Brian Lewerke threw for 222 yards and a touchdown, as Michigan State completed the regular season with a workman-like 40-7 victory over Rutgers in Piscataway, NJ, Saturday evening. The team at times looked lethargic, but the talent difference was immense. With no Big Ten Championship Game on the horizon, Saturday was the last we will see of the Spartans until January rolls around.
Frustrating First Half
The Spartans held the ball for over 24 minutes in the first half. That is not a misprint- Rutgers had the ball for less than six minutes. The first Spartan drive ended with a nice back-shoulder TD throw to Connor Heyward, but things were frustrating after that. Michigan State forced Rutgers turnovers, but got in their own way in the red zone.
Two Matt Coughlin field goals gave the Spartans a 13-0 advantage at the end of the first stanza. Rutgers’ only explosive play of the day occurred in the second quarter. A busted coverage by Khari Willis and Justin Layne allowed a wide-open Raheem Blackshear, a former MSU commit, to catch a 42-yard touchdown pass.
Aside from that, the Spartans defense was stifling, allowing only one other first down the entire half. It was one of the most balanced defensive efforts you will ever see: Willis led the Spartans with three tackles. Demetrious Cooper, in his final regular season game as a Spartan, had a crushing sack. Mostly it was winning one-on-one battles, forcing Rutgers into long third downs and then not giving up silly plays.
Coughlin tacked on another field goal late in the half, and the Spartans went into the locker room up nine points. While the team had largely dominated, the score did not indicate so.
Familiar Third Quarter Magic
A hallmark of this team under Dantonio (and something that was missing last season) is the Spartans’ dominance in the third quarter. This continued in Piscataway today. After forcing a quick three-and-out, the Spartan passing game went to work. Lewerke completed passes to four different receivers on an 11-play drive that culminated in another field goal. The Spartans inched along towards a more and more decisive victory.
Rutgers again had no success, going three-and-out, and the Spartans took the ball for the second and final time in the quarter. Here, Lewerke dazzled with both his arm and his legs, scrambling for 13 on 3rd down and 8 while also finding Darrell Stewart Jr. for 12 on 3rd down and 4 on the final play of the quarter.
When the Spartans raised their four fingers up for the final time this season, it was clear who was in charge of the proceedings. Gerald Holmes took a toss wide and scored on the first play of the final quarter, and from there, the Spartans were off to the races.
Spartans Pull Away From Rutgers Late
Few players embody the talented youth movement of the Spartans defense like Josiah Scott. The freshman from Fairfield, OH, picked off the first pass of the fourth quarter and the Spartans were in business. Lewerke ran a nice bootleg on 3rd and goal from the 3 to put the Spartans up 33-7.
If Scott is not the face of this Spartan defense, sophomore linebacker Joe Bachie certainly is. His interception on the ensuing Rutgers drive set up a Madre London 3-yard rush to cement the final score as 40-7. It should be mentioned that this drive featured senior backup QB Damion Terry, whose career at MSU may have not gone as planned, but who has handled himself with class and deserved a moment like that.
When the horn sounded, the Spartans had a 40-7 victory and had flipped the script from a year ago. Remember, this weekend last year featured a 40-12 thumping at the hands of Penn State and a thud of a 3-9 season. This year, while there have certainly been growing pains, the Spartans are going bowling, likely in Florida, and it’s a world of difference from what it was even six months ago, when sexual assault allegations loomed over the Spring Game. The Spartans defeated quality teams this season- Michigan, Penn State, Iowa- while the Wolverines failed to defeat a single team with a winning record.