Three of Michigan’s four field goals had a common setup on Saturday afternoon: junior wide receiver Drew Dileo made big plays to bring the Wolverines within field goal range.
And for each score, Dileo also played another integral role as Michigan’s holder.
“Drew, he’s not the biggest guy, he’s not the fastest guy, but the one thing is he’s a football player,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “What he does for our football team in a lot of different areas, from returning kickoffs to holding on PAT’s and field goals — I think you all would agree there were two field goals that were pretty important today, one at the end. That’s a skill set.
“He’s just a tough, undersized, not fast enough, but he’s a football player. That’s what he is.”
Indeed, Michigan State learned the hard way today that Dileo is a legitimate football player who could critically affect the outcome of games. Coming into Saturday’s rivalry showdown, Dileo had just six receptions on the season, but he was the only receiver on Michigan’s roster averaging over 20 yards a catch.
On Saturday, Dileo led Michigan’s receiving corps with four receptions and 92 yards — both career highs. He also accounted for the receiving end of more than half of senior quarterback Denard Robinson’s passing yards.
“When I went through my reads, he came open, and that’s why I got him the ball,” Robinson said. “He kept getting open. He’s a tough guy.”
On the first Michigan drive of the second quarter, the Wolverines were in desperate need of momentum. Aside from one 20-plus yard toss to redshirt junior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, Michigan’s offense was totally stagnant, and the Spartan defense was shutting down the run.
On third down from Michigan’s own 20-yard line, Robinson stood in the pocket, waited patiently with his protection and found Dileo cutting across the middle of the field for a 22-yard connection. Three plays later, on the following third down, Robinson found Dileo again, this time good for 15 yards and another first down.
“I think he’s a very good player,” said Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. “He’s a gamer. We knew that coming into the football game. … They’ve got some other great players, but I think that guy’s a gamer. He made a tough catch, and it’s not the only tough catch he made. He’s a holder as well, so he gives them that guy as well.”
Redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint broke off the next play for a 38-yard scamper down into Michigan State’s red zone, which set up Brendan Gibbons’s first field goal of the game to give Michigan a 3-0 lead.
Once Dileo got the momentum going, he didn’t relent. Later in the second quarter, Robinson found Dileo in stride on a short crossing pattern, and Dileo took the ball down into Spartan territory before being dragged down from behind. The play set up Matt Wile’s first collegiate field goal, which was good from 48 yards out.
Since he was the one who got the ball rolling, it only made sense that Dileo would be the one to close it out.
On the final drive of the game, with 18 seconds on the clock and no timeouts left, Robinson found Dileo 20 yards downfield on the left hashmark, bringing the ball to the Michigan State 21-yard line.
“Basically, the offensive line gave me a lot of time,” Robinson said. “I mean, the first hole I missed Drew, and then he ended up being open on the second one, and that’s when I got the ball to him. Thankfully the offensive line and the running backs did a great job of blocking and gave me time to throw the ball.”
From there, Robinson spiked the ball with nine seconds left, and Gibbons punched through the game-winning field goal.
“I have a role on this team, and to fill my role like I did today is nice for me,” Dileo said. “It’s nice for the seniors, team 133, Coach Hoke and everybody.”