular season. Michigan State will play its final home game next week against Indiana with a chance to secure a bowl game.