Rapid Reaction: Walker's 5 TDs spark Michigan State to rally past Michigan
Michigan’s offense had perhaps its best performance of the season on Saturday in East Lansing against archrival Michigan State, with several standouts.
But Kenneth Walker III was the only star the Spartans needed.
Walker, the nation’s leading rusher coming in at 142.4 yards per game, scored all 5 touchdowns for No. 8 Michigan State to lead the Spartans past the Wolverines 37-33 in one of the most memorable performances in the history of the Paul Bunyan Trophy rivalry.
Walker’s 23-yard TD run with 5:08 left gave MSU (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) the lead and staked his claim not only in series history — he was the first Spartan ever to score 5 TDs against Michigan (in fact according to Fox he’s he’s the first opposing player with 5 rushing TDs against Michigan in any game) and he had 197 rushing yards — but also for his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
The Wolverines, who took over with a little over 5 minutes left, went for it on 4th down from their own 32 and Cade McNamara hit Mike Sainristil to convert for a 1st down. McNamara then found Andrel Anthony for another first down, but Michigan turned it over on downs after failing to complete a pass on 4th and 3 from the MSU 31-yard line.
Michigan (7-1, 4-1 B1G) got the ball back one last time with a little over a minute left and no timeouts but an interception by MSU cornerback Charles Brantley with 1:00 left ended the last Wolverines threat.
McNamara had 232 yards passing in the first half alone, more than all but two games in his Wolverines career coming in. He wound up with a career-high 383 and 2 TDs.
Michigan, ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press poll, led most of the game. But backup quarterback J.J. McCarthy fumbled on a bad handoff in the fourth quarter and MSU defensive end Jacub Panasiuk recovered, setting up Michigan State’s winning TD.
Jake Moody’s 4th field goal of the day had put the Wolverines ahead 33-30 with 9:20 left.
Walker’s 58-yard TD in the fourth quarter brought the Spartans within 30-28 with 12:29 left. Payton Thorne’s 2-point conversion pass to Jaylen Reed tied the score at 30.
After Walker’s third TD run, a 1-yarder in the third quarter, the Spartans got a 2-point conversion to pull within 30-22.
MSU stuffed a run out of punt formation on Michigan’s first drive of the second half and took over trailing 23-14. But Michigan responded on their next possession with a 5-play, 54-yard drive capped by McNamara’s 19-yard sidearm touchdown strike to Mike Sainristil for a 30-14 lead with 6:47 left in the third quarter.
It appeared that Michigan got a huge defensive touchdown with 1:31 left in the second half when David Ojabo hit Thorne to jar the ball loose and defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson recovered it in the end zone. But upon review, officials ruled Thorne was down at the 2-yard line before the ball came out. An ensuing MSU punt set up Moody’s third field goal of the first half, from 35 yards, to give Michigan a 23-14 halftime lead.
Anthony’s second TD catch of the day put Michigan ahead 20-14. Backup quarterback J.J. McCarthy hit Anthony in the end zone for a 17-yard score.
The Spartans converted a gutsy 4th down from just inside UM territory in the second quarter when Thorne hit Jalen Nailor for a 40-yard completion over the middle. On the next play, Walker scored his second TD on an 8-yard run to give Michigan State the lead for the first time at 14-13.
Walker scored MSU’s first touchdown on the first play of the second quarter, getting stopped on an inside run but bouncing it outside and running for a 27-yard score. The ball slipped out of the running back’s hands just as he crossed the goal line but the TD was upheld on review.
Michigan’s second interception of the first quarter came when defensive end Mike Morris snagged a throw that was deflected high in the air by Daxton Hill at the line of scrimmage. To make matters worse for the Spartans, an unsportsmanlike conduct call on the play gave UM the ball at the MSU 30-yard line. That set up Moody’s 26-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Michigan came into the game with a much stronger rushing attack (fifth in FBS coming in) than passing game (ranked 105th) but the Wolverines hit a huge play in the air for the first points.
McNamara hit Anthony on a crossing route on 3rd and 5 and the freshman receiver — who graduated from East Lansing High School, less than 2 miles from Spartan Stadium — turned on the jets to outrace the MSU secondary for a 93-yard score, the longest play from scrimmage in the 114 meetings between the rivals.
Michigan State received the opening kickoff and drove 36 yards, but Thorne’s deep pass in Michigan territory went over Nailor’s head and into the arms of defensive back R.J. Moten for an interception at the MSU 2-yard line.