EAST LANSING, Mich. – The longest losing streak for Michigan State in 34 years is over.
The Spartans rolled to a 49-0 win over Rutgers on Saturday afternoon to snap their seven-game losing streak in emphatic fashion. Michigan State (3-7, 1-6) hadn’t won a game since beating Notre Dame, 36-28, on Sept. 17. Rutgers (2-8, 0-7) has now lost seven games in row.
Senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor threw three touchdown passes, including two to senior tight end Josiah Price, while sophomore running back LJ Scott rushed for 122 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries as part of an overall 440-yard offensive performance. Senior Demetrious Cox’s 30-yard interception return for a touchdown six minutes into game gave Michigan State a 14-0 lead and signaled the start of a dominant defensive performance. The shutout is the first for Michigan State since Oct. 19, 2013, when it beat Purdue, 14-0.
Michigan State held Rutgers to 149 yards and picked off quarterback Gio Rescigno twice. It is the first multiple-turnover game for the defense since it intercepted one pass and recovered a fumble at Indiana on Oct. 1.
The Spartans host No. 5 Ohio State next Saturday in a noon kickoff. They’ll enjoy this win first.
Five things we learned
- Michigan State played mad and never got happy as it took the early lead, built upon it and never let up. O’Connor was sharp in the passing game but he only had to attempt 15 passes, completing 10 of them for 141 yards. The defense started last week against Illinois with five straight three-and-outs but had moments of undisciplined play in giving up four long, quick touchdown drives. There was none of that this week.
- The young guys are learning. Malik McDowell didn’t start because of injury so the defensive front four consisted of freshmen Josh King and Mike Panasiuk, redshirt freshman Raequan Williams and sophomore Robert Bowers. Sophomore Andrew Dowell started at strong outside linebacker ahead of Ed Davis, while freshman Justin Layne started at cornerback. Redshirt freshman Cole Chewins started at left tackle, alongside classmate Tyler Higby at left guard. Freshman wide receiver Trishton Jackson caught his first career touchdown. It was a good day all around for the underclassmen.
- Running back has been a revolving door between Scott, Gerald Holmes and Madre London, but Scott got the start so it was his show for most of the first half. He posted his third 100-yard game in the past four weeks, a nice bounce-back after losing a fumble and being replaced in the third quarter last week. London, who had just 68 yards on 19 carries coming into the game, scored twice and finished with 52 yards on nine carries as he played a lot of the second half.
- Winning is fun. It’s probably been forgotten because of this losing streak, but it’s amazing what happens when execution meets effort.
- That execution showed up in two areas where Michigan State has struggled this season. The Spartans led the Big Ten in most penalty yards per game but committed just (five) penalties for (40) yards against Rutgers. They’ve also had trouble finishing scoring drives but scored touchdowns on all five of its possessions inside Rutgers’ 20-yard line.
Michigan State has gotten off to fast starts before this season, but it hasn’t been able to build on those leads. The Spartans piled on to an early 14-0 lead with a 50-yard touchdown pass from O’Connor to Jackson with 5:22 left in the first quarter. It was a quick strike down the left sideline with Jackson making a nice over-the-shoulder catch after getting behind his defender. Jackson had clear sailing until he reached the 5-yard line, but he bulled his way through a couple of defenders for his first career touchdown.
Can Mark Dantonio smile? Yes. He has a lot to smile about after this game. It’s been a long two months for the Michigan State head coach.
How do the Spartans finish off the season? Ohio State and Penn State are left on the schedule. Rutgers has a long way to go before it can compete in the Big Ten. Ohio State and Penn State are in the thick of the Big Ten East race. They will be more telling games.
Michigan State left a lot of points on the field the last two weeks in losses to Michigan and Illinois. The Spartans had 13 red-zone possessions in those games but scored just five touchdowns on those opportunities. Five times they failed to score any points. The only action kicker Michael Geiger got this week was on extra points. That’s exactly how Michigan State wants to use him.
What it means
There is joy in Mudville tonight. This win doesn’t erase the disappointment of the season, but it sure does make it easier on the players and coaches. At least for one night. Then they can start figuring out what to do against Ohio State.