Spartans roll over Scarlet Knights, finish 9-3
New Brunswick, N.J. — Now they wait for the sport-jacketed bowl gurus to sort out some complexities and decide which schools are headed where for the holidays.
The Spartans are thrilled. They’re back in the New Year’s Day conversation after a year in bowl exile.
They polished off a remarkable 2017 regular-season revival Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium, whipping Rutgers, 40-7, to cement a 9-3 season and perhaps set them up for a Jan. 1 finale at either of two Florida venues, the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, or the Outback Bowl in Tampa.
The Spartans handled what passed for a football obligation Saturday, whipping Rutgers, one of the Big Ten’s truly needy fraternities and a team that was no physical match for MSU. Coach Mark Dantonio’s gang finally put away the Scarlet Knights with a steady, deliberate series of punches that helped MSU to a late runaway after too many first-half, red-zone fizzles made for a tight 16-7 halftime score.
BOX SCORE: Michigan State 40, Rutgers 7
Brian Lewerke ran for a touchdown as did running back Gerald Holmes, while Lewerke also tossed a seven-yard TD pass to freshman Connor Heyward. The Spartans’ last TD came on a 3-yard Madre London run after Damion Terry, playing in his last regular-schedule game for the Spartans, relieved Lewerke at quarterback.
Matt Coghlin handled Saturday’s remaining scoring chores with four extra-point kicks and four field goals in four tries: two from 26 yards, a bomb from 46, and another from 32.
Michigan State again had a sticky time running the ball Saturday. Neither were the Spartans and Lewerke terribly smooth through the air.
But the Scarlet Knights were squeezed for four quarters by MSU’s defense, which rationed 112 yards in total offense to Rutgers, including 14 on the ground.
The Spartans had only one breakdown: blown coverage that Scarlet Knights quarterback Johnathan Lewis turned into a 42-yard touchdown pass three plays into the second quarter.
Michigan State made up with a pair of second-half interceptions, by Andrew Dowell and Josiah Scott, which sent most of Saturday’s scattered crowd (35,021) on a path to the New Jersey Turnpike.
Lewerke, statistically, was fine: 21-for-31 for 222 yards and, most important, no picks. He got big plays the Spartans weren’t often concocting on the ground. Lewerke was second among MSU rushers with 56 yards, behind Holmes with 56. LJ Scott had 54 on 18 carries.
The Spartans had other issues, and that accounted for a first-half score snugger than should have been the case. They were penalized: eight times for 76 yards, with a batch of them coming in the first half. Three false starts, an illegal formation, and a debatable clip on Cole Chewins sabotaged what might have been back-to-back TDs and early celebration sips back in East Lansing.
But the Scarlet Knights never were going to match MSU’s muscle on offense or defense as four quarters steadily confirmed.
Now, they’ll wait on a bowl bid.
And enjoy a giddy flight home, with a few days of rest and recreation before the bowl-game practices renew.