ANN ARBOR — Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio waltzed into Michigan Stadium Saturday morning with an 8-4 record against the Wolverines.
From 2008 to 2015, Dantonio’s Spartans won seven-of-eight games in the in-state rivalry — including five wins by two possessions or more.
Before the victory in 2008 that ended a six-game streak for the maize and blue, Michigan State totaled eight wins in the rivalry since 1978.
But during that eight-year span and the majority of this past decade, Dantonio & Co. unarguably owned Michigan.
However, in a 44-10 rout of the Spartans at home on Saturday afternoon, fifth-year head coach Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines flipped the script in the rivalry’s final game of the decade.
Michigan didn’t dominate from the jump.
In fact, it seemed that this would be another classic football game between a Harbaugh-led Wolverines team versus a Dantonio-led Spartans team when MSU took a touchdown lead with 1:48 left in the first quarter.
The Spartans were moving the ball offensively despite being down multiple offensive lineman and offensive weapons. Meanwhile, U-M’s offense was struggling to move the ball at a consistent rate.
For a chunk of Dantonio’s reign over the state, the Spartans’ defense was known for their “no-fly zone” pass defense. Only once in Dantonio’s tenure had his defense allowed U-M to score more than 30 points.
In the first quarter, that narrative looked to stay constant as Michigan’s senior quarterback Shea Patterson started off 3-of-8 for 39 yards.
Then the script flipped.
Following MSU’s sole touchdown score, Patterson went on a run of 11-of-13 passing for 143 yards and a touchdown, playing an integral role in a 17-7 halftime lead for U-M.
Patterson would ride that second-quarter momentum all the way to the finish line, totaling a career-high 384 yards passing and four touchdowns — breaking former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady’s school record for passing yards against Michigan State.
On top of Patterson’s career day, the defense (two interceptions, three sacks, five tackles for loss) and special teams (blocked punt) would attribute to the second-largest margin of victory in the rivalry since 1983, when Michigan won 42-0.
The final score and Saturday’s domination, for now, seems to be a culmination of what’s to come in this annual matchup. Which is now completely different than what it’s been dating back to 2008.
This rivalry changed when Dantonio arrived in East Lansing in 2007.
It became more personal for the in-state guys on both teams. It became more physical, petty and most of all, about running around the football field hoisting the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
Before Dantonio, it was Michigan’s game to lose, though it rarely did, and Paul Bunyan waited for the winning team in the locker room.
However, since Dantonio ordered his Spartans team to waltz around the Big House lofting the three-feet tall monstrosity of a trophy in 2008, celebrating with the trophy on the field has since become a staple.
Before Harbaugh’s arrival at Michigan, Dantonio took the Spartans to new heights, having a winning record in six consecutive seasons and totaling more than 10 wins four-out-of-five years in a row. He had a 6-2 record against the Wolverines.
However, since Harbaugh’s arrival, Michigan State has records of 3-9 & 7-6 and currently sits at 4-6 in 2019. He has a losing record of 2-3 against Harbaugh.
Michigan won its second consecutive game in the rivalry for the first time in 12 years on Saturday afternoon. Its senior class finished 3-1 against Michigan State. And Harbaugh now possesses the lead on Dantonio, 3-2.
It won with style and seemingly with ease, scoring at will in the second half.
And as the Wolverines danced around its own stadium, lofting Mr. Bunyan with the crowd as the Spartans did 11 years ago, U-M is two wins away from a fourth 10-win season in five years under Harbaugh.
Meanwhile, the Spartans walked off needing to win out just to hold on to bowl eligibility.
Two programs on vastly different trajectories in the same state and in a blood-thirsty rivalry, Michigan and Michigan State will remain fun to watch year in and year out.
But as a new decade embarks in January, Harbaugh and his Wolverines have flipped the script on an age-old rivalry, snatching back the momentum it carried for 30 years prior to 2008.