Saturday October 3rd, 2009

A year before Rich Rodriguez began the task of restoring Michigan to national prominence, Mark Dantonio came to East Lansing pledging to take over the state. So far, he's delivering on his word.

The Spartans' 26-20 overtime win over the Wolverines on Saturday was about so much more than a 1-3 Michigan State team getting its season back on track or a 4-0 Michigan team suffering its first setback. For a program that's spent a large chunk of its history playing the role of its state's "little brother" (as former Michigan running back Mike Hart dubbed his team's rival two years ago), nothing brings more pride than humbling the Wolverines. And Dantonio's team has now done so in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1965-66.

Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier did everything in his power to prevent that from happening. After the Spartans controlled the game nearly the entire way, going up 20-6 early in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines' freshman sensation hit Darryl Stonum for a 59-yard touchdown to cut it to 20-13 with 4:03 left.

Then, taking over at his own nine-yard line with 2:53 left, Forcier engineered what can only be described as an Elway-esque drive to send the game to overtime. Three times on the 13-play, 91-yard-drive he scrambled for first downs, amassing 39 yards on four carries. He was so visibly exhausted toward the end he stood hunched over, hands on knees, between plays. But on third-and-eight with eight seconds left, he hit Roy Roundtree for a nine-yard touchdown.

But just when we thought he'd etched himself into Michigan lore, Forcier's third-down pass into the end zone at the start of overtime was tipped into the air and intercepted by Michigan State's Chris Rucker. Larry Caper's ensuing 24-yard touchdown dash for the Spartans iced their piece of history.

Even before the game, neither team was as good or as bad as their respective records. While Forcier has proven the perfect leader for Rodriguez's offense and reinvigorated the Wolverines' fan base following a 3-9 debacle last year, Michigan's defense has been living dangerously all year. Indiana nearly knocked it off last week. This time, Spartans QB Kirk Cousins (220 yards off total offense, including 72 on the ground) and Michigan State grinded out 22 first downs and were stymied only by three turnovers.

And prior to those two last-minute touchdowns, Michigan State's defense was the first all season to slow down the Wolverines' offense. Most notably, the Spartans held Michigan to just 29 net rushing yards, down from a season average of 240.3. It was a redemptive performance for a unit that got largely torched in its losses to Central Michigan, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.

When Forcier is rolling, Michigan can knock off just about anybody, but its defense will prevent it from contending for a Big Ten title. Cousins is an underrated quarterback himself, though interception-prone. The Spartans will need more defensive gems like this one to return to a major bowl.

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