Alabama, Michi­gan, Clem­son at top

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Noah Trister

Alabama is No. 1, re­ceiv­ing all but one of the 61 first-place votes from the me­dia panel. Michi­gan re­ceived a first-place vote. Both No. 3 Clem­son and No. 4 Wash­ing­ton won road games Satur­day.

EAST LANS­ING, MICH. » A penalty gave Michi­gan State first-and-goal from the 2, so for the next four plays, the Spar­tans gave the ball to stand­out run­ning back LJ Scott. Each time, Michi­gan stopped him. The se­cond-ranked Wolver­ines went on to beat their in-state ri­vals 32-23 on Satur­day, and al­though the mar­gin was a lit­tle slim­mer than ex­pected, there was plenty pos­i­tive about the way Michi­gan played. Michi­gan State had won seven of the pre­vi­ous eight meet­ings, in many in­stances bul­ly­ing the Wolver­ines phys­i­cally, but Jim Har­baugh has al­ready closed that tough­ness gap — and Michi­gan fi­nally en­joyed a break­through on the score­board.

“De­fen­sively, we made plays, guys made plays,” Har­baugh said. “Fourth-down stops were huge in the ball­game.”

The un­beaten Wolver­ines (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) were huge fa­vorites against the Spar­tans, whose sea­son had al­ready un­rav­eled. Michi­gan State (26, 0-5) didn’t wilt, though. Scott ran for 139 yards, and the of­fen­sive line had some suc­cess against the tough Michi­gan front.

Since Har­baugh’s ar­rival, how­ever, the Spar­tans have had a hard time im­pos­ing their will against Michi­gan. They needed a shock­ing last-se­cond touch­down to beat the Wolver­ines last year and had to grind just for a close de­feat Satur­day.

“There aren’t any moral vic­to­ries,” Michi­gan State coach Mark Dan­to­nio said. “We’ve got to take it, but I think that you can feel good that you com­peted. You can feel good that things went this di­rec­tion. You can feel good as a coach that we got an op­por­tu­nity to win this foot­ball game.”

Michi­gan State de­liv­ered some bad news Sun­day when the school said quar­ter­back Brian Lew­erke would miss the rest of the sea­son with a bro­ken leg. Lew­erke has been mostly a backup, but he played well to­ward the end against Michi­gan. He is not ex­pected to need surgery, and the Spar­tans ex­pect him back for spring prac­tice.

The chal­lenge for Michi­gan State is to bounce back quickly from this sea­son. The Spar­tans have joined the elite in the Big Ten by win­ning con­fer­ence ti­tles two of the past three years, but Har­baugh’s ar­rival has brought Michi­gan back to promi­nence and made the league tougher. It’s hard to at­tribute too much of Michi­gan State’s col­lapse this sea­son to Har­baugh — the Spar­tans couldn’t even beat In­di­ana or Mary­land — but ev­ery loss threat­ens to shift the bal­ance even more from East Lans­ing to­ward Ann Ar­bor.

For years, Michi­gan State has rel­ished its sta­tus as an un­der­dog sur­rounded by glamor pro­grams like Michi­gan, Ohio State and Notre Dame, play­ing some of its best foot­ball against those teams. It’s pos­si­ble that after so much suc­cess, the Spar­tans lost a bit of that chip on their shoul­der.

Michi­gan, mean­while, is in the as­cen­dency again, and the game against Michi­gan State didn’t need to be a blowout to be im­mensely sat­is­fy­ing for the Wolver­ines.

“It’s a ri­valry game so when you go into games like that, records re­ally don’t mat­ter,” said Michi­gan re­ceiver Amara Dar­boh, who had eight catches for a ca­reer-high 165 yards. “We un­der­stood that they were a good team.”

Michi­gan al­lowed an early touch­down, and with the score 7-7 in the se­cond quar­ter, the Spar­tans went for it on fourth-and-1. Wolver­ines star Jabrill Pep­pers stopped Ger­ald Holmes.

Michi­gan led 27-10 at half­time, but an in­ter­cep­tion gave the Spar­tans a chance to cut into the lead early in the third. That’s when the Wolver­ines stood up to Michi­gan State on those four straight car­ries by Scott.

Ev­ery time the Spar­tans ap­peared to be build­ing mo­men­tum, Michi­gan was there to push back.

“We treat ev­ery game like it’s the cham­pi­onship game and for­tu­nately our guys made the play to­day and the credit goes to the play­ers,” Har­baugh said after the game.


Michi­gan line­backer Jabrill Pep­pers (5) cel­e­brates after sack­ing Michi­gan State quar­ter­back Brian Lew­erke (14) Satur­day in East Lans­ing, Mich.

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