- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
EAST LANSING — Connor Heyward took the screen pass and took off for the end zone.
A leap, a spin and a reach across the goal line. Touchdown, Michigan State. The crowd at the Big House went silent.
The crowd being the few family members of Michigan players that dotted Michigan Stadium a year ago and watched the Spartans — 24½-point underdogs — blindside the Wolverines for a 27-24 victory.
An announced crowd of 615.
“Last year, it was just weird playing without fans,” Heyward said Monday of the 2020 win that was Mel Tucker’s first as MSU head coach. “That was one of those games where you just want fans.”
It will be a totally different environment Saturday at Spartan Stadium, where No. 7 MSU hosts No. 6 Michigan (noon/Fox). Crowd restrictions that went into place during the pandemic last fall are gone, and it is expected to be a frenetic environment for the first time in more than three years.
“Our fans have been tremendous all season,” Tucker said Monday. “It's going to be electric atmosphere, it's going to be a capacity crowd. The student section is going to be packed — the Deep End will be full effect, we all know that.”
MSU is averaging 70,170 fans through its first three home games. Spartan Stadium, which seats 75,005, has not hosted a sellout since Oct. 20, 2018, against the Wolverines, when 76,131 watched U-M's 21-7 victory.
It was a struggle to fill the stands for the final two seasons under Mark Dantonio, culminating with an announced attendance of 51,366 for what turned out to be his final home game as the Spartans’ head coach Nov. 30, 2019 against Maryland. The smallest crowd since 1992 watched MSU get bowl eligible with a 19-16 win.
In 2020, only 716 parents and family members watched the Spartans’ first two home games against Rutgers and Indiana before fans were prohibited from attending the final two games at Spartan Stadium — an upset of Northwestern and a loss to Ohio State.
Which made MSU’s third victory in its last four visits to Michigan Stadium somewhat bittersweet.
“They had a lot of family there and friends, more than I think we ever had at our games last year,” Heyward said. “But it's always good to hush the crowd when you go somewhere on the road in a big game like that. But we couldn't really do that.
“It just really showed how much we really wanted it last year during the tough times with COVID and just all the adjustments we had to make last year.”
No roster updates
Tucker did not give any injury updates on players who have been out. That included senior defensive end Drew Beesley, who injured his lower right leg in the first half of the Spartans’ win over Nebraska on Sept. 25.
One of the primary directives Tucker made during the bye week was to “emphasize rest and recovery” after seven straight weeks of football for players who have been injured and those who have been banged-up.
“We're doing everything we can to make sure that we have as many guys prepared to go and fresh and ready for the game,” he said.
In MSU’s 20-15 win at Indiana on Oct. 16, the Spartans played without Beesley and fellow defensive ends Jack Camper and Itayvion Brown, along with defensive tackle Jalen Hunt, tight end Trenton Gillison and running back Elijah Collins. They also lost cornerback Marqui Lowery to an apparent left leg injury early in the fourth quarter, and the Louisville transfer did not return.
Tucker also said he has “no updates at this time” on the status of wide receiver Ricky White and defensive back Michael Gravely. The coach said before the season the two had not been participating in team activities, but both remain on MSU’s roster.
White was the star of last year’s win in Ann Arbor, breaking MSU’s freshman record with 196 yards that were second only to Plaxico Burress in the Spartans’ history of the rivalry with Michigan. White also caught a 30-yard touchdown and added grabs of 50, 40 and 31 yards among his eight receptions.
Reed to Rocky
Junior wide receiver Jayden Reed used the bye week to make a passing connection with his former quarterback Rocky Lombardi on Saturday.
Lombardi, who transferred to Northern Illinois after last season, threw for a personal-best 348 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, leading a game-winning field goal drive to cap an 18-point comeback as the Huskies beat Central Michigan, 39-38, in Mount Pleasant.
“I always follow my guys wherever they play,” said Reed, who transferred from Western Michigan to MSU in 2019. “Whether it's Western guys, the guys that played here and left, guys I came out of high school with, I always try to follow and support them.”
It was almost a déjà vu performance from Lombardi’s legend-making performance in upsetting U-M last year. In that game, went 17 of 32 for his MSU career-high 323 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
Reed drove from East Lansing to Mount Pleasant for the game and said he met up afterward with Lombardi, who was named Mid-American Conference offensive player of the week Monday.
“He had a day, so it was good to see him out there and get the win and actually get to see him in person,” Reed said. “It'd been a long time.”
So did they talk about Reed’s next game against Michigan?
“No,” he said, “not at all.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan vs. Michigan State: Spartans eager to have fans for rivalry