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Michigan State defeats Rutgers, 27-21

Michigan State keeps chopping, and is now just one win away from a guaranteed bowl bid.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans hosted the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Spartan Stadium on Saturday and earned a 27-21 victory, despite being down several players due to suspensions and injuries.

Michigan State improves to 5-5 overall this season, and 3-4 in Big Ten Conference play, as the Spartans keep hopes alive for a bowl game bid. MSU also defeated Illinois last week, and this marks the first time the Spartans have had back-to-back victories this season since the first two games against Western Michigan and Akron.

Meanwhile, Rutgers slips to to 4-6 overall and is now just 1-6 in conference play.

It was a physical football game. The first half was a little bit slow to start before the scoring began.

Michigan State received the ball to start the game, and picked up a first down, but was eventually forced to punt.

Punter Bryce Baringer put Rutgers at its own 17-yard line and the Scarlet Knights took over. The Scarlet Knights actually picked up two first downs on RU’s opening possession and reached midfield, but MSU eventually forced a punt as well.

Michigan State took over at its own 8-yard-line, but marched into Rutgers’ territory. Running back Jalen Berger took the first play of the drive 11 yards for a first down and then took a pass from quarterback Payton Thorne another 15 yards for a second consecutive first down.

The Spartans eventually reached the red zone and got to the Scarlet Knights’ 18-yard line. Michigan State elected to go for it on fourth-down-and-1, but on a poor throw from Thorne, he couldn’t hit wide-open tight end Tyler Hunt on a rollout. MSU turned it over on downs.

The Michigan State defense quickly forced a three-and-out on Rutgers’ next possession. MSU’s offense would then open up the scoring for the day with a nine-play, 72-yard touchdown drive. Thorne connected with tight end Daniel Barker three times on the drive, including for a 26-yard score. The Spartans took a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Rutgers drove into Michigan State’s territory on its next possession, but eventually stalled out at MSU’s 40-yard line and punted the ball back to the Spartans. Punter Adam Korsak pinned MSU at its own 4-yard line.

Michigan State picked up a couple of first downs on the drive, but a holding call on wide receiver Keon Coleman on a screen pass moved the Spartans backward. MSU was unable to recover from that, and Baringer punted it away and pinned Rutgers at its own 4-yard line — despite almost having the punt blocked and being ran into by a Scarlet Knight.

Rutgers finally found the scoreboard on the ensuing possession. Rutgers put together a nine-play, 96-yard drive, which included a 31-yard run and 21-yard run from running back Kyle Monangai. On the scoring play, quarterback Gavin Wimsatt found running back (and former Michigan State commit) Aaron Young on an 18-yard touchdown pass.

Michigan State immediately answered with a touchdown drive of its own. The Spartans drove 73 yards on 10 plays before finding the end zone. Thorne found wide receiver Jayden Reed for a 35-yard gain, which set MSU up for an eventual score.

Thorne looked to tight end Maliq Carr in the end zone, and Carr nearly came up with the ball, but couldn’t quite complete the catch. However, pass interference was called against Rutgers on defensive back Avery Young, resulting in an automatic first down. One play later, Berger punched it in from two yards out. The Spartans took the lead back at 14-7 with 2:05 left in the second quarter.

Rutgers did get the ball back before halftime, but some questionable clock management by head coach Greg Schiano stalled the Scarlet Knights’ drive and RU didn’t threaten to add a score before the break.

Michigan State took the 14-7 lead into halftime. After the first half of play, Michigan State out-gained Rutgers in total yardage 283-200, including 172 passing yards versus just 62 for the Scarlet Knights. However, RU did have 138 first-half rushing yards compared to MSU’s 111.

The Scarlet Knights took the ball to begin the second half, but quickly punted the ball away. Michigan State took advantage of its first possession of the third quarter, moving 86 yards in just five plays.

On the drive, Berger had a 22-yard rush and Thorne and Reed connected on two separate 25-yard passes, including one for a touchdown. Michigan State extended its lead to 21-7 with 10:34 to play in the third quarter.

Rutgers went three-and-out on the next drive, giving the ball back to Michigan State after the punt. The Spartans drove deep into the Scarlet Knights’ territory — helped in part by a roughing the passer penalty called on Rutgers — but eventually came up short.

