EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Paul Bunyan Trophy will head back to Ann Arbor. But Michigan’s 32-23 win Saturday at Michigan State came with some tense late-game moments, as the Spartans got into Michigan territory on its final two drives and cut Michigan’s lead to seven points with one second left, before Michigan State fumbled on a two-point conversion attempt, allowing Jabrill Peppers to run the recovery back for a safety — another uncharacteristic ending in the annual rivalry game.
With Saturday’s win at Michigan State, No. 2 Michigan (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) continued its run through the schedule — though it hit some bumps — and earned its first win over the undermanned Spartans for its senior class.
Michigan wide receiver Amara Darboh had eight catches for 165 yards, and Michigan rallied from an early 7-0 deficit to defeat the Spartans for the first time since 2012 and to win the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
Here are five things we learned today about Michigan:
- Michigan has to keep its cool early, and not just in a rivalry game. Delano Hill took a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct late in first quarter, which revived Michigan State’s second drive. Hill exchanged a few shoves with Josiah Price after Price was tackled by Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon. There was a foul, but no harm, as Michigan stopped the Spartans on fourth-and-1 from the UM 38-yard-line on that drive.
- Michigan also knows how to respond. Down 7-0 after Michigan State’s 12-play opening drive, Michigan trailed in a game for the first time since it was down 21-17 against Colorado in a 45-28 home win Sept. 17. And when Michigan State defensive end Malik McDowell was called for unsportsmanlike conduct a few minutes later at the Michigan State 2 after MSU stopped Khalid Hill for no gain, the Wolverines didn’t engage. Instead, they answered a play later on De’Veon Smith’s 1-yard touchdown.
- Michigan was caught off-guard early, but recovered. Somehow, Michigan State always seems find that extra gear against the Wolverines. Nearly six minutes into the second quarter, the Spartans only trailed by four after Michael Geiger’s career-long 52-yard field goal, and many believed Michigan State was ready to give the Wolverines a legitimate challenge. Instead, the Wolverines responded by scoring 17 unanswered points, moving the ball on long-yardage plays
- Quality, not quantity. By the end of the first half, Michigan took a 27-10 lead, but maintained possession for a little more than 13 minutes, to Michigan State’s 16:51. Michigan, however, was much more productive in the first half, accruing 287 yards, including 158 passing yards, but scored all three of its touchdowns on the ground.
- Michigan made key stops at key times. Michigan stopped Michigan State three on fourth down, first at the start of the second quarter on fourth-and-1 from the Wolverines 38-yard line, and about eight minutes into the fourth quarter, when the defense pushed LJ Scott back to the 4 on fourth-and-1 from the 2. Then, the Wolverines stopped the Spartans on fourht-and-5 at the Michigan 13 when Jabrill Peppers pummeled Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke. The third stop helped preserve Michigan’s 13-point lead.
Easily, the third-quarter stop on fourth down of LJ Scott and the Spartans. A touchdown would have brought the Spartans within 10, and would have given Michigan State a much-needed punch in the second half.
Question answered for Michigan
How would Michigan handle a Michigan State team that caught it on its heels early? And one that cut the lead to 13 points with less than eight minutes left in regulation? Easy. The Wolverines followed the game plan. The Spartans took a 7-0 lead on a 12-play, 75-yard drive seven minutes into the game, but it didn’t rattle Michigan. Instead it likely motivated the Wolverines.
Can Michigan step on a team’s throat and put it away? Even with a 13-point lead against the Spartans, Michigan let Michigan State hang around in the late minutes Saturday, and the Spartans moved all the way to the Michigan 13 before Peppers flew at Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke to end the drive. But on Michigan State’s final drive, it got the benefit of a roughing the passer and a pass interference call against Michigan and cut the lead to single digits on Tyler O’Connor’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Corley with one second left.
8.7 yards per play in the first and second quarters. Michigan asserted itself with long-yardage plays in the first half, and at one point averaged nearly 10 yards a play.
What it means
Michigan’s defensive strength and its passing-game prowess was on display in the win at Michigan State, it’s first win in East Lansing since 2007 and only its third win anywhere over the Spartans since 2007. Michigan continues its undefeated run, and is 5-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since ’07.
Can Michigan continue its momentum? The Wolverines host upstart Maryland — which is one win away from being bowl-eligible — at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.