Little Bro Michigan State Is 'All Grows Up' As Spartans Rule Michigan
Just inside the entrance, propped up on an easel, was a white grease board with a message from former Michigan and current Indianapolis Colts running back Mike Hart.
"Nothing needs to be said to get you guys fired up -- after what you guys have dealt with the last two years and the disrespect throughout the country," Hart's message read. "You get four chances in your life to play this team. What does each and every player want their legacy to be because it starts tomorrow -- tomorrow we put little brother in his place."
Turns out, little brother's place Saturday evening is where it's been the past three years: in the winning locker room. Looks like little brother is all grows up (link NSFW).
For a third consecutive season, "little brother" Michigan State toppled big bro 34-17, marking the Spartans' first three-game winning streak against the Wolverines since 1965-67.
"It's big -- as much as Michigan may not think it is," Michigan State wide receiver Mark Dell said.
In one glorious, sun-splashed afternoon before the second-largest home crowd in Michigan history, the Spartans effectively accomplished two major goals: they basically tripped up Denard "Shoelace" Robinson's Heisman Trophy hopes and, more importantly, made a statement that they should be considered a real contender for the Big Ten title.
Michigan State has to be the most under-the-radar 6-0 team in the nation.
The offense is led by a quarterback, Kirk Cousins, who was so highly thought of out of high school, his only other scholarship offers came from Mid-American schools. All Cousins did against Michigan was avoid making any mistakes, while throwing for 284 yards and a touchdown. He also found enough time to hand off 22 times to Edwin Baker, who rushed for 147 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown (pictured above right).
The Spartans don't have anyone on offense named Terrelle Pryor or anyone with a cool nickname like Shoelace. Yet, Michigan State is the only Big Ten team to score at least 30 points every game.
The Spartans get a little more recognition on defense, thanks to All-American linebacker Greg Jones, but the biggest storyline about the Spartans this season has been their coach's ticker when Mark Dantonio suffered a mild heart attack last month.
That's quickly going to change. Like it or not, America better start brushing up on Michigan State. The Spartans aren't going away anytime soon.
They sit at 6-0, their best start since some guy named Saban was head coach, and should be prohibitive favorites in four of their final six games against Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota and Purdue. Their biggest challenges will be at Iowa on Oct. 30 and at Penn State on Nov. 27. But after silencing 113,065 in the Big House, anything is possible.
"I'd be surprised if we weren't taken very serious now," Michigan State senior linebacker Jon Misch said. "We always said there was something special about this team. Hopefully people around the country are starting to notice that.
"I think it should be time for them to start realizing it. Obviously we believe that."
Entering the 103rd meeting between the Spartans and Wolverines, the No. 1 storyline was Robinson, who had been a one-man wrecking crew while leading Michigan to a 5-0 start.
Misch said his club got somewhat tired about constantly hearing Shoelace this, Shoelace that.
"He is a great player and we knew he would have a lot of spotlight coming into the game," Misch said. "It was just like going into (last week's) Wisconsin game, there was the respect factor we had to gain -- to be able to show the country we could stop what they thought couldn't be stopped."
Robinson was held to 86 yards -- 95 yards below his national best 181-yard per game average. He came into the game averaging a freakish 9.23 yards per carry, but had only two runs longer than eight yards (scrambles of 12 and 16 yards in the third quarter). Robinson, who had seven touchdown passes with only one interception entering the game, was intercepted three times by the Spartans, including two in the end zone.
He finished with 215 yards and a touchdown, although Michigan's wide receivers didn't help him out with several drops.
Robinson kept saying he "just got too excited" in the game and "made some bad reads." Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez noted that this was only the sixth start of Robinson's career and it's not like he's a fourth-year senior.
"It was one of those days," Rodriguez said. "We didn't play well. We made too many mistakes against a good team."
Misch, who played in his final Michigan State-Michigan game, said he wishes they could play "every day. It's just exciting, it's the biggest rivalry," Misch said. "Like we said, 'it's never over.' "
The "it's never over" quote came from Dantonio in response to Hart's little brother reference in 2007, which, by the way, was Michigan's last victory against Michigan State.
"If they want to mock us," Dantonio said in 2007, "I'm telling them, 'it's not over.' It will never be over here. It's just starting."
Since returning to the team following his heart attack, Jones said Dantonio has changed.
"I could tell he missed us and we missed him," Jones said. "I felt like it was something missing a little with him not there, but now he's back and it feels great. Before the game I could look in his eyes. He really wanted to win.'
Jones also has noticed a -- Sparty Nation will never believe this -- happier Dantonio.
"I feel like he's smiling a little bit more," Jones said. "He's soaking it in a little bit too, more than usual. At the pregame meal, he's smiling a little bit more than he usually does. Which is different and it make everything easier for us since the captains sit at the table with him."
Dantonio has plenty of reasons to smile. Actually 1,071 reasons to smile: that's how many days it's been since Michigan's last victory against Michigan State.
"It's still a rivalry," Dantonio said. "They asked me outside about the 'little brother' thing. The only response I had is maybe someday the little brother can at least go compete with the big brother and makes it a game every week."
And if Michigan fans needed any reminders what Michigan State has done the past three years, all they had to do was glance at the sign hanging from the top of the Big House Saturday. It read: "Little Brother Beat Your Ass Again."
Brett McMurphy is a national college football writer at FanHouse. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or please follow at Twitter.com/BrettmcmurphY