An offensive lineman running the ball. A trick play. A wide receiver playing cornerback. All rolled together, it ended in a blowout.
“We were having a ton of fun and it helps that we started so fast because if it’s a closer game, we’re not going to be doing things like that,” senior Connor Kruse said. “We were firing on all cylinders in the first half offensively and defensively.”
It was a fitting way for a senior class that has won 40 games now in its four years with a chance to tie the record set by last year’s class with 42 wins.
”It is very emotional,” said Mark Dantonio, noting an attachment developed to players over the years. But Saturday was what Dantonio referred to as “chapter one” of losing seniors, with the second coming in next week’s season finale at Penn State and the third act being a bowl game.
It was equally fitting that the seniors carried the load for Michigan State’s offense. The first four touchdowns – and five of six – came courtesy of senior Jeremy Langford, Tony Lippett and Nick Hill, while Kruse chipped in a one-yard run in the fourth quarter.
”I think we went out well in Spartan Stadium,” Langford said.
The senior running back ran for 126 yards on 16 carries, bringing his streak of games with more than 100 yards to 15 games in a row against Big Ten opponents.
It was Lippett who got the Spartans on the board first as he has done throughout the season. He took a quick slant on fourth-and-5, broke outside when his defender fell and raced in for a 30-yard score for his tenth touchdown of the season and eighth first-quarter score.
It was the first of five straight possessions that ended with Michigan State touchdowns. Langford finished the next two drives with touchdowns, one from 18 and one from 38 yards. Hill got his first score from the 1-yard line and sophomore wide receiver R.J. Shelton capped the first-half scoring with a seven-yard touchdown reception.
”We just kept moving and moving and after a half like that, it just starts to get way more fun,” Kruse said.
The Spartans picked up where they left off in the first half, as Dantonio reached into his bag of tricks and called for a fake field goal from the Rutgers 24. Holder Mike Sadler pitched the ball to kicker Michael Geiger, who ran for 23 yards down to the 1-yard line on a play called “Sword in the Stone.”
”Since Sadler was handing the ball to me, it signifies passing the torch on senior day of the rushing average (on trick plays),” he said. “We have had some talented specialists on some fakes, so he passed the torch today.”
Hill fumbled on the next play as Michigan State turned over the ball for the second time in the game, but he ran in from 16 yards out to put MSU up 45-3 in the fourth quarter.
For the second straight week, the defense was big for the Spartans after having a rough time against Ohio State two weeks ago.
”We've been preaching in practice that we need to get back to our identity, which is hard-nosed defense and stop the run,” said linebacker Riley Bullough, who recorded his first career interception. “I thought we've done that pretty well the last couple of weeks.”
A week after allowing just 252 yards to Maryland, MSU held Rutgers to a third-quarter field goal and 234 total yards. MSU recorded three interceptions, as Drummond reeled one in on the first drive of the game and Arjen Colquhoun had the first of his career in the fourth quarter.
Lippett played on both sides of the ball in the win, as the senior played cornerback for the first time since his redshirt freshman season when he got five starts. He recorded two pass breakups and a tackle.
”I just tried to embrace the situation and I had fun out there,” Lippett said. “I played confidently.”
That seemed to be the case for the whole team on Saturday, as Dantonio said apart from the pair of fumbles it was “probably as complete of a game as we have had.”
”We're getting everything going again like we were before and I think that's a great way to end out the season,” sophomore Jack Conklin said. “We've got one more game to keep playing like this heading into a bowl game and into next year.”