Running backs from both sides took center stage in this game. Michigan’s Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins came in leading the Big Ten’s best rushing team. However, they were out gained by one man on Saturday. Kenneth Walker lll finished the day with 197 yards on 23 carries, averaging 8.6 yards per carry.
He also scored five touchdowns. No big deal.
“Overall I don’t think it was a Heisman moment, but it was just a great team win,” said Walker lll after his first win over the Wolverines.
The Michigan State offense struggled in the first half. Payton Thorne threw two interceptions and the offensive line couldn’t keep up with the ferocious front seven on the other side. As a result, the Spartans went into the locker room down by nine points and even faced a sixteen point deficit halfway through the third quarter.
Head coach Mel Tucker wouldn’t let that derail his team however. “We’re still in it. We’re still in it. There is no such thing as a safe lead in college football,” he said to his players at halftime.
Tucker would be right as his team rallied and outscored Michigan 23-3 after being down 30-14. In the end, the Spartans now have their first coach to ever start 2-0 against “that school down the road.”
“We’re all connected through the game of football. It’s not about us, it’s about all Spartans,” Tucker said postgame. “Whether its ‘Tuck Comin’ or ‘K9ForHiesman’ or ‘The Deep End’ or ‘The Woodshed’ or whatever it is, thats what college football is all about.”
A Prime Example Of Big Plays In Big Moments
There was very little doubt that this installment of the storied rivalry would live up to the hype. Those who bet the under for this game are a little upset, but with the way Michigan State won this game, there is no reason to think this team isn’t a threat in the conference, or even the country.
The Wolverines came out swinging. The native of East Lansing, Andrel Anthony made his presence felt with two touchdowns in the first half. Their defensive line won the all important battle of the line of scrimmage. David Ojabo would have a strip sack touchdown called back in the second quarter and Aidan Hutchinson was chasing Payton Thorne on what seemed to be every drop back.
On the flip side, the Michigan State defense showed the same struggles they have had all season. Scottie Hazelton’s group failed to get off the field on multiple third downs, and the secondary was gashed by many crossing routes.
That was until the second half however.
Red shirt freshman linebacker Cal Haladay met Michigan running backs in the hole for a couple of key stops on third and short. His partner Quavaris Crouch also chipped in by leading the team in tackles.
Then the turnovers came.
Jim Harbaughs offense would end their last three drives all via a turnover. First, a fumble off a botched snap recovered by Jacob Panasiuk. Then a turnover on downs, followed by the game sealing interception by Charles Brantley.
Sprinkle in a few momentum killing touchdowns from Kenneth Walker lll and you have another marquee victory in the Mel Tucker era. The Indiana Hoosiers gave the Wolverines the script on how to stop the big play through the air for the Spartans. Instead, the chunks came via the run. On his 27 yard touchdown to open the second quarter, Walker lll ran directly into offensive lineman Kevin Jarvis. But, in Le’Veon Bell type fashion, bounced to the outside to sprint into the end zone untouched. The junior transfer carried on to score all five touchdowns for MSU, simply because he will never be satisfied.
“The goal is to never be satisfied, continue to work hard.”
So What? What’s Next?
‘So What? What’s Next?’ This may seem like another ism by Mel Tucker, but it is actually a slogan that Scottie Hazelton’s defense echo’s after big plays. It will also probably be the mantra for Michigan State going forward.
The Spartans completed the large majority of what needed to be done to win this game. They stopped the run, made adjustments, and forced turnovers when they needed it most. Although they will hang their hat on this performance, MSU is well aware that this is not the top of the mountain for them.
“What is most important is what is next,” Tucker said after his team improved to 8-0 on the season. “It is going to be our preparation this week, we have to rest and recover, we have to get focused in on our next opponent, and get ready to take this show on the road.”
With a head coach that continues to get the best out of its players, a running back in Kenneth Walker lll that is arguably the best in the country, and a defense that won’t give up, this team continues to turn heads across the world of college football. Nobody knows how far the Spartans will go this season, but one thing is for certain. When a team comes to ‘The Woodshed’ they are going to have to play their best game.