Lavert Hill bounced down the Michigan sideline, waiving his arms in jubilation with his helmet in hand. Behind him, the rest of the Wolverines did the same, spilling onto the field, toward the stands and everywhere in between.
The celebration — set off by Hill’s fourth-quarter interception — had been brewing all game, as No. 15 Michigan (5-2 Big Ten, 8-2 overall) charged toward a 44-10 win.
“When (Hill) got his pick, you could just feel the intensity, you could feel it through him,” said senior safety Josh Metellus. “And the vibe that he had just went throughout the whole stadium, from the field to the fans to the top row. You could just tell that this team knew that we did today.”
It was a day that started like very few in the recent history of this rivalry. For 11 years before Saturday, Michigan State (2-5 Big Ten, 4-6 overall) had avoided losing back-to-back games against the Wolverines, marking its longest period of in-state dominance since the 1950s. But on the back of four straight Spartans losses, the pregame air carried an encompassing sense that this was Michigan’s year.
The win, though, wasn’t always so straightforward.
Three quarters before jubilation radiated through Michigan Stadium, Shea Patterson lined up with his heels on the goal line, staring down 98 yards of empty grass in front of him.
That’s how you begin a drive when you can’t get anything going offensively, when even your defensive stops concede field position, when a seemingly lopsided rivalry matchup is tied, 7-7, midway through the second quarter.
Twelve plays later, it was all forgotten.
Nick Eubanks flexed in front of the student section, touchdown catch in hand, capping off a magnificent, ruthless scoring drive. It was everything once promised out of Josh Gattis’ offense, with Michigan’s best offensive weapons being put in positions to exploit a depleted Spartans’ defense.
The Wolverines carried that momentum through the rest of the day, scoring on their last eight drives and erasing the tone of offensive frustration that marked a disappointing first quarter.
“It was just a huge drive,” said sophomore receiver Ronnie Bell. “And once we put points on the board, you could just feel it rolling and we just stepped on it and kept it going.”
Patterson stood at the center of it all, the protagonist in a story of shifting rivalry tides. Hailed as the final piece of a program on the precipice of glory when he arrived from Ole Miss two years ago, Patterson’s time in Ann Arbor won’t end with a national championship or a Big Ten title. There’s no Heisman Trophy heading to Schembechler Hall next month.
What he has is a second-consecutive Paul Bunyan Trophy.
It’s a trophy Patterson clutched Saturday afternoon at midfield, fresh off the best performance of his Michigan career — eclipsing his domination of the Spartans last year. After entering the day without a 300-yard game as a Wolverine, he finished with 384 yards and four touchdowns.
“Just wish I had two more shots at them,” Patterson said postgame, his typically stoic face dotted with emotion. “Just wish I had four shots at them. It was a lot of fun.”
Bell was the biggest beneficiary in Michigan’s receiving corps with 150 yards on nine catches, but that belies the point. This was an all-encompassing display of dominance, spreading to the Wolverines’ defense, with its three sacks, two interceptions and 3.7 yards allowed per play.
It’s a display of dominance that continued to cement Michigan’s re-emerging control over the state — a significance not lost on these Wolverines.
As the teams congregated at midfield postgame, the Spartans tried to linger, offering a few words of contention toward Michigan’s sideline — just one confrontation in a day full of them. Metellus wasn’t having it.
“I was telling them to go home,” Metellus said. “It’s time for them to leave. They don’t deserve to be in our stadium.”