Michigan State and Mark Dantonio don’t make it a secret how they feel about in-state rival Michigan, but leading up to the Saturday’s game, the Spartans remained rather stoic.
Once they hit the field, though, the Spartans were anything but stoic in a 29-6 battering of Michigan at Spartan Stadium.
“I talked all week about keeping the lion in the cage, just peaking at game time, don’t worry about all the things that are being said,” Dantonio said. “Just keep your mouth shut and be ready to play. Start the game and finish stronger than when you started.
”We were going to let the lion out of the cage at 3:30 and that’s what happened. We got stronger as the game continued.”
The Spartans defense led the charge with a resounding seven sacks of Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who faced constant pressure, while holding the Wolverines to 168 total yards.
“We definitely felt the frustration coming from them,” senior linebacker Denicos Allen said. “Every time Gardner would get hit, he would get up with this kind of look of frustration without a doubt.
”That’s what we went into the game planning on doing.”
More impressively, the nation’s top-ranked run defense drove U-M backward for a loss of 58 yards rushing – after Wolverines’ running back Fitz Toussaint brought out the “little brother” comment earlier in the week.
”We really don’t care too much about that because when we get on the field it’s us versus them,” Allen said. “You can call us what you want. You can call us little brother, big brother, whatever. When we are on the field, we show who’s the big brother and who’s the little brother.”
Both teams were sluggish out of the gate, as field goals were exchanged early and the teams were tied 6-6 with 3:22 before the half.
Michigan State finally found the end zone when Connor Cook found Bennie Fowler for a 14-yard touchdown with just 23 seconds left in the first half.
Michael Geiger hit a 35-yard field goal in the third quarter to add to the MSU margin and it looked like MSU was set to run away with it, but Cook was intercepted by Michigan’s Raymon Taylor and Michigan had a good chance to score starting a drive at the MSU 40.
A run for a loss of 5 and a two sacks later, Michigan faced a fourth-and-31 and a punt.
”Our guys take that attitude going on the field that we get to go play again,” defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. “We get three more downs and it really just attacked them.”
It was much of the same for the defense, which allowed Michigan to convert just two third-down attempts out of 13.
The Spartans got the ball back and drove downfield and Cook capped the drive with his first career rushing touchdown and gave MSU a 22-6 lead.
Cook, who was 18 of 33 passing for 252 yards and a touchdown said the game was “the best I’ve ever felt playing football.”
Michigan put together a long drive, but Gardner was picked off by senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard at the MSU 3-yard line to all but cement the MSU win.
Jeremy Langford had his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game, which he hit with a 40-yard touchdown run that gave the Spartans the final 29-6 margin and a reason to celebrate.
“Right now, that 24-hour rule is in effect,” Dantonio said. “It could get longer. It’s daylight savings time, so we’ve got an extra hour.”
As for Dantonio celebrating his now 5-2 record against Michigan, Dennard said he didn’t get a Gatorade bath after this one.
“We are saving one for Coach D,” Dennard said. “We got Coach Duzz. Isaiah and Denicos got coach Narduzzi.”
Where is it being saved for?
”Somewhere in Cali.”