EAST LANSING (AP) — After the initial celebration had died down a bit, Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough reflected on a day that made every Spartan proud.
But one he hopes will not be the highlight of the season.
“This will last the rest of my life, but we have a few more games left,” Bullough said. “The Rose Bowl is going to last the rest of my life.”
The Spartans can certainly think big after Saturday’s 29-6 victory over rival Michigan. Michigan State moved up six spots to No. 18 in Sunday’s AP Top 25. It was the fifth win in six games for the Spartans against the Wolverines — and this one was a manhandling.
After holding Michigan to minus-48 yards rushing — the worst total in program history — Michigan State remains one of two Big Ten teams unbeaten in conference play. The Spartans have not been to the Rose Bowl since 1988, but they’ve quietly emerged as contenders this season because of a bruising defense.
“We had a lot of respect for their defense all week going into this game,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “I think they played awfully well and executed awfully well. I don’t think we did.”
Michigan State (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) will have time to bask a bit in this resounding victory, because next weekend the Spartans have an open date. Then comes a trip to Nebraska, which has only one conference loss. The Legends Division title could be on the line in that game.
But Nebraska has to travel to play Michigan first, underscoring what a solid position the Spartans are in as the season winds down.
Michigan State’s offense looked anemic at the start of the season, and even lately it’s been merely serviceable — but Bullough and the defense have been able to control games.
“You never think you’re going to be that good,” defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. “Our kids fight their tails off every day in practice. We had another good week of practice and now we have a week off from games but we’ll come back and have another good week of practice — and then another one after that and get ready for Nebraska.”
The Wolverines had vowed Saturday wouldn’t be a repeat of the game in East Lansing in 2011, when Michigan State’s physicality was too much for Michigan.
This one turned out to be even more impressive for the Spartans.
“Two years ago was nothing,” Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen said. “It was a lot worse (Saturday), and I think they felt it.”
It was the most lopsided loss for Michigan (6-2, 2-2) in the series since 1967.
“We need to go 100 percent every single play and some plays we didn’t do that,” Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan said.
The game could be summed up in two ugly offensive sequences for Michigan. In the second quarter, with the ball near midfield, a shotgun snap sailed over quarterback Devin Gardner’s head for a loss of 20. Following a sack on third down and a Michigan penalty, the Wolverines finally punted on fourth-and-48.
Down 16-6 in the third, Michigan caught a break when Raymon Taylor intercepted a pass, giving the Wolverines the ball at the Michigan State 41.
Gardner lost 5 yards on what appeared to be a designed run, then Allen sacked him for a loss of 9. Michigan called a timeout, then Gardner was sacked again for a loss of 7, leaving the Wolverines punting on fourth-and-31 to start the fourth quarter.
“We basically lived in the backfield,” Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard said. “We just did a great job stopping them, containing them, and making plays when they were there.”