His team had been mired in a historic losing streak, and decades-old wounds – healed by the past three seasons of unprecedented success – had been ripped open. A season’s worth of frustration had Dantonio’s players seeing red against Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights never stood a chance. And the Spartans finally rediscovered that winning feeling for the first time in nearly two months.
MSU ended a seven-game skid, it’s longest in 34 years, and picked up its first Big Ten win of the season with a 49-0 blowout at Spartan Stadium.
“It's a good feeling. A good feeling. You'd have thought we'd won the championship in that locker room,” Dantonio said. “It’s been a long time.”
The Spartans (3-7, 1-6) host Ohio State next week (noon/ABC, ESPN or ESPN2) after snapping their longest slide since eight straight losses between the final game of 1981 and the first seven of 1982.
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“You know, it feels good to get a win. It feels good to dance in the locker room again,” senior linebacker Riley Bullough said. “And hopefully, we have some momentum going into next week. Obviously, it’s a big game. We’ll build some confidence from this game, which we should.”
MSU held Rutgers (2-8, 0-7) to just 149 total yards of offense and earned its first shutout since defeating Purdue 14-0 on Oct. 19, 2013. It is just the fourth time Dantonio’s defense did not allow a point in his 10 seasons.
And MSU did it without star junior Malik McDowell, who did not dress after hurting his ankle and exacerbating a rib injury last week at Illinois, and a number of other key players.
“A couple of the older guys, we were talking that when we came out (of the game) at the end, when they were driving the field, we were gonna go back in because we wanted a zero,” said senior Demetrious Cox, who said he has been battling nagging injuries and missed the Michigan game. “It meant a lot.”
It was a feel-good victory in which 75 Spartans – veterans and rookies – played. All the little things that have gone wrong all season for them for once went right for 60 minutes.
Tyler O’Connor threw for three touchdowns in the first half and completed 10 of 15 passes for 141 yards. Sophomore LJ Scott ran 20 times for 122 yards and a score as the Spartans gained 440 yards of offense, 277 of them on the ground.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges when you have a team going through a rough stretch like we had, to get people excited to go out and practice every day. It’s not easy,” said O’Connor, who was knocked out last week at Illinois but started after being cleared to practice Tuesday. “It’s not easy when you’re 9-0, it’s definitely not easy when you’re 2-7. … It was very rewarding to get a win like this.”
Before most of the strong number of late-arriving fans arrived in their seats, a crowd announced at 73,701 to watch the Big Ten’s only winless teams in conference play, MSU seized complete control in the game’s first 10 minutes and by taking a 35-0 lead at halftime.
Josiah Price caught a pair of first-half touchdown passes, while Scott eclipsed the 100-yard mark before halftime and O’Connor hit Trishton Jackson for a 50-yard score in the first half.
However it was safety Cox’s 30-yard return for a TD off an interception from Rutgers quarterback Giovanni Rescigno (Warren De La Salle) that typified the page-turning performance for MSU’s defense. The Spartans held Rutgers to just 2.8 yards per play in the game.
Madre London added touchdown runs of 2 and 6 yards in the third quarter, and the defense continued to play shutout football. The Spartans managed to get many of their younger players and seldom-used seniors onto the field throughout the second half to enjoy the moment of their first win since defeating Notre Dame 36-28 on Sept. 17.
“Our players made it happened,” Dantonio said. “As a defensive coach, you get a shutout, that’s big. We needed a shutout. We needed things, just once, to go in our direction, totally, in one way.”