Michigan State Shows New Challenger For Ohio State In Big Ten With Peach Bowl Win
ATLANTA – It looks like the state of Ohio is set to add company to the top of the Big Ten East in the near future.
Michigan ended the Buckeyes’ four-year reign at the top of the division and advanced to the college football playoffs. The Wolverines look set to keep their promise with Jim Harbaugh at the helm. The talent is coming and the Wolverines are two games away from a national title.
And now there appears to be another threat coming from the Great Lakes State. The No.10 Michigan State put the finishing touches on a surprisingly brilliant season with a thrilling 31-21 victory over No.12 Pitt in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The team that scored a total of four over / under pre-season wins finished 11-2 and will be placed in the top 10 for the first time since 2015.
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“It was a huge win to get 11 wins,” said Michigan State coach Mel Tucker. “It was quite an accomplishment. And doing it as a team, playing complementary football, it was just great. The best is in front of us.”
The Spartans adopted a “keep cutting” theme from Tucker, and they certainly lived up to that on Thursday night. Michigan State was forced to erase a 21-10 deficit in the fourth quarter and scored three touchdowns in the final at 8:06 to ultimately knock out a team from Pitt who played with their third quarterback for the 3 1s. / Last 2 quarters. Heisman runner-up Kenny Pickett withdrew from the game and his replacement Nick Patti was injured after scoring a touchdown during Pitt’s first practice. This left second student Davis Beville in charge.
“Davis did a great job,” said Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi. “As good as you would expect from a third team quarterback. It wasn’t good enough to win the football game. All of our guys hung on and played in line for him. We just haven’t made enough games in all phases. “
Pitt built the 21-10 lead with a fold-but-not-break defense and a defensive scoreline on a Cam Bright fumble early in the third quarter. But a brilliant touchdown by Jayden Reed, his second of the night, gave MSU a 24-21 lead with 2:51 to go, and after Pitt reached the shooting range, Cal Haladay sealed the game for the Spartans with a 78- yard interception return for a touchdown with 22 ticks left.
“We are relentless,” Tucker said. “We’re not flinching. We believe in the process. We keep cutting. We’re in great shape. We know we can go deep in the fourth quarter and wear the teams out, take them to deep water. And that’s where it is. that we want to be. And we were able to get them to this point and were able to finish. “
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The Spartans have bet big, big on this decisive season which is no wonder with Tucker. In late November, Michigan State fended off all of the coach’s contenders and awarded him a 10-year, $ 95 million, $ 95 million contract. He may one day want to return to the NFL – he spent 10 years there as an assistant – but in the short to medium term he will be at East Lansing. And early indications show he’s capable of building a program that can live in the upper echelon of the Big Ten East, right alongside Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State.
Michigan State bids farewell to running back Kenneth Walker III, who finished sixth in the Heisman vote after a phenomenal season in which he gained 1,636 yards in 12 games and scored five touchdowns in MSU’s win over Michigan . Walker passed on the bowl game to avoid injury and prepare for the NFL Draft.
But the Spartans actually have a chance to be better offensive in 2022. Quarterback Payton Thorne, who had 29 of 50 goals for 354 yards with three touchdowns, an interception and a fumble against Pitt, will return for his match. junior season after starting the 13 Games. He completed 60% of his passes with a school record of 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He’s been showing leadership all week in Atlanta without Walker, giving the team a heated speech after a lead-to-bowl practice. A quality pocket passer, Thorne has shown against Pitt that he can be dangerous with his feet as well, and he was at his best rallying his team in the fourth quarter.
“We missed Ken, but we thought we could get some stuff in the passing game,” Thorne said. “And we didn’t really touch them for a lot of the game. But in the fourth quarter we were able to pull some things together and take advantage of areas we thought we could.”
Like CJ Stroud at Ohio State, Thorne might have several future NFL receivers at his disposal. Reed and Jalen Nailor both decide whether to make the NFL Draft, and both showed the Peach Bowl why they could be future pros. Reed was the offensive MVP with six catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns, while Nailor had six catches for 108 yards. Nailor pulled off a brilliant one-handed grab in the first half for great footage, and Reed’s two touchdowns were simply the result of his duel victory. The fact that the two have bowled is obviously a good sign for MSU.
Tight end Connor Heyward is heading to the NFL, but the future in that role is still bright with rookie Maliq Carr, who showed more athleticism with a nifty catch-and-run on Thursday. And former four-star running back Jalen Berger is transferred from Wisconsin after a disappointing freshman season. If he can get on the right track, MSU can have another powerful weapon in the backfield.
Eight starters will return to defense, and Tucker will also be looking to add reinforcements through the transfer portal, especially in the secondary. MSU’s pass defense has sagged in big moments in 2021 and will need to improve. But the unit essentially shut out Pitt in the second half and allowed the offense to win in the end.
“Our adjustments (in the second half) were just to attack better, drive the ball better, break, do the little things better,” said Haladay, who won the Defensive MVP Award for his pick of six and a leading d. ‘team. 11 tackles. “That’s what we did at the end of the day. We just needed to get out, get the ball back to our attack as quickly as possible and give ourselves the opportunity to win the game.”
Ohio State is not going anywhere, Michigan is hoping it has become the elite program it has always aspired to be and Penn State will never be down for long. Is there room for a fourth schedule near the top of a comparable division to SEC West, the toughest in the country? The state of Michigan certainly thinks so.
“There is a lot of hard work that needs to be done by the time next season kicks off,” Tucker said. “But we’re going to stay focused and determined to get where we need to go. And we’re playing in a tough conference. It’s very tough. It’s very competitive. But here we are. We’re here to win it. And, therefore, I believe our best is yet to come. “