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In Dantonio's return, Spartans leave everything in Big House


ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan State wasn't saving anything for next week. Next week? Next week didn't matter. Next week was nothing.

This was Michigan.

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So the Spartans weren't saving anything. Caution? Not this week. Not this game. It started at the very top, with coach Mark Dantonio removing himself from the hospital, heart attack and blood clot be damned, to do what he could. That meant meetings with coaches, meetings with players, stability for everyone.

And then it continued in the game, which Dantonio watched from the press box, where he saw his team run reverses and fake reverses and passes off reverses. He saw his team go for it repeatedly on fourth down. He saw his team throw the ball down the field as if there were no defense out there, which is how it looks some of the time when the alleged defense belongs to Michigan.

What Dantonio saw, what we all saw, was one of the biggest victories in the series' 103-game history for Michigan State, a 34-17 domination of Michigan that reduced the second-biggest crowd in college football history -- 113,065 mostly maize-and-blue fans at Michigan Stadium -- to small pockets of green and white. And those pockets of green and white were chanting unspeakable things after the game.

Things like, "Little sister ... little sister."

And things like, "Go green ... go white ... go green ... go white ..."

And when it was all over, Dantonio leaned into a microphone, his jacket hanging loosely off his shrunken shoulders, and said the following words:

"I felt like this was winner-take-all," he said. "We weren't going to play things close to the vest. We were going to play to win."

They played to do more than that. Still stinging from ex-Michigan running back Mike Hart's dismissal of the Spartans as Michigan's "little brother" in 2007, the Spartans played to humiliate the Wolverines -- and they succeeded. Michigan was outskilled, out-toughed, outsmarted, outcoached, outclassed. Michigan State compiled 536 yards of total offense and made Heisman frontrunner Denard Robinson look mortal, intercepting him three times and holding him to 86 rushing yards.

Dantonio didn't have the pleasure of seeing one of the biggest plays of the game, Spartans safety Trenton Robinson's interception in the end zone to end the Wolverines' first drive. Dantonio had been on the field before the game and was still there for the coin flip, so he was being driven around the stadium to catch an elevator to the coaches' box when Robinson intercepted Robinson.

'We weren't going to play things close to the vest,' Dantonio said of taking on Michigan. (Getty Images)  
'We weren't going to play things close to the vest,' Dantonio said of taking on Michigan. (Getty Images)  
"Didn't see it," Dantonio said, smiling, "but credit Spartans fans -- I heard it."

Dantonio didn't miss another big play until the Spartans went for it on fourth-and-2 at the Michigan 28. There was a minute left, and Michigan State was trying to run out the clock. Dantonio was in the car again as the Spartans converted and Michigan Stadium emptied.

Everything in between, though, Dantonio saw. And what he saw, what we all saw, was a Michigan State team that had its foot on the gas pedal. The Spartans had three touchdowns of at least 40 yards -- Edwin Baker's 61-yard run that made it 7-3, Le'Veon Bell's 41-yard run that made it 14-10, and Mark Dell's 41-yard catch from Kirk Cousins that gave the Spartans a 24-10 lead.

The Spartans also had non-scoring pass plays of 44, 40 and 34 yards, and they were calling anything they wanted. On the 40-yarder, Cousins lined up at receiver. The snap went to a running back, who handed it on an end-around to a receiver, who flipped it to Cousins, who found Keith Nichol behind the secondary. Michigan State had been sitting on that play for months, Cousins said, practicing it every week.

"And that was the best it ever worked," Cousins said.

Everything worked, and it worked whenever the Spartans wanted it to work. Ahead two touchdowns, Michigan State gained 15 yards on a reverse by Keshawn Martin. A fake reverse earlier in the game, also to Martin, so befuddled the Michigan defense that it never touched the actual ball carrier. That was Bell on his 41-yard scoring jaunt. Baker was untouched on his long scoring run as well.

That's the Michigan defense in a nutshell: bad. The shame of it is that the Wolverines' inept defense could cost Denard Robinson the trophy he still deserves. He's the most electrifying player in college football, but Michigan's schedule just turned brutal, and that 5-0 start could dissolve into a 7-5 finish, and Robinson's Heisman hopes could dissolve with it. Which would be a shame.

The Spartans, meanwhile, are heading in the opposite direction. Four of their final six games look easily winnable -- home dates with Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue; a trip to Northwestern -- and there's no reason to believe Michigan State can't win at Iowa on Oct. 30 or at Penn State on Nov. 27.

A 10-2 season is realistic, but 11-1 or even 12-0 seems possible. That, however, is the future.

And this was Michigan.

So the Spartans were celebrating this win, celebrating their first three-game series winning streak since 1965-67.

"The tide has changed," MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said.

"That's special," Dantonio said of doing something that hadn't been done by Michigan State in more than four decades. "That's something you can talk about the rest of your life."

That's the rest of their life. This was Michigan. And as he walked away from the microphones, still wet and cold nearly a half-hour after players had emptied a cooler on his head, Narduzzi made a comment that should send shivers down Michigan's spine:

"Every time we come here," Narduzzi said, "we get an ice-cold shower."

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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