In his 11 years as the coach of the Michigan State Football team, Mark Dantonio has compiled a long list of great wins.
He has won three Big Ten Championships, a Rose Bowl, came back from 28 down to beat Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, and an 8-3 record against Michigan. His latest win, upsetting #7 Michigan in the Big House 14-10 is the next entry to his list.
Dantonio, offensive coordinator Dave Warner, and the Michigan State defense engineered a gameplan almost to perfection for a win that has flipped the scripts on the Spartans and Wolverines seasons.
In the driving rain the Spartans completed the upset by scoring early on the ground, used creative offensive play calls to find the end zone, and finished off the Wolverines with a dominating defensive performance.
But for you Michigan State fans, this is not the first time you have seen this from Dantonio. In fact, Saturday’s win against Michigan reminds me of Michigan State’s victory against Ohio State in 2015.
This is the second time now that Dantonio has used this game plan in a bad weather, low scoring battle.
In Columbus in 2015, the Spartans were without starting quarterback Connor Cook who was nursing a shoulder injury. The game was left up to backup quarterbacks Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry.
In the rain, Dantonio knew that he could not rely on the arms of O’Connor and Terry to beat the #3 ranked Buckeyes. He controlled the game by using one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten to his advantage to run the ball throughout the game. The Spartans finished the contest with 208 yards on the ground and a Gerald Holmes touchdown.
This time on Saturday MSU did go into battle with their starting quarterback Brian Lewerke. However, it was not his arm that was most effective in the game. It was his legs. Lewerke led the Spartans with 61 rushing yards. He also found the end zone on a 14 yard scramble to put MSU up 7-3 in the first quarter.
In 2015 the Spartans also found the end zone using a creative play call from Warner. The Spartans first score came in the first half when O’Connor found fullback Trevon Pendleton on a play action, fake-reverse throwback when Pendleton leaked out of the backfield.
Against the Wolverines, the Spartans scored on almost the same type of play. On a play action fake-reverse, Lewerke found running back Madre London on a screen pass where a convoy of blockers led him into the end zone to put MSU up 14-3.
Michigan State finished off the Buckeyes with one of their best defensive performances that season. The Spartan defense held OSU running back, Ezekiel Elliott to a season low 33 yards and allowed just 132 total yards in the game to hold the Buckeyes at bay.
This time, yet again in the rain, the Spartan defense put together a dominating defensive performance. As the MSU offense failed to put away the Wolverines, the Spartan defense kept them at bay forcing two first half fumbles (by Joe Bachie and Justin Layne). In the second half monsoon the MSU defense forced three interceptions ( Bachie, David Dowell x2) to stop any momentum that the Wolverines could muster.
Most importantly, the defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage holding Michigan to 102 yards rushing by providing non-stop pressure on John O’Korn while tallying four sacks and six tackles for a loss.
In bad weather games, Mark Dantonio’s game plan may look ugly. It may bore you to watch. However, it continues to be effective, especially on the road.