EAST LANSING, Mich. — A fourth-quarter rally from Michigan State pumped up its stat book and put a ding on Michigan’s defensive numbers. Despite that, the Wolverines’ pass defense continued its dominance on Saturday afternoon.
Michigan (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) defeated Michigan State (2-6, 0-5) by just nine points — 32-23. While the score looks close, and the final stats even closer, it doesn’t depict just how dominant Michigan’s pass defense was until the final minutes of the fourth quarter at Spartan Stadium.
Once again, Michigan held an offense to under 200 passing yards and a sub-50 percent completion percentage. What’s more, the Spartans fielded three quarterbacks — Tyler O’Connor, Damien Terry and Brian Lewerke — because of injuries induced by Michigan’s constant pressure.
The pass coverage was able to feed off of the pressure the Michigan blitzers gave the MSU passers as the Spartans had just 34 yards passing heading into the final quarter.
When Michigan was up 30-10, the offense went fully conservative, and the defense had to contain the Spartans for four drives in the fourth quarter alone — Michigan State had six drives total the entire game before that.
To understand just how dominant the Michigan defense was Saturday, following the Spartans’ game-opening, 75-yard touchdown drive, the only time Michigan State got inside the red zone before fourth quarter was the opening drive of the second half.
The Spartans got the ball down to the Wolverines’ 2-yard line on that drive … but began the drive on the Michigan 33 thanks to an interception. And that drive ended with the Spartans turning the ball over on downs thanks to a Michigan goal-line stand.
In the fourth, the Spartans’ two late passing scores were aided by a couple of questionable defensive pass interference calls. And the final score came with just a single second left in the game.
So, yes, there’s no denying that Michigan State was able to run the ball throughout Saturday’s game. But when your team is allowing just 34 passing yards heading into the final minutes of the game, it’s a safe bet that the team has a good shot to win.
Excluding the Rutgers game, Michigan State’s 34 pass yards was the lowest a team had against Michigan heading into the fourth all season.
And again, converting on fourth down was a difficult task for the opposing offense today.
“Defensively, guys made plays,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “3-of-4 fourth-down stops were huge in the ballgame.”
There’s no doubting that Harbaugh’s belief in always improving is true, especially in today’s game. A late fourth quarter collapse that saw the Spartans get 150 passing yards in a little more than 10 minutes can’t happen against a team like Ohio State. If Michigan achieves its College Football Playoff dreams, then this pass defense has to be rock solid from the first minute to the final one.
Michigan faces Maryland next week, a team that relies a lot on its passing game. Will Jourdan Lewis make another highlight-reel interception? Can Michigan’s cornerbacks finally be tested?
Tune in at 3:30 p.m. ET next Saturday.