Michigan picked up its first win against a rival since 2016 and first road victory over a ranked team since 2006, beating Michigan State 21-7 in a wet, sloppy affair at Spartan Stadium. The win moves U-M to 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big Ten. Here are our biggest takeaways from the game:
Michigan Defense Dominates
We all knew Michigan’s defense was good, it entered the game No. 1 nationally in total defense and passing defense. However, Michigan’s performance on defense wasn’t just good, it was spectacular, completely dominating Michigan State’s offense.
MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke picked up right where Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook left off, completing 5-of-25 passes (20 percent), for 66 yards and no touchdowns or picks. It was a brutal performance, largely due to U-M’s defense. It wasn’t all Michigan’s doing, Lewerke missed a handful of open receivers and failed to make plays when his team needed him, but if the Wolverines hadn’t fumbled inside their own 10-yard line, the Spartans likely would not have scored.
Michigan totaled four sacks, and allowed MSU to gain just 94 yards - a season low for Michigan’s defense. There were plenty of unsportsmanlike penalties that went against both teams, but for the most part, the Wolverines played disciplined football and smacked down the Spartans at every turn. It got so bad that late in the game, MSU benched Lewerke for backup Rocky Lombardi.
Higdon Powers Through Nation’s Top Run Defense
Michigan State entered Saturday’s game with the No. 1 rushing defense in the country. The Wolverines essentially ignored that, pounding the rock like they would against any other team, totaling 183 total yards on 53 carries. Michigan’s insistence on running the ball slowed down the offense through much of the first three quarters, but eventually Higdon (who finished with 144 yards) found some space. It would have been nice to see quarterback Shea Patterson test the Spartans pass defense more often, especially given it’s relative weakness to the run defense, but it’s hard to complain after a win. The poor weather certainly played a factor in the play-calling, but U-M did find success on a deep ball to Donovan Peoples-Jones (79 yards for a touchdown), which was the big turning point in the game and allowed the Wolverines to pull away. On a side note, have to give credit to Patterson for his decision-making on the read option in the fourth quarter. His decision to keep the ball both on fourth down and on a key play later in the drive helped U-M score its third and final touchdown.
Despite the conditions, Higdon showed his strength and toughness, capping his senior season with a much-needed victory over MSU. Michigan played to what the weather allowed, and came through.
Jim Harbaugh Delivers
Much has been made of Jim Harbaugh’s struggles against rivals. Through three seasons, he was 1-5 against MSU and Ohio State, and 1-2 against the Spartans. While not all of that has been his fault, the blame always lands with the coach.
Saturday’s game was the most important of his coaching career at Michigan and he delivered. He brought home the win that the program so desperately needed and set his team on a collision course for Ohio State for all the marbles at the end of the season.
The talk of not being able to beat rivals now goes away (at least until the OSU game), the walk of not being able to beat ranked teams on the road goes away and the talk of Michigan State being the superior in-state program goes away.
Michigan is back on top where it belongs.
Michigan has the opportunity to go 3-0 against ranked Big Ten teams in two weeks when Penn State travels to Ann Arbor. Expect U-M to be the favorite, and for Harbaugh’s crew to come out fired up and focused, just like they did against Wisconsin.
First, however, is a bye week, that will allow the team to get healthy and come back from an intense rivalry week. All eyes now turn to Rashan Gary, who will benefit from the time off and could be back in action.
For now, Michigan fans have two weeks to celebrate the enormous victory over the Spartans. Knock back some brews, talk trash and enjoy it. You deserve it.