Linebacker Devin Bush started the day by angrily scraping the Spartans’ logo at midfield with his cleats and ended it with a game-sealing sack.
In between, Michigan asserted itself as a bona fide national contender, beating its first ranked opponent on the road since 2006 — and doing it with the searing aggression and fire that has defined this team.
Michigan’s defense allowed just 94 total yards on the day, suffocating a helpless Michigan State offense. The Spartans scored just seven points, coming on a trick-play touchdown after Wolverines running back Chris Evans fumbled on his team’s own 7-yard-line.
But that lone touchdown tied the game in the third quarter. Suddenly, the Wolverines were staring down yet another demoralizing loss to a rival. Rain started pouring down. A rabid home crowd suddenly sprung to life. It was the defining test of this team’s mental toughness.
The response: resounding.
With their backs up against the wall, Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson turned to ascendant wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 79-yard catch and run to put the Wolverines up for good. To add a little insult to injury, Peoples-Jones celebrating by posing like the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
From there, Michigan glided to a 21-7 win, exorcising its demons against a rival and securing win No. 950 in the process. It was just the Wolverines’ third win over Michigan State in 11 years — and the second win over Michigan State or Ohio State in coach Jim Harbaugh’s tenure.
The game was defined by the play on the field during the game — just one in the string of several dominant performances. Patterson finished the game 14-for-25 with 212 yards and two touchdowns. Senior running back Karan Higdon added to that with 33 carries for 144 yards, his sixth-straight 100-yard rushing performance in a streak that would eventually reach seven games.
But all of that on-field play was illuminated by what happened before and after, as well.
Before the game, Michigan State did its traditional “Spartan Walk,” in which it locks arms as a team and walks the length of the field. Michigan players, claiming to have been told it was their time to warm up, did not move as the Spartans walked down. Chaos ensued. That’s when Bush took his feelings out on the logo.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh believed Michigan State and its staff set the altercation up. He called the move “bush league” after the game. Two days later, he doubled-down, claiming it was an “orchestrated stormtrooper march.”
After the 21-7 win, Wolverines players danced on the Spartans’ grave, both literally and figuratively.
Players hoisted the Paul Bunyan Trophy, hopping up and down at midfield. Then, in a postgame interview, defensive end Chase Winovich reiterated Mike Hart’s “little brother” comment from 2007.
“We came in here. I openly, in the public, called it a ‘Revenge Tour.’ Called them out, said they’re next. We came in here, slashed their field before the game, and we still came out here and just got after them every single play,” Winovich said. “We knew that they couldn’t hang with us. We did what we had to do. Sometimes your little brother starts acting up, and you just gotta put them in place.”
Perhaps teams of previous years would have laid down at the sight of adversity or confrontation. This is a team, instead, that lives and breathes its “Revenge Tour” mantra. It was a suffocating on-field performance met with an equally vicious team mentality.
And for the winningest program in college football history, a 950th win for the books.