Hunt: Spartans embarrassed, and they should be

Aidan Hunt, Football beat reporter

ANN ARBOR — One year after bad blood boiled over in East Lansing, pleasantries were still not in order between Michigan State and Michigan. 

Surprise, surprise.

It’s no secret that these teams don’t like each other and the rivalry is deeply ingrained throughout the entire Mitten State.

“The rivalry is real,” running back Elijah Collins said. “Can’t hide it, can’t lie about it, nothing you can do to go around it or hide away from it.”

One thing is always certain: both teams never want to lose to the other.

The Spartans headed into Michigan Stadium on Saturday having lost previous last four games, their last win coming in September against Indiana. Last week, a fourth quarter collapse left the Michigan State faithful questioning the state of this football program.

“The loss the week before should fuel you,” linebacker Antjuan Simmons said. “If it doesn’t fuel you, you shouldn’t play this game.”

Contrary to the hazardous weather that has plagued this matchup the last two years, a noon kickoff was welcomed with a cold temperature yet clear and sunny skies on Saturday in a game that ended 44-10 at the Big House. 

In addition to the maize “M” adorned in the center of the field, the Big House was speckled with yellow throughout the game, all coming from the referee’s pockets.

The two teams combined for 16 penalties for 184 yards, including six unsportsmanlike conduct calls.

Offensive production was not an issue for Michigan as Shea Patterson was able to find his groove for a career-high 384 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Ronnie Bell, who dropped a potentially game tying score against Penn State mere weeks earlier, had a monster game with nine catches and 150 yards receiving to lead the Wolverines.

How the Wolverines got it done

Michigan’s passing attack was potent today, but Michigan State certainly did not provide much resistance in the secondary.

After Josiah Scott went out with an injury on the second play of the game,, it was a revolving door at the corner spot, with Tre Person, Shakur Brown, and Kalon Gervin all getting time. 

Brown accounted for two of Michigan State’s four 15-yard penalties in the first half. He had a personal foul for a late hit following an incompletion that kept a second quarter Michigan drive alive, and a pass interference that gave Michigan the ball on the Spartans’ two-yard line. Michigan would score touchdowns on both of those drives in the second quarter that gave them a strong 17-7 lead going into halftime.

The other two first half penalties were unsportsmanlike conduct calls on the same play.Cody White took a screen pass from Lewerke all the way down to the Michigan 37-yard line, but the penalties on both White and Luke Campbell after the play backed the Spartans up 30 yards to their own 33.

It was evident after Scott’s departure how important he is for the Spartans’ tackling downfield. Michigan State’s defensive backs were unable to complete tackles following completions and breakthroughs by Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins. The defense was clearly outmatched at the line as Patterson was only sacked twice in the game, including the very first play of the game, in addition to the Wolverines’ wide receivers having no problem extending plays by blocking on the corners and giving plenty of running room.

Spartans will … disappoint

For a defense as heralded as Michigan State’s was coming into this season, the Michigan game was a prime example of the shortcomings of a team who hasn’t even come close to expectations. The losses of Khari Willis and Justin Layne have proven to be even more costly than expected, especially when Scott is not 100 percent.

“On the back, we’re just not playing well enough,” safety David Dowell said, “it’s really that simple. Not playing the ball well enough, not tackling well enough.”

“We’re just not executing, and that starts with me, you know, being a fifth-year senior.”

Patterson put up Heisman-level numbers Saturday against an unmotivated and unimproved passing defense. A program whose secondary used to be known as the “No-Fly Zone” has become the laughingstock of the Big Ten l in just a matter of a few short years.

Michigan State’s offensive line has been notoriously injury-prone over the last few years,  but perhaps more well-known is their complete inability to give any time to the players in the backfield. The Spartans’ offensive struggles over the past few seasons have started in their failure to control the line of scrimmage, and the Michigan loss was no different.

Spartan fans will have a hard time convincing anyone, including themselves, that Michigan State hasn’t regressed to being a mid-tier Big Ten program once again after the performances of the football teams since their College Football Playoff appearance in 2015. The product on the field only reflects a coaching staff unwilling to make changes to their style of play.

For now, Michigan State fans and players alike get to wallow in their tense emotions after a second consecutive loss at the hands of their in-state rival before finishing the season against the bottom of the Big Ten, Rutgers and Maryland.

“It’s the last time I’ll ever play [Michigan],” Lewerke said, “so a little bit upset, but we gotta win two games to make it to a bowl game.”

Sitting at 4-6 with a 2-5 Big Ten record, can anyone honestly say Michigan State deserves to compete in a bowl game?

Aidan Hunt is a football beat writer for Impact89FM