EAST LANSING Here, at last, was where it got dramatic. Late third quarter, darkness falling, Michigan State’s Connor Cook throws an interception, the first turnover by either team.
“Finally!” Michigan fans scream. U-M takes over inside MSU territory, and the traditional theatrics in this intrastate grudge match were about to begin, right?
Quarterback Devin Gardner tried to run; he was swarmed by Spartans, loss of five. Gardner tried to pass; he was yanked down by senior linebacker Denicos Allen, loss of nine.
The Wolverines called a time-out. Collect themselves. They came to the line, Gardner tried to throw – and was sacked again by Allen, loss of seven.
Three plays, minus-21 yards.
So it’s official. Michigan State is where Michigan offense comes to die. In their last six meetings, the Wolverines have scored 21, 20, 17, 14, 12 and, Saturday, six measly points, in this rivalry’s most snuffing defeat in recent memory, a game in which MSU put Gardner on his butt so many times, you could have called him “Divot.”
Six points allowed? Seven sacks? Final score, 29-6? That wasn’t a victory, it was the Spartans making wine by dancing on Maize-and- Blue grapes. How about this number? The Wolverines had been averaging a decent 184 yards a game rushing.
They finished Saturday with minus-48.
That is not a typo. Minus-48! Taylor Lewan had said this past week that it was no fun for the Wolverines to be bullied.
Maybe they should stop coming here.
MSU rallies around Cook
Lewan and his offensive linemates were no mach for the MSU pass rush, and Gardner could not release the ball fast enough – or find enough open receivers – to mount any kind of threat.
Meanwhile, the Spartans, much maligned for being as dry offensively as they were soaking on defense, did more than enough to win when they had the ball. Cook (18-for-33, 252 yards, 1 TD) did a fine job of directing some long drives, 97 yards for a touchdown, 75 yards for a touchdown, 56 yards for a touchdown. This sophomore is growing up in front of everyone. He has a decent touch on the ball, a good field sense and a noticeable lack of panic for a guy who is in his first year as a starter and began the year looking as if he’d need a map to find the end zone.
Clearly the team rallies behind him. After his one mistake, the MSU defense pushed U-M backward so hard, if there were stairs on the field the Wolverines would have tumbled down them. That’s when the game got out of hand, going from 16-6 to 29-6 in a Green rush. Jeremy Langford ripped off a 40-yard touchdown run, and all Brady Hoke’s crew could do was send word to start the buses. They couldn’t get on I-96 fast enough.
Ohio State looms – for MSU
Throwdown. This was a total Spartans thrashing, plain and simple, and their fifth victory in the last six meetings. We all know the teams don’t like each other, and the MSU fans had plenty of time to be yelling “Little Sister!” at their arch rivals.
But Michigan has bigger worries than meanies in the Spartan Stadium stands. The Wolverines, now 6-2 and 2-2 in the Big Ten, couldn’t run all day. They were swallowed coming out of the backfield, lucky to see two steps before a swarm of green. For a rushing-proud program like U-M, this is like Sinatra stepping to the microphone and squealing.
The Wolverines have little to play for but pride now. They will almost certainly not win their division and there’s almost no chance at the Big Ten championship game, rendering the Ohio State showdown more a measuring stick than anything else. And if the Spartans’ measuring stick whacked their butts this hard, you almost cringe at that thought.
Meanwhile, the Spartans (7-1 and 5-0) have grown so dominant defensively, you hate the fact that one avoidable Notre Dame loss keeps them from a perfect record. And you wonder what this defense could do to some of the higher-ranked teams in the country.
Don’t worry. If they keep it up, MSU will get a chance Dec.7 in the Big Ten title game. Who would have thought that Michigan’s best chance of seeing Ohio State go down to defeat may be watching Michigan State do it?
What’s green and white and red all over? The Spartans getting up from this bloodbath and pounding their chests. That, football fans, was harsh.