The Michigan State Spartans went down to South Florida this week to face a ranked team in the heat and humidity and came out with a decisive 38-17 win over the No. 24-ranked Miami Hurricanes. Head coach Mel Tucker earned a signature win, and MSU has already exceeded last year’s win total.
The Spartans only out-gained the Canes 454 yards to 440 yards, and gained six fewer first downs (23 to 29). But, the Spartan defense forced two fumbles and two interceptions, while holding Miami to only 52 yards on the ground. Kenneth Walker led all rushers with 172 yards on 27 carries.
The first quarter was a defensive struggle. Miami moved the ball on its first possession, but the Hurricanes’ drive stalled out when quarterback D’Eriq King fumbled on a scramble and the ball wound up in the hands of Spartan linebacker Quavarius Crouch.
On the offensive side of the ball, Miami brought the pressure early, resulting in two drive-killing sacks of Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne on second down during MSU’s first two possessions.
On the Spartans’ third possession, offensive coordinator Jay Johnson mixed up the play-calling by dialing up some throws to tight end Tyler Hunt and H-back Connor Heyward. But, the Spartans stalled in the red zone and had to settle for a 23-yard field goal from Matt Coghlin to open the day’s scoring.
The Hurricanes’ offense then got into a rhythm. King completed a series of easy throws to the perimeter, and Miami marched down the field, eventually finding the end zone on a busted coverage on fourth-down-and-two.
The Green and White then attempted to rally, thanks to a long catch and run by Tre Mosley, but a missed field goal left the Spartans with no points on the drive. However, the Canes returned the favor on their ensuing drive, also missing a field goal, leaving the score at 7-3.
In the final minutes of the second half, the Spartans put together a nine-play, 80 yard drive which culminated in a seven-yard touchdown pass to from Thorne to Kenneth Walker, giving the Spartans a 10-7 lead at the half. Miami had more total yards at the break (264 to 222), but the Spartans had a decisive edge on the ground, 81 yards to just 31 yards.
After trading punts in the first two drives of the second half, the Spartans and Hurricanes then traded impressive 10-play touchdown drives. The Spartans scored on a nicely designed 11-yard pass play to Jalen Nailor, and the Canes responded with a 14-play bullet from King to standout wide receiver Charleston Rambo, who led all receivers with 156 yards on 12 catches.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Spartans were clinging to a 17-14 lead and Miami appeared to have some momentum. But, Drew Beesley hit King, forcing a fumble which was recovered by Jacub Panasiuk on the Miami 13-yard-line. Three plays later, Thorne rifled a pass to Jayden Reed to put the Spartans up 24-14.
On the Hurricanes’ next drive, Miami tacked on a 55-yard field goal to cut the margin to only seven points. Then, Thorne went to work. He picked up a key third down with his legs on a 22-yard run up the middle. Then on a crucial fourth down, Thorne extended the ball on a sneak to extend the drive by a fraction of an inch.
One play later, Thorne put the “nail” in the coffin with a 39-yard pass to Jalen “Speedy” Nailor to extend the lead to 31-17. Thorne would finish the game with 261 yards and four touchdowns on 18-for-31 passing (58 percent).
One play later, D’Eriq King, who had taken plenty of abuse all afternoon from the Spartan defense, short-armed a pass to the perimeter which was intercepted by Michigan State cornerback Ronald Williams on the Miami 23-yard-line. The Spartans would add a garbage-time touchdown on a sweep to Reed, making the final score 38-17.
When the Spartans take the field next Saturday night in Spartan Stadium to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Michigan State will certainly have a little number next to the team’s name, indicating a national top-25 ranking. But, the most important numbers are “3-0.” The Spartans are undefeated and rolling.