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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Spartans Down Wolverines...Again


The fall has come
By Matt Bishop
(Last updated: 22 hours ago)

More than four hours after the game ended Saturday afternoon, the Spartan Stadium scoreboard still lit up the night sky.


Matt Bishop
Spartans 26, Michigan 20.

With one incredible Larry Caper touchdown run, a season on the brink was saved and a rivalry officially became competitive again.

Indeed, pride comes before the fall.

Mark Dantonio uttered those now-famous words days after losing to U-M in 2007, a crushing loss during which the Spartans surrendered a 10-point lead in the final seven minutes and extended U-M’s series winning streak to six.

Since, the same old Spartans have been nowhere to be found against the Wolverines.

Saturday, MSU showed the fire, intensity and will to win that was missing in losses to Central Michigan and Wisconsin. And the Spartans clearly were more driven and motivated than the Wolverines, who played like they thought they could walk into Spartan Stadium and win without a fight.

Simply put, the Spartans wanted it more. And they set the tone before the game even started.

Junior safety Roderick Jenrette and a U-M player bumped into each other in the north end zone as Jenrette ran onto the field. The two exchanged words, foreshadowing what was to come — the Spartans punching the Wolverines right in the mouth.

MSU controlled the action at the line of scrimmage, rushing for 197 yards, including 75 from sophomore quarterback Kirk Cousins, as he threw his body all over the field in a gutsy effort.

Cousins helped engineer a tone-setting first quarter drive that spanned 17 plays, 80 yards and more than 10 minutes. Officially, the drive went down as 80 yards, but because of four penalties (some of which I found to be illegitimate), MSU gained 130 yards of total offense during the possession. The drive was a sign of things to come, as MSU nearly doubled the Wolverines in time of possession, allowing the defense to remain well-rested.

Helped by the offense dominating the clock, the defense, which has been less than stellar this season, held U-M to 28 yards on the ground, 212.2 yards below its season average. Even after struggling in the final minutes as U-M frantically scrambled to tie the game, the defense redeemed itself in overtime as senior safety Danny Fortener and junior cornerback Chris L. Rucker combined to intercept U-M quarterback Tate Forcier in the end zone, allowing the Spartans to simply kick a field goal if need be to win the game.

Instead, Caper, a freshman from Battle Creek, broke through the Wolverines defense, escaped two tackles and ran into the end zone, giving MSU a season-saving 26-20 win.

With the win, the Spartans definitively have set a new tone for the rivalry — one of potential MSU dominance — under Dantonio by playing with unmatched focus and intensity.

To U-M head coach Rich Rodriguez, playing MSU is just another game on the schedule. To Dantonio, his staff and players, this game means everything.

The play of both teams Saturday reflected this and probably will continue to do so in the future.

More importantly for the immediate future, the Spartans showed major signs of life heading into games with hapless Illinois and Northwestern and a third straight trip to a bowl game doesn’t appear to be as out of sight as it did this time last week.

While the season marches on, there’s nothing wrong in taking a little more time to bask in the light of a 26-20 victory.

_Matt Bishop is a State News football reporter. He can be reached at bishop20@msu.edu

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