The following is the next in a series of fictional game stories predicting the outcome of Michigan’s 2017 football season.
Pulling Away in Primetime
Wolverines get the better of their instate rival for second straight year
Ann Arbor, Mich. – The 2017 Michigan-Michigan State football game made history, as the first time these two old instate rivals met under the lights. But the game itself played out as it has the majority of time in the rivalry’s history.
Despite the Spartans’ recent run, it’s been a series dominated by Michigan overall. And Saturday night the sixth-ranked Wolverines pulled away in the second half for a 34-20 victory, in front of a near-record crowd at the Big House.
“The atmosphere out there was just electric,” Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I think it fired up both teams in the first half, to be honest. Luckily, we were able to correct some things on defense in the second half and won the game.”
Though it’s the first time in a decade Michigan has beaten the Spartans in consecutive seasons, it still holds a commanding 70-35-5 in the rivalry overall. However, Michigan State looked primed for the upset early.
As Harbaugh indicated, the Spartans came out guns blazing on the ground behind L.J. Scott, who came into the game the leading rusher in the Big Ten. And just as they did last year in East Lansing, ran the ball down the Wolverines’ collective throats to score a touchdown on the game’s opening drive.
“This was the most physical offensive line we’ve played so far, and it took us a little while to adjust to that,” Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said. “Plus, give Scott credit. He’s a great back.”
In fact, Scott became the first back to rush for over 100 yards on Michigan this season, and he did it before halftime. Michigan’s defense was on its heels most of the first half. Michigan State punted only once, and thrice more the Spartans drove the ball into the red zone. Only to be held to field goals twice, before a blitzing Khaleke Hudson forced a Brian Lewerke fumbled recovered by Hurst to turn away the other.
“We’ve got some younger guys who just have seen a lot of different looks already this season,” said Michigan linebacker Michael McCray, who led the Wolverines with 11 tackles. “We’ve played spreads, triple-options, and air raids. The one thing we hadn’t seen was a true power, pro-style attack. So give Michigan State credit, they were well prepared early on before our coaches made some adjustments.”
Luckily for the Wolverines, while their defense was getting their sea legs in the first half their quarterback was dealing. Against a Spartan defense sold out to stop the run, and daring Michigan’s young receivers to beat them, Wilton Speight was downright surgical. He completed passes to 7 different receivers, for almost 200 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone. Speight finished with his first 300-yard passing game of the season, and accounted for all the Wolverines’ touchdowns as well.
“The credit really goes to our offensive line, which gave me plenty of time to throw,” Speight said. “And to our coaches, who when they saw the aggressive fronts Michigan State was playing on defense decided to go to the air.”
Speight scrambled for a score, and hit Khalid Hill, Ian Bunting, and Kekoa Crawford for his three touchdowns through the air.
“That’s Big Ten Player of the Week type stuff,” Harbaugh said. “This was the best game he’s played so far this season, and you can see he’s gaining confidence and timing with his teammates.”
In the second half the Wolverines decided to give Michigan State a taste of its own medicine defensively. Loading the box to stop the run, while playing man-to-man on the on the outside. The adjustment worked. Except for a blown coverage that led to a long Lewerke touchdown pass to Trishton Jackson, the Spartans were scoreless the final two quarters.
“I thought our guys played hard and well, we just came up a little short against a quality opponent,” Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio said. “We’ve had three physical, tough games in a row now. And without a bye week in there it’s important we maintain our poise and health the rest of the way. We didn’t do that last year, and it’s up to us as coaches to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
The Spartans fall to 2-3 heading into a road game at Minnesota next week. Undefeated Michigan is on the road next week as well at Indiana, which should be fresh coming off a bye week. The Hoosiers (3-2) haven’t beaten the Wolverines in 30 years, but they were a pesky out both times they’ve met since Harbaugh arrived at Michigan.