The No. 8 Michigan State Spartans knew they needed a win against their in-state rivals on Saturday. Although the Spartans have seemingly taken control of the rivalry in the Mark Dantonio era, the team made sure they were not overlooking the Wolverines. MSU was in control for all four quarters, winning 35-11.
Michigan State opened the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive, capped off with a Jeremy Langford two-yard rush.
There was not much offense from either team after that until the second half. Michigan capitalized on a Josiah Price fumble with a 48-yard field goal by Matt Wile. Michigan State kicker Michael Geiger was 0-1 on the day, missing a 36-yard attempt in the first quarter.
With the score now 7-3, it looked as though Michigan had a chance to keep the game close, as the Spartans appeared to be on their heels and Connor Cook looking very inaccurate in his passing game.
Cook and the MSU offense responded to the UM field goal with a nine-play, 73-yard drive. Langford carried in his second touchdown of the night from the one-yard line.
The second half was when the Spartans took over. R.J. Williamson, who was named the starter in the week leading up to this game, picked off a Devin Gardner pass and ran it into the end zone to give MSU a 21-3 lead.
R.J. Williamson on his performance:
“It’s not just important this game but it’s important every game,” Williamson said. I had the opportunity to compete and help this ball club win games. When you’re playing with a leader like Kurtis Drummond next to you, you get yourself in the right positions to make plays. It felt good to come out here and get this win.”
After Williamson’s pick-six, the Spartan defense held Michigan to a three-and-out. On Michigan State’s first play on the following possession, Cook found his favorite target, Tony Lippett, for a 70-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
Michigan State went into the fourth quarter with a 28-3 lead. An important thing to note, Spartan Stadium would remain full for the entire fourth quarter.
Last Wednesday, Dantonio tweeted a video, posted to YouTube by MSU Athletics, that was essentially a call to action. The hype video featured MSU players and Dantonio urging “Spartan nation to rise up.” For the first time this year, Michigan State had a nearly full student section to sing the fight song with.
MSU came in to the game 17.5 point favorites over Michigan, the most Michigan State has ever been favored against Michigan. The Spartans needed a big win to keep their hopes for a Big Ten title and a College Football Playoff bid alive.
A convincing win would be ideal, however Dantonio has stated time and time again that he would not run up the score to appease a bowl selection committee. This game appeared to be different. This time, it was personal.
In the fourth quarter, Michigan was able to capitalize on MSU’s second turnover of the game. After a failed exchange between Cook and Langford was recovered by Michigan, running back De’Veon Smith carried in a one-yard touchdown to make the score 28-11, after a two-point conversion. The onside attempt was recovered by MSU with 3:39 to play and UM Michigan had only one timeout remaining.
Instead of taking a knee to end the game, MIchigan State elected to continue running the ball. Langford got his third score of the game on a five-yard rush with 28 seconds to play in the game.
So what made this game personal enough for the late score? Cook, who has previously stated that Michigan was just another opponent to him, mentioned an incident that took place before the game. Cook hinted that a disrespectful action by a Michigan player may have fueled MSU’s desire to tack on the extra seven points late in the game.
“I think everyone saw when they ran out and stuck the dagger on our grass and disrespected us right out of the gate,” Cook said. “We weren’t having that. If we have the ball, we’re trying to score. They ran out and I know one of the players had a spear or a dagger or something and just spiked it on our grass. Right before kickoff and disrespecting us.”
Several of Michigan State’s players and Dantonio commented on the spearing incident. In fact Mark Dantonio in his opening statement said “I just felt like we needed to put a stake in them.”
“At the end of the day, I thought our team played very well,” Dantonio said. “As far as the score at the end, we knew we were going to pop one. They had everyone up there so we popped one.”, Dantonio said. “Just felt like we needed to put a stake in them.”
The Dantonio sound-byte was followed up with questions about the alleged incident where a Michigan player put a stake into the grass of Spartan Stadium’s field. After being candid and diplomatic at his weekly news conference, Dantonio addressed the rivalry and his thoughts about the Michigan program in more detail.
“You might as well just come out and say what you are feeling at some point because you can only be diplomatic for so long,” Dantonio said. “The little brother stuff, all the disrespect, they didn’t have to go in that direction. We try to handle ourselves with composure. It doesn’t come from the coach; it comes from the program. To throw a stake down in our back yard out here and coming out there like they are all that, it got shoved the last minute and a half. We weren’t trying to get a field goal, that wasn’t the M.O. If our guys could get it in, we were going to get it in.”
Lippett, who finished the game with only three catches, but for 103 yards, also commented on the staking incident.
“I think it was [number] 35, I don’t know his name,” Lippett said.
Lippett said some of the players saw the incident while others didn’t. When asked what the discussion was like after seeing it, Lippett said, “We just went out there and played. Just told them, ‘hey, it’s personal.’”
While the spear/stake/disrespect that was unseen by media has provided a mysterious and controversial off-the-field narrative, the Spartans did what they needed to on the field, on both sides of the ball.
Taiwan Jones led the defense with 12 total tackles and an interception. One of his tackles was called for a personal foul and targeting penalty. The targeting call was overturned, so Jones was able to remain in the game. Early in the game, Chris Frey was called for targeting and was ejected from the game. Frey will also have to miss the first half against Ohio State.
“I was worried. I figured it could go either way. I was really pretty upset.”, Jones said. “Luckily it worked out in my favor and I’m really fortunate for that.”
The Wolverines finished the game with 186 yards of total offense, compared to 446 for the Spartans. Langford ran for 177 yards, making it now 12 straight games against Big Ten opponents that he has had 100 or more rushing yards. Cook finished with 12 completions for 227 yards and one touchdown.
Michigan State improves to 7-1 on the season and 4-0 in the Big Ten. Their next game will be on Nov. 8 at home vs. Ohio State at 8 p.m. after a bye week.
Bradley Allen is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports
Photo: Bradley Allen/Impact Sports