EAST LANSING – Larry Stevens raised his eyebrows, as if to say,
“Are you kidding me?”

Janna Hutz
Willis Barringer (19), Leon Hall (29) and the rest of the Michigan defense held the Spartans in check for most of the game. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Daily)

Someone had just asked him if he thought defensive tackle Grant
Bowman had played through a lot of pain.

“A lot of pain?” Stevens, a defensive lineman, asked. “He’s a
man to go out there, because he was hurt.”

Bowman played Saturday on a right ankle that was injured to an
undisclosed degree against Purdue, but in a game this big, it was
what Stevens expected.

“We all play like that,” Stevens said. “It doesn’t matter.”

Bowman’s gritty effort helped the Michigan defense contain one
of the top offenses in the Big Ten. The Wolverines limited the
Spartans to one offensive touchdown, forcing them to kick field
goals twice.

One major defensive miscue at the end of the third quarter – a
blown coverage that led to Jeff Smoker’s 73-yard touchdown pass to
a wide-open Agim Shabaj – brought the Spartans within reach of the
Wolverines and put more pressure on the defense in the fourth
quarter. But Stevens expected that, too.

“I was telling our guys on defense (that) the game was going to
come down to us,” Stevens said. “It was going to come down to us
back there. (In the) fourth quarter, anything can happen in
college. We wanted the fourth quarter to be us on defense.”

Sure enough, Michigan State returned a fumble for a touchdown,
pulling within seven, and the Michigan defense had to stop the
Spartans on their final drive in order to preserve the victory.

Michigan kept Michigan State’s prolific spread offense in check
for most of the game. The Wolverines were familiar with defending a
pass-happy team after beating Purdue last weekend, but the
Wolverines said the two offenses aren’t really comparable.

“It was a lot different,” linebacker Carl Diggs said. “Michigan
State, even though they run a spread offense, they have a lot of
different plays (than Purdue). They run the screen, so if you were
blitzing off the edge, if the (running back) goes out, you have to
pick him up. So sometimes we had to be less aggressive out
there.”

Smoker threw for 254 yards and seemed to have little trouble
finding open receivers in the second half, but the defense didn’t
allow many big plays.

And when Michigan State’s receivers had trouble hanging onto the
ball, the Spartans couldn’t turn to their running backs. The
Wolverines stuffed the Spartans on the ground, giving up just 36
rushing yards – their stingiest effort since Sept. 21, 2002, when
they held Utah to 13 yards.

“It’s definitely one of our best performances on the road,”
cornerback Markus Curry said. “The offense just dominated today and
defense – we came through. That’s what you want in a game like
this. Everybody stepped up. We did everything collectively. We
played together today as a team.”

Balancing act: Unlike Michigan State, Michigan kept the
defense on its toes by using both the passing and running games
effectively.

“Michigan is the most balanced team, without a doubt, that we
have seen,” Michigan State coach John L. Smith said. “If they are
going to run (the ball), we have to decide, at what point do we
pull someone out of trying to bracket a guy or double a guy? So it
becomes a great chess match, and that is what it was.”

Besides double-covering receivers, the Spartans tried stop the
Wolverines through the air by using zone blitzes. But John Navarre
remained unbothered in the pocket until the fourth quarter.

Michigan has leaned on the passing game against tough opponents
this season, and several members of Michigan State’s defense said
they were surprised at how often the Wolverines ran Saturday.
Tailback Chris Perry motored the offense, carrying the ball 51
times, but the passing and running yards were nearly identical. The
Wolverines threw for 223 yards and ran for 216.

Still sidelined: Carr had said that safety Marlin Jackson
would play against the Spartans, but Jackson stayed on the
sidelines all afternoon. It was the third game Jackson missed
because of a strained muscle in his right leg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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