(EAST LANSING) - Michigan used a ball control scheme featuring junior running back Chris Perry who rushed the ball a school record 51 times for 219 yards to defeat the Michigan State Spartans 27-20.
"Chris Perry has the heart of a champion," said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. "I love that kid - the way he plays, the career that he's had at Michigan. And I think that John Navarre was again outstanding. He proved what kind of heart he has, what kind of competitor he is. He threw that interception early, what he did on third down... but I think Navarre was outstanding."
Navarre was 17-of-31 for 223 yards and three touchdown passes, all set up by the running of Perry but also threw an interception and a fumble which was returned 55 yards by Spartan end Clifford Dukes for a MSU touchdown.
The loss was the first in the Big Ten conference for the Spartans who know need help to get to the Rose Bowl, but who still have a great shot at a New Year's day bowl game.
Aaron Alexander's attempt to catch a last-second 'Hail Mary' pass from Smoker on the game's final play was intercepted in the end zone by Michigan's Scott McClintoch to preserve the win for the Maize and Blue.
Michigan State coach John L. Smith said the loss was a team effort. "It's a team effort. We all lost that game from our coaching staff to offense, defense, special teams. We just have to come back with a renewed effort tomorrow and get to work on Ohio State and move on."
While the MSU coaching staff put together a defensive game plan the emphasize stopping the pass, Michigan crossed them up by running the football 55 times on the day.
"I was shocked by their running game," admitted Spartan middle linebacker Mike Labinjo. "I knew they were going to run at us but this was not what I had envisioned."
Perry's 1-yard run capped a 10-play 55 yard scoring drive and after a 20-yard Dave Rayner field goal, Navarre hit Braylon Edwards from 40-yards out over corner Darren Barnett to give Michigan a 13-3 lead after the extra point failed.
When Andy Mignery was left wide open on the right sideline, to start the second half Michigan capitalized on the mistake and held a 20-3 lead.
Dropped balls cost the Spartans offense several chances to keep the football away from the grinding Michigan offense. The Spartans had unofficially nine dropped passes.
Spartan wide out Agim Shabaj, who caught a 73-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Smoker to cut the Michigan lead to 20-10 said the ball was slippery because of a light misty rain that fell throughout the contest but Shabaj said "that was no excuse for dropping as many balls as" the Spartans did.
Michigan answered when Navarre hooked up with Edwards against a MSU secondary without its leader Eric Smith to up the score to 27-10 before Dukes' fumble recovery and a second Rayner field goal made the final score 27-20.
Despite the difficult loss, to a man, the Spartans vow not to fold but to come out fighting next week.
"We need to look towards Ohio State," said Labinjo. "We're still tied at the top of the Big Ten. We just need to get to work, all we can do now is win our last three games."
Michigan State (7-2) now travels to Columbus, OH against last year's national champions (8-1) Ohio State in what shapes up as a 'must-win' for MSU to stay in the Big Ten championship race.