Michigan State will never forget the day Ricky White, Rocky Lombardi slayed Michigan

Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read

Rocky to Ricky. Over and over.

A star was born. A quarterback validated.

And Michigan State football pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the 113-game rivalry against Michigan, a 27-24 victory Saturday that Rocky Lombardi and Ricky White dominated from start to finish.

White, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound true freshman from Marietta, Georgia, caught eight passes for 196 yards, the seventh-highest single-game total in MSU history, and the second-most against the Wolverines behind Plaxico Burress’ 255 yards in 1999.

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Michigan State Spartans receiver Ricky White makes a catch against Michigan Wolverines cornerback Jalen Perry during the fourth quarter Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Ann Arbor.
Michigan State Spartans receiver Ricky White makes a catch against Michigan Wolverines cornerback Jalen Perry during the fourth quarter Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Ann Arbor.

“First, I just want to give huge credit to Rocky,” White said. “He played an awesome game today, he made some great passes. All week at practice, it's been getting prepared for this game.”

White set an MSU freshman record, smashing the 165 yards by Cody White against Northwestern in 2017.

Ricky White – stepping into the starting lineup for an injured Tre Mosley – became an unstoppable force against No. 14 Michigan’s secondary. He and Lombardi stretched the field all afternoon, starting with a 30-yard touchdown that put the Spartans on the board just over four minutes into the game.

“He's done a good job in practice,” said first-year coach Mel Tucker, who scouted White while at Colorado and inherited him as part of Mark Dantonio’s final recruiting class. “I remember him in high school. We saw him as a player and thought that he was an outstanding player. Guys that step on the field on game day, they step on the field because of what they've done in practice. And so we've seen him make plays. We were not surprised.”

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White caught a 50-yard Lombardi throw early in the third quarter to set up a Matt Coghlin field goal, then later in the quarter added a 19-yard reception on a third-and-10 to get the senior kicker in position for a career-long 51-yarder.

On MSU’s final scoring drive, White’s 15-yarder extended the drive again, and his falling-down 31-yard grab put the Spartans into the red zone. Connor Heyward’s 13-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass gave MSU its final score and a 27-17 lead with 5:11 to play.

“I tend to concentrate,” White said, “really concentrate and stay focused to make plays, as many plays as I can.”

Lombardi finished with a career-high 323 passing yards, his second straight 300-plus yard game and the third among his six career starts. He was 17 of 32 with no interceptions or fumbles after turning the ball over three times last week. He had five completions of 30-plus yards, including a 50-yarder to Jalen Nailor in the third quarter.

MSU had seven turnovers and two turnovers on downs a week ago in a 38-27 loss to Rutgers. It had none vs. Michigan.

Lombardi felt it was a matter of time before the offense put together a game like Saturday’s, which gave the Spartans the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the ninth time in the past 13 years.

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“Even though we had turned the ball over nine times, we still put up 27 points, put up a pretty good amount of offensive production,” Lombardi said. “And all I'm thinking in my head is, 'We get we got some guys, we can we can move the ball offensively. We can win any game that we come into the game with the right mindset, the right attitude. …’

“It's a rivalry game. So to have that trophy — just a physical trophy to hold in your hands, man — it's a different feeling. This one this one meant a lot. I know they all kind of one, but this was a big one.”

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ricky White, Rocky Lombardi etch names in Michigan State football lore