EAST LANSING - Michigan State's opportunistic defense scored a touchdown and helped set up another to stake the Spartans to a 14-7 and then made big plays down the stretch to give the Spartans a tougher-than-expected 17-13 win over previously undefeated Pittsburgh.
The Spartans' defense resembled a punch-drunk fighter who got up off the mat to deliver the knockout blow themselves.
The Spartans were victimized by whistle-happy referree John McDaid's crew for eleven penalties for 125 yards (Pitt: 10 penalties for 70 yards) and allowed six sacks of quarterback Brian Hoyer.
MSU got manhandled by the Pitt run game, as the Panthers gave up on quarterback Kevan Smith for most of the fourth quarter and ran their "Arkansas" package - direct snapping to freshman running back LaShawn McCoy who gashed the Spartans for 172 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
But MSU saw the unveiling of a star in Jonal Saint-Dic, who came up big in the Spartans "rabbits" package, forcing two fumbles (including one that led to a Michigan State field goal), getting a sack, three hurries and five tackles.
State had a chance to give themselves some breathing room, up 14-13 but with fourth-and-one with 4:04 remaining, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio elected to go for it but Pitt held.
However, MSU's defense came up with their first of many big plays when Saint-Dic forced a fumble of an end-around play by T.J. Porter, Ogembi Nwagbuo recovered. That play set up the field goal that gave MSU a 17-13 lead.
MSU's Saint-Dic forced another fumble with a pressure on Smith, but Pitt recovered. Then Smith converted on what appeared to be a key 4th-and-18 hitting Marcel Pistano in MSU territory at the 23-yard line.
Smith spiked the ball and then was sacked by middle linebacker Kaleb Thornhill who barged in uncontested on the blitz.
With time running out Smith desperation pass intended for Oderick Turner was nearly intercepted by Rod Jenrette.
"I did a lot of praying on that last drive," admitted Coach Dantonio. "We made a lot of mistakes and we'll have to clean those up."
When asked what the turning point in the game was, Dantonio asked, "Was their a turning point? I don't know. We just tried to hang on."
MSU (3-0) now heads on the road for the first time this season, to face winless Notre Dame (0-3).
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