Rutgers came into the game 14 point underdogs at home on Senior Day. The 21st ranked Spartans came to town for a tilt on National Television hoping to sneak into the Big Ten title game. They found out just before kickoff that Ohio State clinched a spot in the B1G championship, but Michigan State had plenty to play for, hoping for a BCS bowl shot.
Michigan State methodically moved down the field, running the ball mixing in passes when needed to lead 7-0 after their first drive. On Rutgers’s first possession, a holding penalty on the kick return had Rutgers offense starting at their own 10. Gus Edwards fumbled on the first offensive play of the game, recovered by Michigan State.
The Scarlet Knight defense dug in and held Michigan State from gaining any yards and the Spartans settled for a field goal. After another Rutgers three and out, Michigan State moved the ball inside the red zone yet again, but the Scarlet Knights held them to another field goal. MSU led 13-0 still in the first quarter.
Rutgers offense finally broke through after a drive aided by two Michigan State penalties resulted in a wide open Raheem Blackshear. Lewis misfired a few times on the drive, but regrouped to find a wide open Blackshear who had to break a few tackles before reaching the end zone. The ensuing extra point cut the deficit to 13-7.
Johnathan Lewis ➡️ Raheem Blackshear = @RFootball TD. pic.twitter.com/ggdURp7AHr— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 25, 2017
Michigan State drove the ball down for another field goal to make it 16-7 heading into the locker room. Michigan State had 221 yards to Rutgers 71 in the first half, with 42 of Rutgers’s yards coming on the TD to Blackshear.
To start the second half, Rutgers was sacked twice in three plays and had to kick the ball back to Michigan State. The Spartans came out firing, completing four 10-plus yard pass plays moving the ball inside the Rutgers 10. Once again the defense held Michigan State to a field goal, and it remained a two score game, 19-7.
After another three and out, Michigan State methodically moved the ball down the field again, the key play being a 3rd and long scramble by MSU’s quarterback Brian Lewerke for 13 yards. On another third and long, Lewerke’s pass was incomplete but Damon Hayes was flagged for pass interference to keep the drive alive.
As the fourth quarter began, it was still 19-7 but Michigan State had a second down and goal from the Rutgers 2 yard line. On the first play, Michigan State punched it in to make it 26-7 and some fans headed for the exits. Rutgers second play on the following drive was a Lewis pass intercepted taking any remaining air out of the stadium. Lewerke scrambled for yet another touchdown to make it 33-7. At that point in the game, MSU had run 75 plays to Rutgers 25 and possessed the ball for 39 minutes and 31 seconds to just nine minutes, fifty seconds for RU. Michigan State added another TD for good measure for a 40-7 final.
This could have been over quickly. With Rutgers struggling to score all season, a 17-0 deficit even with three quarters to play may have been insurmountable. Rutgers went to halftime down 16-7 leaving the door open for the possibility of an interesting second half.
Youth served. After Edwards’s early fumble, Blackshear rotated with Robert Martin. Gio Rescigno started the game but was replaced by Johnathan Lewis on the second series of the game. Lewis connected with Blackshear for a TD early in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 13-7, a connection fans hope to see a lot the next 3 seasons. Tyshon Fogg also got looks on defense early in the game. It is great to get true freshmen playing time, but even better when that comes in “high-leverage” situations against a ranked opponent.
Lewis had a rocket launcher attached to his shoulder, but you can see why the coaching staff was reluctant to play him. Michigan State is a very good defense, and Lewis could not do much at all against. Receivers weren’t exactly helping him out, but Lewis was inaccurate on his throws, at least one of which was knocked down at the line of scrimmage on a key play. He showed some power in the running game, but the line couldn’t get enough push to help generate first downs. His accuracy on the first interception was pretty awful and on the next possession a first down pass was right to the feet of his receiver. Lewis regrouped and completed a bomb to Dacoven Bailey on the following play, his best play of the game. Then Lewis made his worst play of the game throwing it right into the arms of a linebacker in zone coverage.
3rd down was key. Both teams strategy of running to stay on schedule was executed much better by the Spartans. Michigan State started 7 of 12 on third downs while Rutgers at halftime was 0 for 3 (not counting penalties). The Spartans seemed to have a wide open receiver on third and short so many times, when Rutgers struggles to get anybody open. For Rutgers to take that next step in this run-first offense, they need to get better on third down conversions to keep the chains moving. In the end, MSU finished 13-20 on third downs, while Rutgers was 0-6.
Michigan State awaits their bowl destination as they were eliminated from a shot at the Big Ten title game earlier in the day.
Rutgers season ends with a 4-8 record. The next date on the calendar is December 20, when the early signing period begins, the first year of its existence.