By beating Michigan 29-6 with some very impressive defensive stands, Michigan State position themselves not only as the favorites to come out of their division to the Big Ten championship game, but also as a team that’s more than capable of beating Ohio State when the time comes.
The Spartans completely erased their inner state rivals by not allowing a touchdown to be scored, while making the most of every chance they got: Michael Geiger scored three field goals and Jeremy Langford added another one on the ground on a strong 120 yards performance from him. Quarterback Connor Cook wasn’t very accurate (only 18-of-33), throwing one interception, but he also found Bennie Fowler for another touchdown late in the second quarter to give Michigan State a one touchdown lead which they built on later.
But the defense was the story of the game. The forced Michigan to a dismal -48 rushing yards: the 3rd-fewest allowed by the Spartans in a game in school history, and the fewest since a -48 defensive performance against Northwestern in 1983. Michigan gained one yard on 22 rushed, but fell to the negative after Devin Gardner and Shane Morris were sacked a combined 7 times. Only Washington in 2009 and Mississippi State in 2008 had worse rushing performances over the last 10 years, while it was the worst in team history for the Wolverines.
So are they enough of a match for Ohio State? Their defensive numbers suggest they are, although Ohio State, unlike most Big Ten teams, are more than just a team that throws everything they have into the running game. Over the last 10 seasons, the fewest rushing yards per game a team finished the season allowing was 43.4, achieved by Michigan in 2006. The Spartans are the best in College Football, allowing 43 rushing yards per game this season, helping them get to 7-1 so far and 5-0 in Conference play.
Another interesting stat to show their defensive efficicency has been forcing teams to punt at the end of 57% of their drives. That’s also the highest rate in the FBS, and also the highest through eight games by a Big Ten team since Ohio State in 2007 (71.6%). Is it going to be enough in order to stop Braxton Miller and whatever else Ohio State have to throw at them? Not quite sure, but at the moment, with the Buckeyes gathering 21 consecutive wins, it’s hard to believe anyone in the Big Ten but Michigan State in the conference championship game can actually stop them.
We’re going to bully people — that’s the game of football. We didn’t want any personal fouls — we had one stupid one, I think on special teams at the end — we talked really about not getting any penalties. … They’ve got a good football team, but we’ve got a great football team. In those situations, they think they have the advantage. They think they’re going to score, it’s a momentum change for them. If we go out there and we stuff them, and we keep them out of even scoring a field goal, it’s double. It takes away theirs and it gives us momentum.