The first installment of this year’s series looking back at the rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State takes us back just one year, to 2016. Michigan entered the game undefeated, while Michigan State was literally just playing out the string. The only source of pride left for the Spartans would be their performance against Michigan, and sure enough, they played with more gusto than anyone in East Lansing had seen all season.
Michigan linebacker/safety/running back/quarterback/kick returner/punt returner Jabrill Peppers had been ferocious all season, but the Spartans tried a new strategy – they ran right at Peppers, and with the size of their massive offensive line, they took an initial toll on Peppers, and briefly took the Wolverines out of their game, as they took a 7-0 lead on a seven-minute drive to start the game. It was an ugly start for the Maize & Blue, to say the least.
However, Michigan responded with a vengeance, with quarterback Wilton Speight deftly mixing the run and the pass. Peppers concluded the drive by diving for the pylon with the ball, and the Wolverines tied the game. By this point, it was clear that neither team was about to back down.
On Michigan State’s next possession, the Spartans recaptured the momentum, seizing the line of scrimmage, until a fateful 4th down & 1 play. Suddenly, Peppers the athlete appeared, slicing through the defensive line to twist the running back down, half a yard short of the first down. Those in Maize& Blue, who clearly possessed the more talented roster, breathed a sigh of relief. Now, Michigan had the ball, with a chance to seize the momentum and the tempo of the game. With Peppers playing quarterback, the Wolverines ran a reverse that sprung freshman wide receiver Eddie McDoom deep into the Michigan State secondary. On the next play, Michigan lined up in a 2016 version of the I formation, known as “The Train.” Once the ball was snapped, Speight connected with tight end Jake Butt, who came down just shy of the goal line at the Michigan State 2-yard line. One play later, running back DeVeon Smith scored on a sweep to give the Wolverines the lead. Suddenly, the Wolverines were playing on their balls of their feet, taking the game to the Spartans. By halftime, Michigan had taken a 27-10 lead, giving Michigan all the momentum heading into the second half.
Still, with a chance to put the game away, Speight threw an interception on a wheel route, and Michigan State was threatening once again.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, their defense was now coached by Don Brown, who is being recognized more often as one of the great defensive coaches in history. With Brown’s defense relentlessly attacking, the Wolverines held on for a 32-23 victory, extending their record to 8-0, while the Spartans fell to 2-6.
For Peppers, it was his last game in the rivalry, as he left after the season to turn pro. The Wolverines finished the season 10-3, ending the year with a controversial loss to Ohio State in Columbus, and a bowl game loss to Florida State, which Michigan played without Peppers. Fortunately for the Wolverines, middle linebacker Devin Bush and Viper Khaleke Hudson have more than made up for his departure.
Thanks to ESPN and YouTube poster OneHourFootball. As always, we own nothing and the blog and video are purely for the enjoyment of readers.