EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — With under a minute remaining in another comfortable win over his team’s biggest rival, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had the Spartans keep right on running the ball.
No kneel-downs, no letting up. Eventually, Jeremy Langford scored a touchdown with 28 seconds left.
“I just felt like we needed to put a stake in them at that point,” Dantonio said.
The eighth-ranked Spartans trounced Michigan 35-11 on Saturday for their sixth victory in the past seven games against the Wolverines, but all that recent success hasn’t removed the chip from Michigan State’s shoulder.
That was evident after the game, when the Spartans took exception to what they said was a disrespectful pregame gesture by the Wolverines.
“They ran out, and one of the players had a spear or a dagger or something and just spiked it in our grass,” Spartans quarterback Connor Cook said. “Right before kickoff, disrespecting us.”
Langford ran for 177 yards and three touchdowns for the Spartans, who outgained Michigan 446-186 and won their 14th straight game against a Big Ten opponent.
This one was extra special, of course. The only other time Michigan State has won six of seven over the Wolverines was between 1956-62.
In the days leading up to this game, players and coaches from both teams were careful not to say anything inflammatory. Dantonio, who has been happy to speak his mind on this rivalry in the past, was fairly reserved.
After Saturday’s game, he abandoned all pretenses.
“You might as well just come out and say what you’re feeling at some point in time, because you can only be diplomatic for so long,” Dantonio said.
“The ‘Little Brother’ stuff, all the disrespect — didn’t have to go in that direction. We tried to handle ourself with composure. It doesn’t come from the coach, it comes from the program. Throwing the stake down in our backyard out here, and coming out there like they’re all that. It got shoved up — it got shoved in the last minute.”
Wolverines coach Brady Hoke didn’t sound particularly upset about Michigan State’s late touchdown.
“We have 11 guys out there. They have 11 guys out there,” Hoke said. “We’re trying to compete. They’re trying to compete. That’s what competition is.”
This series hasn’t been particularly competitive lately. Michigan State held the Wolverines to minus-48 yards rushing last year in a 29-6 victory, and Michigan was shut down again Saturday.
The Wolverines (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten) are in danger of missing the postseason in Hoke’s fourth year at the helm, and this game did little to ease Michigan’s descent. The Wolverines were held to zero yards rushing in the first half.
Langford scored a pair of short touchdowns in the first half to give Michigan State a 14-3 lead. Then RJ Williamson scored on a 29-yard interception return in the third, and Cook threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Tony Lippett later that quarter.
Langford’s final touchdown — a 5-yarder at the end of the game — became the major talking point afterward.
The Spartans (7-1, 4-0) have next weekend off before hosting Ohio State in a rematch of last year’s conference championship game. After winning the Rose Bowl last season, Michigan State is very much in the mix for college football’s new four-team playoff.
But first, the Spartans had to focus on maintaining the upper hand against their biggest rival — a Michigan program that has had players dismissively refer to Michigan State as a little brother in the past.
“We want to win every game. This game just means a little bit more,” Spartans safety Kurtis Drummond said. “We don’t underplay this win at all.”
For a moment, it looked as if the Spartans might be short-handed for that Ohio State game.
Standout linebacker Taiwan Jones was called for roughing the passer with targeting in the third quarter, which would have carried a first-half suspension for Michigan State’s next game. But the targeting element was withdrawn after a review, and Jones played on.
The Spartans committed 15-yard penalties on the first three plays of that drive, but Michigan still didn’t score, turning the ball over on downs at the Michigan State 6.
Michigan finally reached the end zone on De’Veon Smith’s 1-yard touchdown run with 3:40 remaining in the fourth. That was the first touchdown Michigan State had allowed to the Wolverines since 2011, but the Spartans had one more answer after that — one that carried a bit of a message.
“This is embedded in people. You need to understand that. This is our football team, that’s theirs, and I understand the dynamics that are a part of that,” Dantonio said.
“Doesn’t mean I don’t like them personally, but I understand the dynamics. … This is the way it’s been, and as I’ve said, I’m just carrying on the tradition.”
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