EAST LANSING When asked if Saturday”s game against Michigan was the best game of his career at any level, Michigan State running back T.J. Duckett did not hesitate with his answer.
“Definitely, I think so. I think I can actually say that,” Duckett said.
The No. 1 rushing defense in the country faced its toughest challenge of the season last Saturday and failed. It was the first time all season that Michigan did not make a team one-dimensional.
Michigan came into the game against Michigan State allowing an average of 54.4 yards per game in its first seven games, but allowed a total 170 yards rushing to the Spartans. The total is by far the most allowed by the season, but it is a bit deceiving since it includes a team-record 12 sacks for 83 yards lost.
The Wolverines” defense allowed a 100-yard rusher for the first time this season. Duckett”s 212 yards on the ground weren”t just the most by one running back this season against Michigan, they were the most by a running back in any Michigan-Michigan State game.
“You have to give a lot of credit to the offensive line, the tight ends, our receivers and the way they played, the way they blocked in the running game and then the way T.J. ran,” Michigan State coach Bobby Williams said. “He ran like a big-time back today broke a lot of tackles, showed some speed and really made a lot of plays for us today.”
Duckett found his groove against Wisconsin a week ago, when he ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to his exploits on the ground, Duckett also made three catches including the game-winning touchdown reception as time expired.
Defensive tackle Jake Frysinger”s absence hurt the Wolverines, but more importantly, the Spartans” offensive line forced Michigan”s elite linebacker corps to make plays, something that it could not always do.
The coaches “called great plays today,” Duckett said. They “had us in the right position and the linemen made some great plays.”
Butkus Award semifinalist Larry Foote had just five tackles, two for a loss. Victor Hobson and Carl Diggs played well and had 19 tackles between them, but most were made five yards past the line of scrimmage.
The Spartans could not run between the tackles, so they used the early success of the passing game to spread the field and make the Wolverines commit to the pass. This opened up the field for toss sweeps to Duckett, for whom Michigan had no answer.
The offensive line “blocked the best that they have in a long, long time and the running lanes were there,” Duckett said.
The powerful, downhill running style of the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Duckett, who averaged 7.8 yards per carry, was too much for Michigan”s linebackers and secondary to handle. He often carried multiple Wolverines for a few extra yards before coming down and rarely could just one defender make the play.
Michigan”s defensive commitment to the passing game limited the Spartans to just 172 yards through the air, the fewest passing yards allowed by the Wolverines all season. Linemen Shantee Orr and Grant Bowman harassed Michigan State”s Jeff Smoker all game.
But in the end, it didn”t matter for the Wolverines. The defense that had built its reputation on stopping the run was embarrassed by the Spartans and its record-setting sack total was overshadowed.