In the same venue where the Spartans held the Wolverines to minus-48 yards a year ago and had won three straight meetings, the in-state rivals met again. But the statement Michigan State wanted to make with its 35-11 win was all about this year and not previous accomplishments.
”Just come out and dominate,” senior Marcus Rush said. “We didn't want to look back at what we did last year.”
The message conveyed by coach Mark Dantonio all week the emphasis was on being focused – and making sure “that we measured up.”
“We understood all week that just because we've won in the past does not mean we are going to be entitled,” Dantonio said. ”We wanted to stay confident and grounded in what we were doing and focus on the task at hand.”
The Spartans did that in convincing fashion with the biggest margin of victory against Michigan since 1967 and winning their sixth of the past seven meetings with Michigan for the second time in school history (1956-62). It came behind a solid defensive effort and big game from running back Jeremy Langford.
The senior running back posted three touchdowns and a career-high 177 yards on a career-high 35 carries against a Michigan defense that had allowed just 93 yards per game and three rushing scores all season.
”Whenever the coaches trust me to carry the ball, my job is doing that,” he said. “The coaches trust me, and I did my best with my carries.”
Langford delivered the first punch of the game when he ran it in from two yards out on the Spartans’ first drive. The score was set up after quarterback Connor Cook faked the jet sweep to wide receiver R.J. Shelton and kept it with room to run. He lowered his shoulder into Michigan safety Delano Hill and got up with some words for him, which resulted in Hill pushing him and being flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct to put the ball at the Michigan 2.
”He really set the tone,” senior safety Kurtis Drummond said. “Seeing Connor go out there and lower his shoulder like that got everyone excited.”
The score stayed at 7-0 until Michigan capitalized on good field position after Josiah Price fumbled at the MSU 33. The Wolverines recovered, but the drive went nowhere and kicker Matt Wile knocked through a 48-yard field goal with 3:30 to go before the half.
Michigan State put another score on the board quickly as Langford opened the next drive with a 24-yard run into Michigan territory. A few plays later, he took a screen pass 18 yards to the UM 7 and punched it in on third-and-goal for a 14-3 lead going into the half.
”It seems like we did a pretty good job at the end of the first half, executing a two-minute situation,” offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “It was obviously a big momentum booster being able to go into halftime with a last-minute score.”
The Spartans held the Wolverines to zero yards rushing in the first half.
"In the first half, that was the game really as far as stopping the run,” defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. “We shut down the run about as well as we've stopped it against these guys and that was the key to the game."
Michigan State got the ball back around two minutes later and struck quickly as Cook hit wide receiver Tony Lippett, who beat Hill and broke away for a 70-yard score and a 28-3 lead in the third.
“I saw the corner blitz and I tried to work the safety like I could,” Lippett said. “I caught the ball and glanced to see where he was at and he didn’t know what was going on. I guess he was lost or something, I don’t know.
”I just tried to accelerate up the sideline and make a play for my team.”
Michigan broke a touchdown drought that spanned 186:09 – back to the 2011 meeting between the teams – when it took advantage of its third drive starting inside the MSU 33 after a Langford fumble.
Running back De’Veon Smith capped the drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown and Gardner hit tight end Jake Butt for a two-point conversion to pull within 28-11 with 3:40 to go.
The Spartans again ran the ball well and scored behind Langford, who ran in from five yards out for his third score of the day. The decision to keep driving instead of kneeling stemmed from an incident before the game in which Michigan players planted a stake in the turf at Spartan Stadium.
Michigan State held Michigan to 65 yards rushing on 28 attempts and just 186 total yards, while the Spartans ran for more than 200 yards for the third straight game and did so against the nation’s fourth-ranked run defense.
The win improved Dantonio to 6-2 against Michigan in his tenure in East Lansing.
”This game just means a little bit more,” senior safety Kurtis Drummond said. “It's all about bragging rights, and who owns this state.
”To win this game we're definitely excited, we won't underplay it at all. We're all very excited and had a great celebration in the locker room.”