Fourteen years. That's how long it had been since the Michigan State Spartans had won a game on the Michigan Stadium turf. The odds of that streak continuing Saturday seemed very good. Michigan was coming off a dominant defensive performance against the Purdue BoilerMakers and young Mike Hart had just notched back to back 200 yard rushing efforts. On paper, the Wolverines pull this one out by double digits. But the game wasn't played on paper. The emotion and preparation John L. Smith's club brought with them to Ann Arbor would win nine out of ten games. Unfortunately for the Spartans, this contest wasn't one of those nine. Still, for three and a half quarters they gouged the Wolverines with a ground attack that they simply weren't prepared for.
Signs of the MSU's rushing prowess was evident on their very first scoring drive. The visitors spread the Wolverine defense across the field and ran a delayed draw from the shotgun. Drew Stanton's running ability froze both safeties long enough to get both out of position. That left nothing but green pastures ahead for the speedy DeAndra Cobb, as he went 72 yards for the game's initial score.
Like a week before, the offense had the challenge of answering an opening scoring drive by their opponent and they did just that. The Wolverines rode the legs of Michael Hart (aided by a 22-yard reverse to Braylon Edwards) down the field for a touchdown of their own. The freshman's five carries for 42 yards on that drive pushed him over 100 for the season.
If Michigan's scoring drive was supposed to send a message to the opposition, the Spartans didn't receive it. When the visiting offense re-took the field, they went to air and didn't miss a beat. If the pass wasn't there for quarterback Drew Stanton, he used his scrambling ability to keep the drive alive. After a questionable pass interference call against Grant Mason put the Spartans at the five yard-line, Stanton plunged into the end zone to put his team back up 14-7.
A three and out on Michigan's next series meant they had to punt. Special teams mistakes have plagued the maize and blue in almost every game this season. They were guilty of another on the ensuing kick. A Michigan State rusher came off of the edge to block the punt but was flagged for roughing. The referee overturned the flag on review because it was determined that the punt had been tipped. The Spartans got the ball at the Michigan 30 yard-line, but the Wolverine defense held to force a 50-yard field goal attempt that Dave Rayner eventually missed.
Michigan's offense again went three and out on their next series and Finley again took the field to punt. This time he got the kick off and pinned the Spartans at their own 10 yard-line. The poor field position did nothing to stymie their attack though. Stanton keyed his club's trek down field with two 15+ yard runs and a 29 yard pass to tight end Jason Randall. They got all the way down to the Michigan 1 yard-line before Lamarr Woodley shut the door to force the field goal.
The Michigan defense held the next two drives, and on the very last play of that second series Woodley buried a scrambling Stanton on his shoulder. The play put the Spartan field general out for the rest of the game. On Michigan's subsequent possession the offense finally mustered their first sustained drive since scoring early in the first. Henne moved the team into field goal range with 49 seconds left and Garrett Rivas knocked it in from 34 yards out to make the halftime score 17-10.
The Spartan offense came out in the second half without their leader but they didn't let that hurt their confidence. "It wasn't that difficult," William Whitticker said of taking the field without Stanton. "We know we can come back in with a second quarterback, and with him, we can do the job too. He prepares every week just like Drew does. "With that offense of ours, they had nothing for us. They couldn't stop us."
On the Spartans first offensive drive of the half, however, the Michigan defense did just that. When Henne led the offense back on the field, he and Hart teamed up for what was clearly one of the Wolverines better drives up to that point. After going all of the way from their own 13 down to the MSU 26, Braylon Edwards caught a pass in the flat and fumbled due to a hit in the back. Eric Smith recovered the ball on the sideline, but seemed to go out of bounds. The replay, however, determined that he had possession.
Neither team did much in a very fast third quarter. Backup quarterback Damon Dowdell finally put together a drive at the end of the period and the Spartans capitalized with a 19 yard Rayner field goal to make the score 20-10 with 13:30 left in the game.
Michigan's offense followed that up with yet another three and out. Afterward, the Spartans responded with what looked to be the knockout blow. On a beautifully designed delayed run, the offense rolled right (taking the Michigan defense in that direction), and then countered with the draw. The roll action put Michigan's safeties out of position and Cobb had too much speed to allow them to get back in the play. He broke into the open and 64 yards later the Spartans had a 27-10 lead with 8:43 left in the game.
All hope seemed lost and many of the 111,000 fans began to file out of the stadium. What they didn't know was the Michigan squad down on the field hadn't given up. Despite being pinned down at their own 7 yard-line, they drove 86 yards (keyed by a 46-yarder to Edwards) for a Rivas FG to make the score 27-13 with 6:27 remaining.
Coach Lloyd Carr called for the onside kick and his special teams unit executed it to perfection. Brian Thompson recovered a deflection off a Spartan player at the Michigan 38. That set up a spectacular 36-yard leaping touchdown grab by Edwards. The senior receiver took the high arching pass right out of the grasp of a Spartan defender to make the score 27-20 with 6:20 left in the game.
The Michigan defense answered the call and held on the next series, giving the offense the ball with 3:13 still on the clock. After Mike hart reeled off another long run (26 yards), Braylon Edwards went up for another miraculous touchdown grab in which he leaped over a defender to bring the ball down and knot the score at 27.
The two teams traded field goals in the first overtime. In the second OT, the Spartans looked to be in terrific shape after Jason Teague plunged over the goal line for the touchdown and the 37-30 lead, but the Wolverines would respond. Chad Henne went to work and found Jason Avant in the back of the endzone on third and goal from the five. Avant went high in the air for the pass and barely got his foot down before being knocked out of bounds.
In the third overtime Michigan got the ball first and Braylon Edwards would cap off his record setting performance in style. On 3rd and 9 Henne found Edwards with a crisp pass on a crossing route. The senior caught the ball at about the 10 and did the rest on his own for the 24-yard touchdown. Edwards knew he would be the one that had to make the play to win the game. "Being the older guy, a veteran and the leader and the person people look to, I had to make the play," Edwards said. I said to myself that I had to make the play. The line gave excellent protection and the ball was right there and if I didn't make the play it was my fault. Everybody contributed on that play." Forced to go for two, Henne rifled a pass into TE Tim Massaquoi, who made a fantastic grab over his head to make the score 45-38.
The Michigan defense re-took the field and forced the Spartans 4th and goal from the 23 yard-line. In their last ditch effort to tie the game Dowdell heaved the ball into the endzone, but the Markus Curry knocked the ball down to preserve the stunning victory!
After the game, Coach Carr didn't hesitate giving his star receiver the lion share of the credit for pulling out the improbable win. "With the exception of one great drive for a touchdown, we did not do much of anything for the first three quarters," Carr said. "We had a hard time protecting the quarterback and we had too many sacks. There is no question that Braylon made plays he has to make or we don’t win. Those were great catches. All three of those catches were plays where the defender was in pretty good position. It wasn’t like we just ran by somebody. Michigan State’s secondary was right where it needed to be. Henne made some great throws and Braylon made some great plays."
On the game, Edwards had 11 receptions for 189 yards and 3 touchdowns. He became UM's all time receiving yardage leader with 3,206 eclipsing the former record of 3076, set by Anthony Carter (1979-1982). Michael Hart also had a record setting performance, becoming the first back in Michigan history to have three straight 200-yard rushing games with his 234 versus Michigan State and the first Michigan freshman to rush for 1000 yards in a season (now with 1160).