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Spartan Football Playback: Michigan State vs. Miami (1989)

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How a victory for the Spartans over the Hurricanes could have dramatically changed the 1989 season.

Miami Hurricanes vs Michigan State Spartans Photo by Brian Masck/Allsport/Getty Images

Opponent: Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Date: Sept. 30, 1989

Location: Spartan Stadium - East Lansing, Michigan

Final Score: 26-20, Miami

All-time Matchup Record: Miami leads 4-0

Michigan State and Miami (FL) will face off for the fifth time ever on Saturday in South Florida with the Hurricanes taking all prior contests.

The schools last met in 1989, in which the Spartans entered the game as a massive underdogs despite having a talented roster and playing on home soil.

Miami at the time was a perennial powerhouse and closing out one of the most successful decades of any team ever — winning two national titles in the previous six years and eventually a third championship in 1989.

First-year head coach Dennis Erickson had some serious shoes to fill left by Jimmy Johnson, who left the previous offseason to coach the Dallas Cowboys. The Hurricanes swept through the first three games and headed into East Lansing without a sniff of trouble.

Michigan State, led by head coach George Perles, was in the midst of a horrid stretch in the 1989 season — playing three of the country’s top-five teams in four weeks. The Spartans lost narrowly to No. 1 ranked Notre Dame the week before in South Bend (the Fighting Irish won by a final score of 21-13), but were confident coming home to play the heavily favored and No. 2-ranked Hurricanes.

It’s noteworthy looking back at what an upset would have meant for the entire college football landscape that season. As previously mentioned, Miami would win the national championship in 1989 and a loss to Michigan State would have seriously damaged those chances. Michigan State could have also used a win to carry more momentum into its game versus No. 5 Michigan two weeks later (in which the Spartans lost 7-10) and possibly beyond.

Game Recap

The first half was dominated mostly by defense and MSU able to shutdown Miami’s usually lethal attack, which possessed seven future NFL players. The Spartan defense was no slouch, led by All-American linebacker Percy Snow, who was the MVP of the Rose Bowl in 1987.

The Hurricanes held Michigan State on the first drive of the second half, then drove 64 yards in five plays to take a 17-10 lead on Alex Johnson’s 38-yard touchdown run with 3:08 remaining in the third quarter.

Linebacker Darrin Smith blocked Josh Butland’s punt on the Spartans’ following series and safety Charles Pharms recovered the ball on the Michigan State 13-yard-line. After gaining only four yards on the proceeding drive, Carlos Huerta kicked a 27-yard field goal to give Miami a 20-10 lead.

Michigan State pulled within one score with 2:48 left in the third quarter on John Langeloh’s 27-yard field goal. The Spartans were forced to settle for the kick after the Hurricanes’ goal-line-stand at the Miami one-yard-line.

Spartan safety (and current Michigan State secondary coach) Harlon Barnett took a 35-yard interception return to the house to even the game at 20-20. Momentum shifted to MSU briefly.

Huerta kicked the game-winning field goal with 5:04 left, and later added a 52-yard field goal with 54 seconds to play to give Miami a six-point lead.

MSU got the ball with 49 seconds left, but Miami recovered a fumble by quarterback Dan Enos and ran out the clock.