East Lansing - Coming off of back-to-back lackluster losses, Michigan State closed out the regular season with Senior Day on Saturday afternoon, hoping a game against a lowly Rutgers team would help remedy a lackluster offense as the Spartans looked to improve their position for a bowl game.
But the Spartans were in for a tougher game than many expected as Rutgers led late in the fourth quarter, but a late touchdown run by sophomore receiver Cody White helped prevent an embarrassing loss, giving Michigan State a 14-10 win.
With the win, Michigan State finishes the regular season with a 7-5 mark overall and a 5-4 record in the Big Ten, while Rutgers falls to 1-11, extending their winless streak in the Big Ten to 12 games dating back to last season.
With both teams failing to get anything going offensively throughout the second half, the game remained tied 7-7 until the fourth quarter when Rutgers took advantage of good field position and took the lead on a 34-yard field goal from Justin Davidovicz with just under eight minutes left to play.
Rutgers’ favorable field position was a result of one of several disappointing Michigan State offensive possessions as the Spartans were forced to punt from inside their own 5-yard line and after the punt and return, the Scarlet Knights took over at the Michigan State 25-yard line.
After staying silent for all but one drive in the first three and a half quarters, the Michigan State offense responded with time running out following a quick 3-and-out forced by the Spartan defense.
Taking over at the Rutgers 35-yard line following a 14-yard punt return by Brandon Sowards, the Spartans took their first lead of the game as wide receiver Cody White took an end-around handoff from Rocky Lombardi and scored from 22 yards out, putting Michigan State on top, 14-10 with under five minutes left to play. White’s touchdown run was Michigan State’s first play of over 20 yards for the game.
The Spartan offense was once again out of sorts on Saturday evening as the Spartans managed to score just 14 points against the nation’s 101st ranked scoring defense.
Lombardi, who again started in place of an injured Brian Lewerke threw for 173 yards, one touchdown and one interception on 19-of-43 passing as he picked up his second win as starting quarterback. Sophomore running back Connor Heyward recorded 19 carries for 81 yards, though 26 of those yards came on a late run that helped seal the win in the closing minutes.
The Spartans fell behind early in the first half as the offense put the defense in a bad spot after poor, predictable play-calling led to a turnover on downs inside the Michigan State 35-yard line. Facing 2nd down and short from the 33-yard line, the Spartans called three consecutive run plays, which resulted in no yardage, handing the ball back over to Rutgers with a short field.
The Scarlet Knights took advantage five plays later on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Giovanni Rescigno to Travis Vokolek, putting Rutgers on top, 7-0 with 6:15 left in the first quarter.
As it has been the case for the vast majority of the season, the Spartans struggled to find any success for much of the first half, but did tie the game up in the second quarter when Lombardi guided a 7-play, 81-yard drive capped off by an 18-yard pass from the freshman signal caller to senior tight end Matt Sokol with 7:04 left before halftime, knotting the game at 7-7.
The game-tying score marked ended a stretch of nine quarters where the Spartans had been held out of the end zone, after being limited to just two field goals in their previous two games (both losses) against Ohio State and Nebraska.
The Spartans will now wait to see next weekend’s slate of conference championship game play out before learning where they will head for a bowl game.
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