ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Outside of Michigan State’s football program, few expected the Spartans to beat No. 13 Michigan.
The people who mattered, though, had all the confidence they needed to pull off the upset.
Rocky Lombardi threw for 323 yards, including 196 to Ricky White, and three touchdowns to help Michigan State stun the Wolverines 27-24 on Saturday.
“I know we were three-touchdown underdogs, but everybody on this team knew going into the game that we had a chance and we had a good chance,” Lombardi said.
The Spartans (1-1, 1-1 Big Ten) appeared to be the better team all afternoon on both sides of the ball in Mel Tucker’s debut as coach in the rivalry.
Tucker became just the second coach to beat Michigan in his first attempt with the Spartans, joining Alabama coach Nick Saban, who did it in 1995. The former Colorado coach started his career as a graduate assistant for Saban at Michigan State in 1997.
“Just to be mentioned in the same breath with coach Saban is humbling for me,” Tucker said. “But it’s more about our players and our staff coming together.”
The Wolverines (1-1, 1-1) were favored to win by 20-plus points and ended up needing a late score to avoid losing by double digits.
Jim Harbaugh’s team never led and didn’t appear to have much energy in front of family and friends in their mostly empty stadium that holds 110,000-plus fans when there isn’t a pandemic.
Running back Hassan Haskins scored on a 2-yard run with 37 seconds left to help Michigan pull within three points. The onside kick was recovered by Michigan State running back Connor Heyward. Lombardi converted a fourth-and-2 from the Michigan 36 with a sneak to seal the victory.
Lombardi completed 17 of 32 passes and Heyward caught two of his TD passes. White, who averaged 24.5 yards on eight receptions against a shaky secondary, also scored on a catch in a breakout performance from a freshman wide receiver.
PLAY OF THE DAY
Late in the first half, a pivotal play helped the Spartans pull off the upset.
Linebacker Antjuan Simmons, playing across the street from where he played in high school, broke up Haskins’ pass in the end zone intended for tight end Carter Selzer.
“He was open,” Haskins acknowledged. “It was my fault. I should’ve put it up a little more.”
The Wolverines settled for a field goal that cut their deficit to 14-10 late in the first half and that cost them four points in a game lost by three.
“I said it last week after the game, that we would be a better team this weekend,” Simmons said. “I meant it.”
Michigan’s Joe Milton was 32 of 51 for 300 yards, ran 12 times for 59 yards and blamed himself for the loss.
“I was thinking too much,” Milton said. “Was too busy with my feet.”
Haskins had eight carries for 56 yards and a TD while Blake Corum ran for two scores.
Michigan State: Tucker’s team bounced back from a seven-turnover setback in last week’s 38-27 loss to Rutgers with a signature win early in his tenure.
“State fans and former players and everyone deserve the brand of football that we were able to show out there,” Tucker said. “Tough, physical, hard-nosed football, team game, unselfish play, guys playing together, guys playing for each other.”
Michigan: Harbaugh has a lot of work to do to turn the team around, especially in the secondary that was picked on early and often by the Spartans.
“They were getting behind our defense and getting the big play,” Harbaugh said. “That was a huge difference in the game.”
BLACK AND BLUE
Michigan, which had many players leave the field with injuries, lost two key players at the same position during the game: linebackers Cam McGrone and Michael Barrett. Offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield, who chose to play after initially opting out, also was hurt late in the fourth quarter.
Harbaugh said doctors did not clear McGrone to return and that Mayfield’s X-rays were negative.
Michigan State plays at Iowa on Saturday.
Michigan plays at No. 17 Indiana on Saturday.