Michigan State keeps Paul Bunyan Trophy in close game with rival Michigan

NCAA Football

EAST LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Every possession mattered between in-state rivals Michigan and Michigan State on Saturday afternoon in East Lansing.

On one of the most key series of the game, the Wolverines fumbled the ball and gave MSU a chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. The Spartans didn’t miss. Spartan star running back Kenneth Walker scored his fifth touchdown of the day to sink the Michigan ship, eventually leading to a 37-33 victory for MSU.

Mel Tucker is now 2-0 against Michigan, the first coach to do that for MSU.

As the game got started, the Spartans’ Peyton Thorne threw deep into double coverage for an interception to D.J. Turner, his second in as many weeks. The Wolverines started the opposing drive inside its own one, but on a third and four, Cade McNamara hit Andrel Anthony for a 93-yard slant route touchdown.

Anthony’s touchdown was Michigan’s longest score since 2007 on a Mario Manningham score.

The momentum quickly flipped in the Wolverines’ favor and Spartan Stadium was left stunned and silent.

Following a pair of dropped passes on both sides from Jayden Reed and Blake Corum that led to punts, the Michigan defense came up big again. This time it was Daxton Hill flying in the air to deflect the pass, landing right in defensive lineman Mike Morris’ hands. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on MSU put the Wolverines in business on the Spartan 30-yard line.

However, Michigan could only manage to get a 26-yard field goal from Jake Moody following a holding call that put the Wolverines behind the sticks. 10-0 felt like it could’ve been a lot more for Michigan.

Kenneth Walker III #9 of the Michigan State Spartans scores a first half touchdown in front of Vincent Gray #4 of the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium on October 30, 2021 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

MSU made sure to have an answer to its defense’s big stop. On the first play of the second quarter, Kenneth Walker bounced off the pile at the line of scrimmage and scampered to a wide open hole for a 27-yard score. Just like that, the Spartans were within a field goal.

The Wolverines moved the ball down the field but stalled out to another field goal. The Spartans made them pay. On a fourth and one, Thorne kept on play action and hit Jaylen Nailor over the middle for a wide open 40-yard play. MSU rushed up to the line and gave it to Walker for an 8-yard score. 

Jalen Nailor #8 of the Michigan State Spartans tries to outrun the tackle of Daxton Hill #30 of the Michigan Wolverines after a first half catch at Spartan Stadium on October 30, 2021 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

On a series of aggressive play calls from Mel Tucker, it paid off and gave the Spartans their first lead, 14-13, in what felt like a snap of the fingers.

The Wolverines didn’t flinch. McNamara guided the Wolverines down the field, including a huge third down completion to Luke Schoonmaker for a 12-yard gain. Hassan Haskins would rumble down the MSU 18 on the next play. Then J.J. McCarthy came into the game. He didn’t miss his chance to make an impact.

The true freshman used a play fake, rolled out to his right and threw a jump ball to Anthony. Money. The Lansing native continued his outstanding homecoming by snagging his second score of the day over a defender. Michigan led once again.

Hassan Haskins #25 of the Michigan Wolverines jumps over Angelo Grose #15 of the Michigan State Spartans during a first half run at Spartan Stadium on October 30, 2021 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Michigan’s defense appeared to fall on a fumble in the end zone on the following possession, but the replay was judged otherwise and MSU punted rather than giving up another score. Michigan managed to march down and hit a 35-yard field goal to make it 23-14 Wolverines at halftime.

After a pair of scoreless drives to open the half, The Wolverine quarterbacks continued to push it down the field with authority. McCarthy started the drive off with a 12-yard keeper for a first down, McNamara followed with a 20-yard scramble of his own. With the Wolverines facing a third and seven, McNamara stepped up in the pocket and fired a strike to Mike Sainrstil for a 19-yard walk-in six points. The Wolverines led 30-14.

Sparty answered. MSU picked up 75 yards on eight plays in just 2:49. Thorne hit Tre Mosley on a crossing pattern for the 2-point conversion to make it just an 8-point deficit, 30-22.

They didn’t stop coming. It was more of Walker on the ground, breaking off a 58-yard touchdown run on a third and two. Following a Reed 2-point conversion catch, the 16-point deficit MSU faced in the third quarter was erased just like that. 30 all early in the last frame.

Following a Michigan drive that stalled into another field goal, the Spartans gave the Wolverine offense the ball back. McCarthy fumbled the snap and gave it back to MSU. 

Walker again wounded the Wolverines with his fifth touchdown of the game, putting MSU ahead by four points.

The Wolverines would have two more chances, but they turned it over on downs and McNamara threw an interception with a minute left to seal the game.

McNamara played arguably the best in his Michigan career, going 28-for-44, 383 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Anthony had six catches for 155 yards and two scores.

Thorne finished with 196 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Walker was the story, taking 23 carries for 197 yards and five scores.

Michigan outgained the Spartans 552-395, but were outscored 23-10 in the second half.

The Wolverines will move on to play Indiana and MSU will head on the road to play Purdue next week.

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