MSU defense forces five turnovers, defeats Michigan in rainstorm

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Battle for Paul Bunyan was nitty and gritty and rinsed with buckets of rain. But Michigan State wouldn’t have it any other way in their 14-10 victory over No. 7 Michigan.

“I told my football team that every player who comes here to dreams big,” said MSU coach Mark Dantonio at the post game press conference. “And I’m no different from that. You know, I’m going to dream big. We’ve been in the Playoff, we’ve won three Big Ten Championships and we’ve beaten our rivals. so we’ve fallen down in other areas, but we’re always going to try and rise up.”

The Michigan offense made an early impression against a young Spartan defense. John O’Korn sliced the ball between two defenders, hitting Grant Perry on third down of the Wolverines’ first possession to midfield for a gain of 19.

The Wolverines then carried the ball into Spartan territory, where they were confronted with a decision on fourth-and-one at the 28-yard line. But in the same breath, U-M coach Jim Harbaugh gave the cue to roll the dice on a two-yard rush by Chris Evans en route to a field goal for Quinn Nordin seven minutes into the game. MSU’s response was a three-and-out, not gaining a single yard on their opening drive.

It was a night game in the Big House and the Wolverines took an early lead against their in-state rival. The momentum was just about where you’d expect it to be.

But it didn’t last long.

Ty Isaac fumbled the ball on Michigan’s next possession, gobbled up by David Dowell on the MSU 46-yard line. MSU brought the ball into Michigan territory, and what would’ve been a third-and-four turned into first down on the 11-yard line, thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on Devin Bush.

On second down, Lewerke scurried through a hole toward the middle of the field, diving head-first into the end zone completing a 14-yard touchdown run. The Spartans led 7-3 with 2:59 remaining in the first quarter.

Later, Lewerke found Darrell Stewart, who juggled a catch for 30 yards down to the Michigan 26-yard line, followed by a Lewerke read option for another first down. Moments later, Lewerke hit Madre London on a screen, who was guided by an army of blockers for an MSU touchdown with 8:07 remaining in the second quarter. This made the score 14-3 and Lewerke finished the day 11-22 with 94 yards and a touchdown. He also picked up 61 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

U-M had opportunities to come back in the first half, but more miscues killed their chances. The Wolverines had a would-be 55-yard touchdown pass to Kekoa Crawford, but a holding call negated the go-ahead score. With the clock winding down in the second quarter, tight end Sean McKeon fumbled the ball after a huge reception that would have left the Wolverines in field goal territory.

Gerald Holmes got the nod as starting running back for the Spartans. He finished with 11 carries and 27 yards. Madre London also had a big day with 10 touches and 59 yards, thanks in part from a 50-yard gaping rush up the middle. LJ Scott, meanwhile, did not play due to an injury.

Early in the third quarter, Laress Nelson muffed a punt, finally fielding the ball at MSU’s 2-yard line. A couple flags later, MSU punted the ball into heavy wind, handing the Wolverines the ball on MSU’s 33-yard line. O’Korn connected with Grant Perry on the goal line and Khalid Hill pounded the ball in the end zone the next play with 8:09 left in the third quarter to make the score 14-10.

U-M continued to press the ball in MSU territory, taking advantage of missed tackles and 11 MSU penalties for 81 yards. But miscues continued to haunt the Wolverines with an O’Korn pass propped up and corralled by David Dowell. By then, sheets of rain had flooded the Big House, making any offensive progress difficult. This made the Spartans’ lead that much tougher to overcome.

“My dad had told me before the game to score as many points as you can in the first half because the second half you’re not going to be able to pass the ball very well,” Lewerke joked after the game.

One drive later, those three turnovers turned into four with a Joe Bachie interception.

And on the following Michigan drive, the turnover total jumped up to five. David Dowell corralled his third turnover of the night and O’Korn, who had a solid start to the game, had thrown three straight interceptions. He finished the day with 16-35 for 198 yards.

The back-and-forth action continued. MSU didn’t move the ball much, but U-M couldn’t do much better in the rainstorm. Forward progress had suddenly become unachievable until the final drive, where Gerald Holmes and company milked the clock to 34 seconds remaining. One failed Michigan Hail Mary attempt later, the Spartans proceeded to win the contest 14-10, bringing the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing.

The Spartans will look to continue their undefeated Big Ten start next week against Minnesota. Kickoff is 8 p.m. in Minneapolis. Coverage is BTN.