Saturday was the latest chapter in the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. The No. 2-ranked Michigan Wolverines came in steamrolling opponents and absolutely dominating on defense. On paper, it was not a favorable match-up for the in-state rival Michigan State Spartans, who have had struggles in just about every facet of the game that has contributed to a five-game free fall from a No. 8 spot in the AP polls.
Despite being a heavy underdog, one had to suspect that Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio would have his team ready to ball for 60 minutes against a clearly more superior foe. And early on it appeared we may be in for a ball game. the Spartans manufactured a 12-play scoring drive that exhausted nearly 7 minutes, capped by a 5-yard run from LJ Scott, one of 11 run plays on the drive.
Michigan did answer with an eight-play scoring drive of their own and using half the time MSU did. Their touchdown came courtesy of do-everything play-maker Jabrill Peppers, a 3-yard scamper outside to even the score at 7-7.
Michigan State got the ball back and was able to run out the clock in the 1st, preserving a tie.
(THRU 1ST: TIED 7-7)
MSU’s second drive also went 11 plays, but only for 37 yards and turned it over on downs. Michigan turned that into a five-play drive for a go-ahead score. This time it was De’Veon Smith with a 1-yard carry, giving the Wolverines a 14-7 lead.
Both teams exchanged field goals on their next drives to make it a 17-10 game. After a three-and-out from MSU, Michigan went ten plays and 48 yards to find the end zone again. Smith was the recipient of this touchdown as well, good for a 5-yard scoot-and-score to make it 24-10.
With just seconds remaining in the half, MSU quarterback Tyler O’Connor made a very poor decision and threw an interception. The Wolverines were able to turn that into 3 points, kicker Kenny Allen drills his second field goal of the quarter before the break.
(HALF: MICH LEADS 27-10)
Michigan got the ball to open the second half, but quarterback Wilton Speight threw an interception of his own. Defensive back Darien Hicks returned the pick 42 yards deep into Michigan territory. Unfortunately for MSU, they could not capitalize in the Michigan mistake. They had seven plays inside the UM-10 and were unable to cash in, eventually turning the ball over on downs.
Michigan got the ball back and marched down the field to turn an empty drive into points, but not before the clock hit triple zeroes on a scoreless 3rd quarter.
(THRU 3RD: MICH LEADS 27-10)
That Wolverines drive continued, aided by two pass interference plays by the Spartans, and ended in 12 plays, with Allen splitting the uprights from 45 yards out to improve the UM lead to 20 points.
Coach Dantonio made a switch at quarterback on the ensuing drive for MSU, opting for redshirt junior Damion Terry under center. He carried the Spartans 11 plays and 58 yards down the field. Again, they recorded five more plays inside the red zone deep in UM territory and on 4th-and-goal from the Michigan-17, Dantonio sent out Michael Geiger for a 34-yard field goal. After hitting one from 52 yards out earlier in the game, Geiger missed this one by mere inches, giving Michigan the ball back.
Then the MSU defense showed up and forced a Wolverines three-and-out, just the second scoreless possession on the day for Michigan. Getting the ball back, the Spartans brought in redshirt freshman QB Brian Lewerke for perhaps another spark of sorts. And on five plays, Lewerke went 59 yards (64 passing yards on the drive) and found senior wideout Monty Madaris for a 20-yard touchdown, making it 30-17.
Michigan got the ball back, thinking to either score and put it away for good or effectively run the clock out. They only used up six plays but better than three and a half minutes doing so, giving MSU the ball back with just under four to go. Lewerke put together a drive totaling 61 yards, again getting in the Michigan red zone but they came up empty and it was Peppers sacking Lewerke on 4th down to give Michigan the ball back.
Michigan could not quite run the clock out and the Spartans had one last gasp with under a minute to go. Tyler O’Connor was back in under center with both Terry and Lewerke banged up. In four plays, 75 yards, and 36 seconds, MSU got back in the end zone to further cut the deficit. O’Connor found freshman Donnie Corley for 5 yards and a score, albeit with one second to go in the game.
Amazingly, MSU went for two and a loose ball fumble was scooped up by who else by Jabrill Peppers and returned for Michigan two-point conversion to cap off the scoring and preserve a Michigan victory in East Lansing.
FINAL – MICH 32, MSU 23
- W. Speight (MICH): 16/25, 244 yards, INT
- A. Darboh (MICH): 8 rec, 165 yards
- J. Peppers (MICH): rush TD, 97-yard return for 2-pt conversion; 7 tackles, sack
- MSU QBs (O’Connor/Terry/Lewerke): 13/28, 184 yards, 2 TD, INT
- LJ Scott (MSU): 22 car, 139 yards (MSU: 217 rush yards)
- M. Madaris & D. Corley (MSU): Rec TD each