After a shaky first half in which neither team looked sharp offensively, Michigan State asserted itself over Michigan in the second 30 minutes of play and emerged with a 28-14 victory on Saturday.
Denard Robinson came nowhere close to putting on a show at Spartan Stadium as the Spartans’ defense persistently pursued him behind the line of scrimmage. There wasn’t room to run and there wasn’t time to throw as Michigan State defensive lineman, along with blitzing linebackers and defensive backs, were constantly in his face.
Robinson put up his worst numbers of the season. On the ground, he rushed 41 yards on 18 carries. But Michigan’s quarterback truly struggled in the passing game, completing only 9-of-24 passes for 135 yards and one interception.
The interception was a backbreaker too, as Michigan had closed the margin to 21-14 following a 34-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree. But with 4:30 to go in the fourth quarter, safety Isaiah Lewis picked Robinson off and returned the ball 39 yards for a touchdown that all but ended the game.
Prior to that, Michigan State was dominating the game with its running game. The Spartans’ offensive line got a good push off the ball on almost every play, opening up big holes for Edwin Baker to run through. The junior tailback had his best game of the season, rushing 26 times for 167 yards and a touchdown. His numbers would’ve looked even better, if not for a third quarter fumble after a 21-yard run that might have gone on for a touchdown.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins also rebounded from a sloppy second half, hurt by windy conditions and drops by his receivers. He threw two touchdown passes to Keshawn Martin in the second half, with Martin taking short passes and running them into the end zone, reaching just around the pylon as he was being pushed out of bounds.
Both scores essentially bookended the third quarter. The first touchdown went for 10 yards, finishing off Michigan State’s first drive. The second score came toward the end, after MSU’s defense forced a three-and-out.
Unfortunately, an impressive defensive effort for the Spartans might be overshadowed by some late hits and personal fouls late in the game. Particularly troublesome was William Gholston’s late hit on Robinson after the whistle had blown. Gholston didn’t come in late with the hit, but after Robinson had already gotten rid of the ball, the MSU defensive end threw him to the ground while also twisting Robinson’s helmet around.
Some Michigan fans will point to that play, along with other late hits by players like Marcus Rush and Jerel Worthy, and call the Spartans dirty. But two or three players shouldn’t obscure what was an excellent defensive showing. It will be interesting to see if the Michigan State defense can control or rattle Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson like they did with Robinson.
Meanwhile, Michigan is left again with concerns about Robinson’s ability as a passer. After showing promise the past two weeks, Robinson has reverted back into poor mechanics and decision-making in the passing game. But perhaps MSU’s defense deserves the majority of credit for that. How he rebounds against lesser competition will be worth watching.
With the victory, Michigan State becomes the lone undefeated team in the Big Ten’s Legends division. The win over Michigan is also the Spartans’ fourth consecutive victory over their in-state rivals. It’s hard to believe in this rivalry that one Spartans class will have never lost to Michigan. But things have obviously changed in the state over the past four years.
Michigan State hosts No. 4 Wisconsin next Saturday at Spartan Stadium in an 8 p.m. ET kickoff. Michigan plays at home for the first time in three weeks, hosting Purdue.