No. 16 Michigan State dispatches Rutgers for ninth win
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Mark Dantonio has enjoyed a lot of success in his 11 years as Michigan State coach, winning three Big Ten titles.
But after the No. 16 Spartans overwhelmed Rutgers 40-7 on Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium, Dantonio said this season is one of his most rewarding.
The Spartans (9-3, 7-2 Big Ten) reversed their 3-9 record from last season by winning six of their last eight games.
“This did not start tonight. It started a year ago when we started formulating a plan,” Dantonio said. “We had a tough year, our entire group, we all had to go in the same direction. I’ve never thought that we couldn’t win a football game.
“I’m very happy for our football team, our players, our families. We had a strong group pf seniors that helped us. And we have young players that energized us. That bodes well for the future.
“This stands out as any season since I’ve been here. This is one of those meaningful moments. When you go through a lot of things and the credibility of your program is in flux, it’s exciting to have a season like this.”
Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke accumulated 278 total yards to set a school season record for a sophomore quarterback and the defense shut down Rutgers (4-8, 3-6).
Lewerke has 3,206 yards of total offense this season, eclipsing Connor Cook, who passed and ran for 2,928 yards in 2013. Lewerke completed 21 of 31 passes for 222 yards and a TD, and he ran for 56 yards on 13 carries, including a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter before he was lifted.
Redshirt freshman Matt Coghlin connected on a career-high four field goals.
Rutgers starting quarterback Gio Rescigno failed to complete his first three passes of the game and was lifted for Johnathan Lewis, who was 6 of 16 for 98 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown.
The Scarlet Knights managed just 14 yards on 12 carries against the Big Ten’s second stingiest team against the run.
“We were hoping Gio could do something. We weren’t doing what we needed to do on offense and that was the plan all along,” Rutgers coach Chris Ash said about the quarterback change.
“Obviously, it’s an emotional locker room when you end the season whether it’s on a good note or a bad note, but it makes it worse when you finish it on a bad note.
“I’m just disappointed we didn’t finish the season the right way, not just tonight, but the last three games for those seniors. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Scarlet Knights were attempting to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2014, but they lost their last three games by a combined 103 points to Penn State (35-6), Indiana (41-0) and Michigan State.
The Spartans had the ball for 47:50. Rutgers had it for only 12:10. Air Force held the previous FBS record for time of possession with 45:14 against Georgia State last season.
“That’s a product of bad football, that’s what it is,” Ash said. “We couldn’t get off the field on third down, and we couldn’t get first downs on offense. I hate to put it that bluntly, but there’s no other way to sugarcoat it.”
Gerald Holmes scored on the first play of the fourth quarter on a 2-yard bolt for a 26-7 Michigan State cushion.
Michigan State scored on its first three possessions of the game for a 13-0 advantage. Rutgers had only seven plays for three yards in the first quarter.
Rutgers pulled to 13-7 on a 42-yard scoring strike from Lewis to a wide-open Raheem Blackshear in the middle of the field with 14:05 left in the second quarter.
Coghlin’s third field goal of the half, a 46-yarder that tied his career high, provided Michigan State with a 16-7 lead with 7:14 to go in the second quarter. The Spartans held the Scarlet Knights to 72 yards in the half.
Coghlin added a 32-yard field goal in the third for a 19-7 lead.
NOTES: Rutgers managed only five first downs compared with 27 for Michigan State. ... The Spartans converted 13 of 21 third-down chances and Rutgers was 0-for-6. ... Rutgers honored its 27 seniors in a ceremony before the game. ... The Scarlet Knights have nine wins over ranked opponents in their history. The highest ranked team they defeated was No. 2 South Florida in 2007. ... According to the NCAA, Michigan State has played the eighth-most difficult schedule in the FBS.