Michigan vs. Michigan State: Spartans and Wolverines deliver a classic, as anticipated
It was going to be close. It was going to come down to one play, or a specific player. At the end of the afternoon, Michigan and Michigan State blessed the college football world with a classic matchup at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
For a moment, it looked like the No. 6 Wolverines were going to piece together a blowout, leading 30-14 in the third, and score their biggest victory of the season — and possibly of the Jim Harbaugh era.
But the No. 8 Spartans didn’t fold under pressure, rallying for a 37-33 win — their second straight in the rivalry — over favorite Michigan.
Classic. There hasn’t been a better game between the two schools in recent memory.
If there has been, please come forth with some evidence.
Gut-check moments were abundant, highlighted by a Heisman-worthy performance by MSU RB Kenneth Walker III, who scored 5 rushing touchdowns in front of more than 75,000 people.
You wanted a tug-of-war between bitter rivals? You wanted stat-stuffing?
You got it Saturday.
Here’s how the battle between MSU and UM, one that will go down in the history books, unfolded during the final weekend of October.
Walker runs wild
Five of them.
Walker rushed 23 times for 197 yards, averaging an outstanding 8.6 yards per touch. The Wolverines’ defense had no answer for the Spartans’ stiff-armed trophy candidate — absolutely no reply to the Wake Forest transfer. Walker strung together one of the greatest performances in UM vs. MSU history, setting a record for the most rushing TDs during the annual rivalry bout.
Three of Walker’s touchdowns were game-breakers: He had 23-, 27- and 58-yarders, which were also rivalry records in their own right. No other player has scored 3 rushing TDs of 20-plus yards during UM vs. MSU.
Move that man up on your Heisman list. He showed-out on the biggest stage, and it was during the biggest win of coach Mel Tucker’s career — not just his 2-year tenure at Michigan State.
Thorne wasn’t at his best
A few weeks ago, MSU QB Payton Thorne had just 1 interception on his record for the season. Then, he threw a couple against Indiana. Saturday, he quickly tossed a pick to UM’s DJ Turner, and he had another one later in the game. Two picks in one game — the most he’s ever thrown while at Michigan State — were certainly lowlights of Thorne’s day against Michigan.
He didn’t throw a pass for a touchdown, either, finishing 19-for-30 for 196 yards. But somehow, he did enough for the Spartans to win.
OK, that might be a bit of a stretch.
Thorne was saved by Walker.
There’s no other way to describe it.
Thorne wouldn’t have been able to take control and change the game by himself. A strong running game by Walker basically served as his safety net.
Spartans shut down UM RBs
Michigan running backs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins both rushed for 100-plus last week, but they were shut down Saturday by Michigan State’s defense. Haskins ground out 59 yards and Corum came through with 45. In order for the Wolverines to win, both needed to do some damage — but they were reduced to crumbs on a combined 27 carries.
Blowing a 14-point lead on the road was a bad look for the Wolverines, whose coaching staff will certainly come under fire this week. It was inexcusable. On top of that, throwing in freshman QB JJ McCarthy during a critical drive late in the game was a massive mistake by Harbaugh, who is now 0-9 vs. top-10 teams since arriving at Michigan in 2015.
McCarthy’s fumble in the third quarter was a momentum-shifter for the Spartans, who needed the Wolverines to make a mental mistake in order to pull out a victory.
It was a classic.
No other way to describe it.
As anticipated, the contest came down to a battle of will. Michigan State, in true fashion, found a way to complete the job. Michigan, in true fashion, found a way to let one slip away.