The second installment of this year’s look back at the Michigan-Michigan State series takes us to 2003. The Spartans came into the game with a 4-0 record in the Big Ten, and they were hungry for a win. They also had a new coach, John L. Smith. Michigan countered with veteran coach Lloyd Carr, whose teams had a fair amount of success in this rivalry. With both rivals enjoying a resurgence, the stage was set for a classic showdown.
Immediately, Michigan went to work with core attack, running Chris Perry behind a fearsome offensive line that included Tone Pape, Adam Stenavich and David Baas. Early in the second quarter, Perry used the blocking from that offensive line to give him enough room to leap over the goal line for the game’s first score. Michigan State wasn’t about to go quietly, though. On a fourth-down and four yards to go in the third quarter, the Spartans faked the punt and Dave Rayner ran for the sticks, but he only got a yard before Pierre Woods drove him into the ground, giving Michigan prime field position with a 13-3 lead. Buoyed by the defensive stop and the two-score lead, the Wolverines’ offense went back to work. With the MSU determined to stop the run, Michigan quarterback John Navarre used a play-action fake to freeze the linebackers and found Andy Mignery all alone for a 26-yard touchdown on the same play that Michigan used to win the Rose Bowl in 1998.
And still, the Spartans kept plugging away. On the first play after the kickoff, Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker found Agim Shabai for a 73-yard touchdown that seemed as if it might turn the game in the Spartans’ favor.
Wrong. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, the Wolverines mixed the running of Perry with the passing of Navarre, and with 13:31 left in the game, Navarre completed a touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards that effectively ended the game, sending Michigan on to a 27-20 win. The victory continued the season-long momentum for Michigan, which won a share of the Big Ten title when it knocked off Ohio State in the final game of the regular season, 35-21. However, Michigan would not have won any championships if not for the victory over the Spartans in the middle of the season. Carr’s Wolverines continued to dominate the Spartans, while John L. Smith’s tenure in East Lansing lasted only four years.
As I do frequently, I’ll end with a Youtube clip from the ABC broadcast. Many thanks to ABC Sports and Youtube poster WolverineHistorian for the following video clips. As always, I don’t own any rights to this content, which is being used strictly for enjoyment.