No. 4 Michigan State wins ugly again, barely escaping at Rutgers
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — While there is no doubt No. 4 Michigan State has been dealing with injuries and mistakes this season, one thing hasn’t changed: The Spartans continue to win.
Freshman LJ Scott scored on a 3-yard run with 43 seconds to play and Michigan State won ugly for the second straight week with a 31-24 victory over Rutgers on Saturday night.
The win came just a week after the Spartans (6-0, 2-0 Big East) hung on for a 24-21 victory over a Purdue team that is struggling, and it saw them drop two spots in the poll.
This one isn’t going to help.
"We’re Michigan State and we are No. 4 in the country," said Spartans receiver Aaron Burbridge, who had a season-best nine catches for 146 yards. "That doesn’t mean anything but every team is going to give us their best shot. A win is a win. They all count."
The Spartans had a lot of heroes in getting this one. Connor Cook completed 23 of 38 passes for a season-high 357 yards — one less than his career best — and two touchdowns. He came up with a monster 29-yard third-down pass to R.J. Shelton on the winning 76-yard drive.
Scott, who did not play in the first half because of a sore knee, also scored on a 1-yard run as the Spartans won their 10th straight game and overcame an impressive return by suspended Rutgers senior receiver Leonte Carroo, who caught three touchdown passes.
"We’re a 6-0 football team, and I keep saying across the country, you watch what goes on every week, there are tough games out there and people are struggling," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "I do believe we are getting everybody’s best shot, but I’m sure next week will be a great football game."
Next week, the opponent will be No. 18 Michigan, which beat No. 13 Northwestern 38-0 for its third straight shutout.
Rutgers (2-3, 0-2) gave Michigan State everything it could handle.
Chris Laviano and Carroo, who was reinstated Wednesday after simple assault charges were dropped from a Sept. 12 incident outside the stadium, combined on TD passes of 5, 39 and 28.
"We got to come back in on Sunday and lock in and have more attention to details because at the end of the day that’s how you get beat in this league," said Carroo, who had seven catches for 134 yards. "Obviously we proved today it’s not a talent thing. It’s just who can play with better details longer."
Laviano finished 15 of 24 for 208, but he capped the night by spiking the ball on fourth down, securing the win.
"At the end of the game, the clock management is 100 percent on the guy in charge and I’m the guy in charge," said Rutgers interim head coach Norries Wilson, who has coached the team that past three games with Kyle Flood suspended. "So I mismanaged the situation. Chris Laviano did what he was told to do and I told him the wrong thing."
Michigan State also got an 8-yard TD catch by Macgarrett Kings Jr. Scott had nine rushes for 42 yards and two touchdowns.
Trailing 24-14 with less than 6 minutes left in the third quarter, Rutgers rallied and eventually tied the game with 4:21 left in regulation in a 22-yard field goal by Kyle Federico that capped a 16-play, 91-yard drive that featured a big third-down scramble by Laviano on third-and-5 and passes of 26 yards to Carrroo and an 18-yard to Justin Goodwin on fourth down at the Spartans 44.
On the play before the field goal, Spartans cornerback Arjen Colquhoun knocked a pass out of Carroo’s hands to force the field goal.
The 10-play winning drive featured the pass to Shelton on third-and-9 from the Spartans 25. Scott also had runs of 10, 9 and 16 yards before scoring two plays later.
Carroo had closed the gap to three points with his third touchdown catch, a 28-yarder on which he was wide open.
After an error-prone first half by Michigan State, Cook steadied things in the third quarter leading them on scoring drives of 73 and 51 yards. Scott, who did not play in the first half, capped the first drive with a 1-yard run and Cook found DeAnthony Arnett from 25-yards out for a 24-14 lead with 5:46 left in the half.
Michigan State struggled in the first half. Burbridge dropped a touchdown on the first series and Michael Geiger had a 35-yard field goal blocked. A punt was shanked setting up a touchdown drive and Cook also was intercepted by Kiy Hester late in the half on a first-and-goal from the 7.
"We left a lot of points out there," Dantonio said.
This was the final game of a three-game suspension being served by Flood, who was penalized for trying to influence a professor on a player’s grade.