ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State has made last season look like an aberration.
And, the Mark Dantonio-led Spartans have proven their dominance against Michigan is no fluke.
“We’ve done it eight times,” Dantonio said. “I don’t know why there’s a lot of doubt.”
With a defense that took advantage of mistakes and an offense that didn’t make many miscues, double-digit underdog Michigan State beat the seventh-ranked Wolverines 14-10 in the series’ first game completely under the lights. For the first time in a rivalry that stretches back to 1898, the Spartans have beaten their rivals eight times in a 10-year stretch.
A season after slipping to 3-9 and having a scandal shake the program, the 21st-ranked Spartans (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) are showing Dantonio has built a program strong enough to bounce back from on- and off-the-field setbacks.
“I knew that our football team and our program would come back to the top,” Dantonio said Saturday night.
Several months ago, there were questions about whether Michigan State would even have its annual spring game and some were suggesting the public scrimmage at Spartan Stadium should be cancelled while three players were suspended due to a sexual assault investigation. Those players — Josh King, Donnie Corley Jr. and Demetric Vance — are facing sexual assault charges and have been dismissed from the university.
While the former Spartans are awaiting trials, their former teammates have seemed to bond together and found a way to win again.
“There’s a little sense of relief there,” linebacker Chris Frey acknowledged. “All the things we’ve been through as a team, we fought through that. … We gave our blood sweat and tears in the offseason.”
Michigan State has always had to fight for respect in its own state, finishing second to Michigan historically and struggling to overcome the fact that they’re often overshadowed by college football’s winningest program.
Jim Harbaugh’s arrival attracted attention, locally and nationally, and his fans were confident he would find a way to beat the Spartans unlike his predecessors Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez. After three games, though, Harbaugh is 1-2 against Dantonio.
Both coaches on Saturday night had teams with similar strengths and weaknesses. They had to count on stingy defenses and hope shaky offenses could make enough plays to win.
Dantonio played it safe with the lead, keeping the ball on the ground on a windy and rainy night.
“We played smart with the weather,” Dantonio said.
Harbaugh, meanwhile, threw caution to the wind and seemed to get away from a running game that was working better than passing with backup John O’Korn filling in for injured starter Wilton Speight.
“You can criticize that,” Harbaugh said. “We were trying to run the ball. We were trying to piece drives together.”
O’Korn was 16 of 35 for 198 yards with three interceptions. Karan Higdon just 12 carries despite his 5.4-yard average. Chris Evans also had 12 carries, but was limited to 27 yards, and Ty Isaac was handed the ball just four times, in part because he lost a fumble, for 9 yards. The Wolverines turned the ball over five times, and pick off a pass or force a fumble.
Even though the Spartans have seemed to show they’re back, after a one-year absence as a relevant Big Ten team, Dantonio is not ready to say they’ve arrived.
We’re becoming a good team,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re there yet.”
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