The rain was pouring, but that didn’t stop these two teams from delivering a classic rivalry game, as Michigan State defeated Michigan, 14-10 in the first ever night game between these two teams.
With a little help from the rain, both defenses lived up to the hype, delivering a low scoring battle. The Spartans and Wolverines combined for just 552 total yards in the contest.
“It’s up there, way up there,” Spartan coach Mark Dantonio said as he raised his hand sky high when asked where this ranks in terms of wins for him. “We battled some adversity last year, we had some things going on. We needed to bounce back and we made a commitment to that as a football team and as a program way back in the spring.”
The Spartan defense forced five Michigan turnovers, but the real story of the game was the inability to convert those turnovers into points. Had MSU converted on one or two more turnovers, the game would have been in check. However, MSU converted just one Wolverine turnover into points.
“Coach D always talks about winning the turnover battle. I don’t know exactly what the record is, but when we win the turnover battle, we usually win the game,” sophomore defensive back David Dowell said.
A big reason the Spartans couldn’t convert those turnovers into points was the Wolverine defense. The unit stifled the Spartan offense, holding Lewerke to just 94 yards through the air and 61 yards on the ground. However, the Spartan ground game found a few holes, rushing for 158 yards. LJ Scott didn’t receive a single carry.
“It’s probably the best defense we’ll play this season,” Spartan offensive lineman Brian Allen said. “Mo Hurst is the best defensive tackle in the country that I’ve seen. He’s a great player, and you saw that tonight.”
One thing we haven’t seen from MSU teams in the past is mental mistakes, but again, the Spartans made a lot of careless errors in this game. The Spartans committed 11 penalties for 81 yards. The yardage doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you put yourself in first and long situations because of false starts, they add up.
This has become a problem for the Spartans early this season. They had 25 penalties heading into tonight’s contest. The Spartans can ill afford to keep committing costly penalties if they hope to beat the likes of Penn State and Ohio State.
Now that we’ve covered most of the bad, let’s talk about some of the good. How about that MSU defense? Michigan’s offense isn’t exactly one of the best in the country, but the Spartans didn’t allow the Wolverines to move the ball throughout the game and forced five, yes, five turnovers (3 INT, 2 fumbles). The Wolverines threw for 198 yards and rushed for 102. Michigan quarterback John O’Korn was sacked four times.
“We made sure this week to focus in practice on the bull rush a lot more and collapsing the pocket instead of trying to go to finesse moves,” MSU defensive lineman Kenny Willekes said. “We were able to mix up our looks a little bit, mix up our blitzes in Delta, so I was able to get a lot more pressure on the quarterback.”
This group is very young and still has some tough challenges awaiting them, but the Spartan defense has done nothing but impress so far this season. If they can continue to play at this level, the Spartans could be in for a good year.
Entering tonight’s matchup, the Wolverines boasted the No. 1 ranked rushing defense, but Madre London rushed for 59 yards and Gerald Holmes rushed for 27 yards. Don’t get me wrong, the Spartans did have some duds up the middle for zero yards, but they had a fair share of great runs that went for good gains.
“Coming in we knew we’d have to run the ball a little bit better than we have been,” Lewerke said. “I think we did a decent job of that. The rain definitely required us to do that.”
The offensive line was a key coming into the season, but they have shown flashes of breaking through. The unit is young and still has room to grow, but the offensive line has proven they can move the ball on the ground.
The Spartans are now 4-1 and will head to Minnesota next week. The game is set for 8 p.m. on Big Ten Network.
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