This week I decided to re-watch the 1991 Michigan State game. I chose this game because it was the last time we visited Spartan Stadium following a loss the previous year in Ann Arbor.
Michigan State came into this game 0-4 and was coached by George Perles. Michigan was coached by 2nd year coach Gary Moeller and ranked in the top 10 with a single loss to Florida State. Moeller came into this game with an 0-4 record against State (3 of those losses came while he was the coach at Illinois). Our offense was as dynamic and exciting as we had ever been, led by quarterback Elvis Grbac and future Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard.
1st quarter: Sparty got the ball to start the game, made a first down and was forced to punt. Michigan marched down the field mixing passes to Desmond and pounding the ball on the ground with Rickey Powers. Grbac hit Desmond on a slant for a touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead.
Sparty sputtered with a three and out. Elvis and Desmond hooked up again, this time on a diving fade route on the corner of the end zone for a 14-0 lead. These two touchdowns were the 11th and 12th of the season for Desmond. Up to this point, as a team Michigan State had scored 2 touchdowns in their 4 games.
2nd quarter: WIth a comfortable 14-0 lead, Moeller started running the ball a lot more with Ricky Powers, Jesse Johnson, and freshman Tyronne Wheatley. Elvis Grbac threw his first incomplete pass (he was 9 for 9 to start the game) but hit Dave Diebolt for another touchdown and a 21-0 lead. Sparty picked themselves off the turf and drove the length of the field and QB Jim Miller hits Courtney Hawkins for a touchdown right before halftime to cut the lead to 21-7.
3rd quarter: Michigan got the ball on the 2nd half kickoff and let Ricky Powers and Burnie Leegette carry it down the field behind their huge offensive line, led by All Americans Matt Elliott and Greg Skrepenak. ESPN announcer Gary Danielson continues to complain about Michigan's perfectly legal (at the time) use of more than 11 players in the huddle. At one point he actually cries "It is not fair to Michigan State". Jesse "House Cat" Johnson finishes the drive with a 17 yard touchdown scamper. Michigan 28-7.
As is typically the case in this rivalry game, Michigan State continues to battle and moves the ball deep into Michigan territory. Speedy Spartan freshman Mill Coleman catches Jim Miller's 13th straight completion for a touchdown, equaling the total number of touchdowns they have scored all season. 28-14 and momentum looks like is starting to swing towards the jolly green giants.
After exchanging punts, Jesse Johnson scores another running touchdown late in quarter. We recover the fumbled kickoff at the 25 yard line. At the end of three quarters Powers and Johnson have combined 240 yards rushing, Grbac has thrown for 3 touchdowns and the Wolverines have a commanding 35-14 lead.
4th quarter: Following the fumble, Michigan stalls inside their 10, including a missed opportunity for Desmond to catch another TD. JD Carlson kicks a FG and we now lead 38-14. Another Sparty punt and another Michigan drive featuring Tyrone Wheatly and Desmond. Todd Collins takes over for Elvis midway thru the drive and Wheatley fumbles the ball to Sparty into the end zone. Miller throws an interception against our 3rd string defense and the ball is returned inside the 5 yard line. This time Tyrone crosses the goal line with the ball in his hands. 45-14 Wolverines. Garbage time.
Michigan State punched in two late meaningless touchdowns against Junior Varsity defense allowing the home crowd to cheer a couple of times. The game ended with the good guys winning 45-28.
What did we learn from this exercise? Sparty has never been a football power in my lifetime. The talent differential between Michigan and Michigan State in the 1990's was pretty clear. Our team was stacked with future NFL talent and it showed throughout this game. Desmond Howard was the best and most exciting player in college football in 1991. Our offensive line was capable of dominating a game and Elvis Grbac was a darn good quarterback. The defense coached by coordinator Lloyd Carr and led by Butkus Award winner Erick Anderson was solid and unspectacular at the same time.
The 1991 team won the Big Ten with a perfect 8-0 record and lost to the eventual National Champion Washington Huskies.