East Lansing – Coming off an upset win over Penn State a week ago, No. 24 Michigan State welcomed in rival Michigan, ranked No. 6in the country, and its vaunted defense into Spartan Stadium on Saturday afternoon, looking for a third straight win over a top 10 team and second in as many weeks.
While the Michigan State offense saw running back L.J. Scott, receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. and guard Kevin Jarvis return from injury, the Spartans were still shorthanded and overmatched against the Wolverines defense, which ranked No. 2 in the country in total defense entering this week.
Despite a valiant effort from the Michigan State defense, the Wolverines would break through for touchdowns late in the third quarter and early in the fourth to hold off the Spartans for a 21-7 win, staying unbeaten in the Big Ten as Michigan keeps itself in the thick of the Big Ten East race.
Trailing 7-0 coming out of halftime, Michigan State (4-3 overall; 2-2 Big Ten) would pin Michigan (7-1 overall; 5-0 Big Ten) deep in its own end and the Spartans would come up with the big play it had been looking for as Michigan State defensive tackle Raequan Williams stripped Michigan running back Chris Evans of the ball and Brandon Bouyer-Randle recovered the loose ball at the Michigan 7-yard line.
The Spartan offense, which sputtered throughout the first half, once again turned to its back of tricks to get on the scoreboard. On second down from the 4-yard line, quarterback Brian Lewerke pitched left to running back L.J. Scott, who handed the ball off to Darrell Stewart Jr., who then threw to a wide-open Lewerke in the end zone, tying the game up at 7-7 with 11:12 left to play.
Both defenses would dominate much of the third quarter, much like they did in the first half, but the Wolverines would regain the lead with 2:24 left in the third quarter. On the first play following a Michigan State punt, Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson connected with Donovan Peoples-Jones, who got behind the Michigan State defense and stepped through a tackle at the Michigan State 40-yard line and easily made his way into the end zone to put the Wolverines on top, 14-7.
With Lewerke and the Michigan State offense still struggling after three quarters, the Wolverines all but put the game away with a 13-play, 84-yard drive that lasted nearly seven minutes as a Ben Mason 5-yard run widened the Michigan lead to 21-7 with 10:21 left to play.
One week after shutting down the No. 15 ranked Wisconsin and quarterback Alex Hornibrook, holding him to just 100 yards through the air, the highly touted Michigan defense turned in yet another dominant effort on Saturday afternoon, limiting the Spartan offense to just 94 yards of total offense.
Spartan Nation reported before the game that Lewerke would be playing injured on Saturday afternoon and the Spartans’ junior signal caller had one of the worst games of his college career, completing just 5 of his 25 pass attempts for 66 yards. The Spartans lost Lewerke’s top target, senior receiver Felton Davis III to a reported torn Achilles on a non-contact play during Michigan State’s final drive of the first half.
After the weather delay, Michigan would strike first as the Wolverines capped off a methodical 14-play, 84-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Patterson to Niko Collins to give the Wolverines a 7-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
The Michigan State offense failed to get on track throughout the first half, managing just 49 yards of total offense as Lewerke struggled mightily, throwing for just 38 yards on 3-of-13 passing.
Michigan would look to extend its lead before halftime after the defense forced another 3-and-out for the Spartans, giving the Wolverines the ball back near midfield. The Wolverines would use a Karan Higdon 38-yard run to move into the red zone, but the Michigan State defense would force a field goal attempt by Quinn Nordin that would miss badly to the left.
Higdon paced the Michigan offense with 144 yards rushing on 33 carries, while Patterson finished with 212 yards through the air on 14-of-25 passing.
The Spartan defense shined in the second quarter as it faced a tall task of keeping Michigan off the scoreboard despite the Wolverines starting with excellent field position, starting with the ball near midfield or in Spartan territory in each of its final three drives of the half.
Michigan held on to its 7-0 lead heading into halftime, and despite just a one-score lead, the Wolverines looked to be in full control after two quarters.
Michigan State will now look to bounce back next week when the Spartans welcome in Purdue to Spartan Stadium at noon on Saturday.
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