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Michigan State escapes Rutgers, 14-10

The Spartans pulled off the late comeback and sent their seniors off with a victory

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

EAST LANSING — Eighteen players were set to be honored prior to today’s football game, all having impacted their program in one way or another.

The special day didn't seem to have any affect on the offense’s ability to move the ball or produce points. MSU looked as gloomy as the weather did throughout the contest, but they never gave up. Despite only being able to produce 14 points of offense against a lackluster Rutgers defense they pulled off another comeback, scoring the final touchdown with 3:57 left in regulation.

“Big win for our football program,” said Mark Dantonio during his postgame presser.

Rutgers isn’t exactly going to be filed away as a signature win for the Spartans. That being said, reaching seven wins and looking forward to a bowl game is quite the achievement for this group (considering the circumstances), especially when you think of how horrid MSU’s offense played at times.

Michigan State didn’t get anything going for their first four drives, including a big fourth down stop by Rutgers defense. Sixteen punts later (eight by the Spartans) they found a way to string a couple of plays together.

Actually, the Spartans were -27.5 heading into this one and I never thought for a second they’d reach 20 points. There’s nothing out there to suggest MSU would improve offensively over the course of one week, Rutgers being their opponent or not.

“Obviously I was expecting more points on the board,” Dave Warner said when asked about his teams performance today.

Michigan State went nine quarters of football without scoring a touchdown, yet this is their offensive coordinator’s initial response.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Offense

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State had 310 yards of offense, including 137 rushing yards (81 yards on 19 carries by Connor Heyward).

Rocky Lombardi completed 44.1% of his passes while throwing for 173 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. In his second straight game as the starting quarterback for the Spartans Lombardi struggled to hit open receivers, his passes often sailing over their heads.

However, he did hit Matt Sokol in the end zone for a 18-yard touchdown pass and was excited for his senior tight end.

“It meant a lot because he’s actually gotten two touchdowns taken away because of penalties,” said Rocky Lombardi. “So when I saw him in there on that play I was like oh god I hope he’s open.”

There’s no better feeling than catching one in your last home game as a Spartan.

In all honesty, nothing ever came easy for this offense. Even in their final regular season game, MSU managed to struggle against Rutgers. If not for a 22-yard touchdown run by Cody White, we may be having a different conversation. Either way, it was too close for comfort.

In the last three seasons (prior to today’s game), Rutgers was 3-23 in their previous 26 B1G contests. Only having ever beaten Maryland, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, and Michigan.

The Defense

Rutgers v Michigan State Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

What can the fans say about this defense? They played their hearts out all year and consistently had to drag MSU to the finish line.

The defense allowed 217 yards of offense (108 rushing and 109 passing) and gave up a single touchdown.

Prior to kickoff, they were 19th in the FBS for total defense and still boasted the nations most prolific run stoppers, allowing just 78.9 yards per game. Only having given up 27 rushes of 10-plus yards, which was also the third fewest in the FBS.

MSU’s defensive coordinator, Mike Tressel, will be sad to see some of his guys go after all this time.

“We’re losing a lot of guys that impacted this program heavily.”

Even with the added pressure of not having a productive offense, he knows for a fact his seniors wouldn't of had it any other way.

“We’ve had so many games over there four and five year careers that come down to the wire, said Tressel. “I don't think they would have said that with four minutes to go when we were down, but at the end they said they wouldn't have had it any other way.”

It’s simply impossible to question these players competitive natures and their will to win. MSU had multiple different leaders on defense and fans should appreciate how well they performed time after time.

Moreover, Josiah Scott played out of his mind against the Scarlet Knights, recording three tackles and two interceptions — both coming in key moments. Michigan State decided to use his final game of eligibility (before a potential redshirt) to take on Rutgers.

According to Tressel, this was a must win and there simply was no excuse to leave such a great football player on the sidelines.

“The game was way to important for us. It’s better to be 7-5 than 6-6 — I told Khari earlier in the week, if I was a senior I’d want a younger guy to do it for me so I’m going to do it for you,” said Josiah Scott on his decision to play.

Side Notes

  • Mark Dantonio said it’s completely up to Josiah Scott and his family on if he plays in the bowl game or not. If he doesn't participate MSU will be able to redshirt him.
  • In terms of coaching decisions — Dantonio said those conversations will remain “in-house” and that he’s always thought “loyalty goes both ways.”
  • Lastly, how do you think MSU will perform in their bowl game?
Rutgers v Michigan State Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images