EAST LANSING – There was no question whose shoulders – literally – Saturday’s game was going to rest upon. Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton came into the intrastate showdown having thrown for 1,184 yards in four games while completing nearly 75 percent of his passes. The H-word had surfaced, and there was talk of Stanton joining Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Vince Young in New York for the Heisman presentation.
That’s a long way off, and, by throwing for 282 yards and a touchdown, Stanton didn’t exactly hurt his chances. But, unlike last year, Stanton didn’t run, skip and jump his team to a big lead. Last year, Stanton rushed for 84 yards before leaving the game at halftime with an injured shoulder. In Saturday’s game, he had eight carries for just 20 yards.
“Stanton makes them go,” Michigan defensive line coach Steve Stripling said. “He’s a tremendous player, and we just didn’t want him to be able to set up where he normally sets up. We just talked to our defensive line about being relentless.”
On the Spartans’ first drive of the game, Michigan came out rushing just three defensive linemen. But even with just three guys, it was able to pressure Stanton. They hurried him on the first play of the game and Stanton was able to complete a two-yard pass. Then, later in the first drive, defensive lineman Rondell Biggs and Pat Massey hurried Stanton again and sacked him for a 13-yard loss. That play put the Spartans in a third-and-23 situation and led to the first punt of the game.
Biggs said it seemed that a lot of the Spartans’ opponents this year were getting frustrated by not getting to Stanton early in the game and allowing him to run wild. The focus of the Michigan defensive line was on getting to Stanton early in the game.
“It’s a very good offense, and I feel like we’re the best defensive front that they’ve played this year,” rush end LaMarr Woodley said. “We put a lot of pressure on Stanton early, and he was doing a lot of scrambling. That was something that we wanted him to do.”
The defense stopped Stanton for the first two drives while the offense built up a 14-0 lead. Even when the Spartans came back and tied the game, the front seven looked strong, forcing Michigan State into a lot of third-and-long situations. But the Spartans completed a third-and-11, a third-and-15 and a couple more third-and-long situations to keep drives alive.
In the third quarter, a Michigan turnover gave the Spartans’ offense the ball on the Wolverines’ 17-yard line. The defense stopped Stanton on three straight plays and left the field having given up just one field goal, something that Stripling said he was particularly proud of. Because of lack of production offensively, the defense was on the field for more than 12 minutes in the third quarter.
“We just left them out there too long,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I think you give Michigan State credit for what they did in the third quarter. It was certainly not the way we wanted to play the third quarter.”
Injury update: Redshirt junior Steve Breaston did not play on Saturday because of an injury that Carr said he sustained during the Wisconsin game. Redshirt junior Carl Tabb started in his place and had five catches for 35 yards, both career highs. Breaston is in the middle of a sub-par year in which he has caught just six passes for 43 yards. Last week in Madison, he made one catch for negative-one yard. Linebacker Scott McClintock also did not dress on Saturday. Carr said that the fifth-year senior has been struggling with back problems all season. McClintock recorded nine tackles against Northern Illinois in the first game of the year – the only game he started. Biggs injured himself in the third quarter of Saturday’s game and left Spartan Stadium on crutches.
“I can’t tell you right now, but I think it is going to take a while (for him to return),” Carr said about Biggs’s injury. Biggs said he was just banged up.
Notes: Michigan has played in just four overtime games and has won all four of them – All three of placekicker Garrett Rivas’s game-winning field goals have come on the road – Quarterback Chad Henne has thrown a touchdown pass in every game at Michigan for a school-record 17 straight games with a touchdown.