Instead of attempting a field goal, Michigan State opted to go for it on fourth-and-9 from Rutgers’ 31-yard line, but Thorne overthrew Coleman and MSU turned the ball over on downs.

The Scarlet Knights made things interesting on the team’s next possession. Rutgers went 69 yards on nine plays, which was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run from tight end/wildcat quarterback Johnny Langan. The play was reviewed, and while he appeared short of the goal line to the naked eye, there was not enough conclusive evidence to overturn the call on the field.

Rutgers cut into Michigan State’s lead, as the Spartans held a 21-14 advantage with 1:30 remaining in the third quarter.

Michigan State proceeded to go three-and-out and gave the ball right back to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights then took 9:17 off of the clock, leaning on Monangai in the running game to move the ball. With the game now in the fourth quarter, Rutgers was threatening to score again.

The Scarlet Knights moved down to the Spartans’ 21-yard line, but the Michigan State defense eventually forced a fourth down. Rutgers elected to attempt a 39-yard field goal from kicker Jude McAtamney.

However, the kick was blocked as MSU defensive tackle Jacob Slade got a paw on it. The ball was scooped up by cornerback Ameer Speed, who had a clear lane to the end zone, but he lost the ball, which the Spartans quickly jumped on.

Michigan State took over with good field position at its owns 44-yard line. The Spartans would move deep into Rutgers’ territory, getting down the Scarlet Knights’ 17-yard line. The drive eventually stalled and MSU was faced with a decision on fourth-and-six. Mel Tucker elected for the field goal attempt.

The kicking game has been atrocious for the Spartans all season — and MSU opted to go for it on fourth down in field goal range on more than one occasion against Rutgers — but kicker Ben Patton booted through a 34-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to put Michigan State up 24-14 with 6:28 left to play.

On Rutgers’ next possession, the Scarlet Knights also faced a fourth-down decision, but on RU’s own side of the field. Rutgers went for it on fourth-and-eight from its own 38-yard line, but Michigan State linebacker Aaron Brule sacked Wimsatt and the Spartans took over the ball on downs at RU’s 25-yard line.

Following a 15-yard chop block penalty on guard J.D. Duplain, and a false start penalty on tackle Ethan Boyd, Michigan State went backward. When fourth-and-15 came up from Rutgers’ 30-yard line, Tucker made the interetsing decision to lean on the struggling field goal unit once again.

Patton came through again for Michigan State, however. He made a 48-yard field goal, which is the longest for the Spartans this season. The kick put MSU up 27-14 with 3:22 left to play.

Coming into the game, MSU had only made two field goals as a team all season. Patton made two clutch field goals against Rutgers on Saturday alone, and he also made all three of his extra point attempts on the day.

Rutgers would fight back. An 11-play, 75-yard drive ended on a fourth-and-28 prayer from Wimsatt to wide receiver Shameen Jones for a touchdown. The Scarlet Knights cut into MSU’s lead, making the score 27-21 with 47 seconds left to play.

Rutgers then attempted an onside kick, but Michigan State wide receiver Tre Mosley recovered. The Spartans ran the clock out from there and took the 27-21 victory.

Rutgers actually slightly out-gained Michigan State in total yardage by a tally of 460-453. However, the Scarlet Knights had 14 penalties for 107 yards compared to just six penalties for 50 yards for the Spartans. Neither team had any giveaways.

Monangai was the offensive star for Rutgers, racking up 162 rushing yards on 24 attempts (6.8 yards per carry). Wimsatt had arguably the best game of his young career, completing 20 of 34 passes (59 percent) for 234 yards and two touchdowns.

Thorne completed 19 of 35 passes (54 percent) for 256 yards and two touchdowns. Berger led the team in rushing with 16 carries for 85 yards (5.3 yards per carry), while Jarek Broussard added 80 rushing yards on just 11 carries (7.3 yards per carry). Reed led the Spartans in receiving with four catches for 90 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, linebacker Cal Haladay led the team with a ridiculous 19 total tackles. Brule, linebacker Ben VanSumeren and defensive end Avery Dunn each recorded a sack.

Michigan State remains home next week against the Indiana Hoosiers (3-7, 1-6 in the Big Ten). Kickoff time has yet to be announced.