Total domination (big box score):
[As always, this is sack-adjusted.]
This was a complete showing against an overmatched opponent, and just the second time all season that MSU led in every Five Factors metric (the other was against Jacksonville State).
I mean, what do you even say about this team at this point? Officially eliminated from the B1G East Division race with the Ohio State win over Indiana, but still clearly on a different level than most of the Big Ten. Only one game this season has been decided by fewer than 12 points (Nebraska). On the cusp but not quite reaching greatness.
It's nice to see that Dantonio and company continuing to tinker, with Tony Lippett and Demetrious Cox taking snaps at the corner spot opposite Trae Waynes. It's a bit of an odd time to throw Lippett back at corner after he played significant time there as a redshirt freshman in 2011. Watching that rotation next week against Penn State will be interesting going into the bowl game.
Maybe that change was enough to keep the team fresh and on their toes? It hasn't always been the case that MSU teams, even under Dantonio, were able to be this focused late into the season (see: 2010 Purdue). This is about as hot a take as I can muster.
I'm not sure that the results would've been any different if Hicks had played the entire game. Against mediocre-to-bad teams, the pass defense has been just fine; last week MSU gave up 5.0 yards per pass to Maryland. The issue isn't against teams of Rutgers' caliber.
One thing of note: we're still in "Lloyd Christmas territory" for a potential CFB playoff berth (I'm shamelessly stealing that phrase from SpartanDan). FiveThirtyEight's most recent projection gives us a 1.6% chance of making the field of four teams. In that projection system, ESPN's FPI metric is used to rate teams, and then the committee's team choice is also simulated. So take those projections with HUGE grains of salt. It would take major, major chaos for MSU to sneak into the playoff, but it isn't completely off of the table just yet.
Or maybe I'm just still in denial. Yeah, that's probably more likely.