Sometimes, rivalry games are the peak of competition. Two teams that hate each other for nothing more than the logo on the side of their helmet slugging it out in front of loud fans and a national audience. Other times, the score is 49-0.
This was a case of the latter.
Michigan asserted its dominance in a game that felt over before it even started. There was no surprise when the Wolverines drove down and scored on their first possession. Or their second. Or their third. In fact, the 28-0 lead at halftime was almost expected.
The ‘turning point’ of this contest arguably dates back a few months or even years. The assembly of this staff and roster are what cemented this win. More than any singular play, the divergence of U-M and MSU since the 2021 game that saw the Spartans win set into motion the blowout we all witnessed.
But nonetheless, I have picked out a snap early in the game that just about wrapped up how this game would go.
The game was in its infancy. Michigan received the opening kickoff, and just over two minutes had drained off the clock. Somehow, the Spartans had managed to back Michigan into a third-and-13. The crowd got loud. They sensed a hint of weakness. Was this the No. 2 team in the country? Stuck in a third-and-long in their own territory? Unimpressive.
The Wolverines had two tight ends on the field, but neither had their hand in the dirt. Instead, they stood about five yards away from the left tackle to the field side. MSU responded with what was clearly zone coverage. Five defenders crowded the line of scrimmage while six defensive backs in a two-high shell lurked in waiting.
Just after the snap, MSU got pressure. Its rush got through and forced McCarthy to roll to his right. He perused the field for half a second, then ripped a bullet to AJ Barner, who held onto the ball despite facing heavy contact.
But how did Barner get open? Well, McCarthy’s legs had a lot to do with it. Michigan State dropped into a typical Tampa 2 defense and matched it up perfectly to the initial route combo. Even Barner, who ran a deep over route, had a defender primed to jump his position.
However, when McCarthy rolled out, the defense lost its shell. The linebacker who had been close to Barner lost his spot and got sucked tp to stop McCarthy from scampering for the first. Behind him, Barner turned upfield and threw up his arm asking for the ball. Nestled perfectly between the hole defender and the safeties, McCarthy guided a pass into the waiting hands of Barner. AJ jumped up and made the grab just as the overmatched safety crashed into his back.
That pretty much represented the rest of the game. Michigan took what it wanted, and MSU tried its best, but couldn’t quite put a cap on the Wolverines. Though this was only two minutes in, it felt like it killed the Spartan’s morale.