Michigan State went to Ann Arbor a double-digit underdog and left not only with a win, but a new outlook from a national perspective on the season.
Yes, it’s technically “just one win.” However, for a young team like Michigan State, beating a rival on the road can change almost everything. For Mark Dantonio, it’s further proof that he’s no shrinking violet against the biggest names in the conference.
How they did it
Similar to MSU’s win two years ago at Ohio State, the Spartans had a perfect game plan for an upset in awful weather. After falling behind by a field goal early in the game, the Spartans scored a touchdown in both the first and second quarter to go into the half with a 14-3 lead. It was all the offense would score, but it turned out to be just enough.
In the second half, with the wind howling and the rain coming in waves, the MSU defense stood tall against Michigan’s offense. State intercepted John O’Korn three times in the second half, not letting Michigan even sniff a scoring opportunity after a third quarter touchdown made the score 14-10. Sophomore David Dowell grabbed two of the interceptions and Joe Bachie had the third. The defense also recovered two fumbles, matching the amount the MSU offense gave up. The game wasn’t sealed until the final drive of the game, when the defense took care of business again, keeping UM out of the end zone despite a real opportunity on the last play of the game.
Limited to only 22 passes, Brian Lewerke completed 50% of his passes with a touchdown and a fumble. But once again, the quarterback’s most important role came as a runner. Lewerke led the team with 61 yards, especially important with LJ Scott sidelined by injuries obtained from the Iowa game.
What the win means on the field
For a team that was expected to fight for the chance to return to a bowl game, this win is huge. The Spartans now only need two more wins to become bowl eligible and could now play into a more elite game.
The win also shows the strength of this Michigan State team. While the defense was already looked at as a force, teams will now begin to game plan for the MSU pass defense. The No Fly Zone has returned to East Lansing.
Similarly, the win without Scott means opposing defenses can no longer key on the standout running back. Early in the season, linebackers would creep up whenever Scott was in the backfield. The running game has proven to be versatile, led by the signal caller. Defenses will still load the box against Lewerke, daring the young quarterback to beat them through the air, but an additional linebacker held in the box on drop-backs may open up passing lanes, especially to favorite targets Felton Davis III and Darrell Stewart Jr.
This game may be most felt not only off the field, but during the offseason. As a program, Michigan has always had somewhat of an ability to recruit itself. But with the addition of Jim Harbaugh, many expected the state recruiting battle to go in Ann Arbor’s favor with ease.
However, in his third season with the Wolverines, Harbaugh is only 1-2 against Michigan State and has failed to get his team into the playoffs. This win should give Mark Dantonio a big help in recruiting battles, proving he has the ability to not only hang with the “big boys” of the conference, but beat them.
Almost as importantly (at least for fans), this means another year of bragging rights against the biggest and closest rival. While the excuses are sure to come, it’s impossible to negate what this MSU team has done.