Oct. 15, 2011
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
Michigan State running back Edwin Baker went into Saturday's game against Michigan as an interdisciplinary studies in social science - human capital and society - major.
However, he made significant progress toward a history degree as well Saturday after rushing for 167 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries in MSU's 28-14 thrashing of the Wolverines in Spartan Stadium.
Baker knew going in that the winner of this game also had superior rushing statistics in 38 of the previous 41 meetings.
"Most definitely," he said.
Baker also knew that Michigan State's body of work didn't support a prediction that the Spartans would be the ones to make it 39 out of 42.
Michigan led the Big Ten in rushing with 257 yards per game and a hefty 6.3 yards per carry while MSU was 10th with 128.8-yard average and just 3.4 yards per carry.
Nevertheless, Baker, who had high expectations for his junior season after running for 1,201 yards last year, never lost faith even though he failed to pick up more than 50 yards in the previous four games behind a young offensive line dealing with injuries, inexperience and position switches.
"I felt it coming all week," Baker said. "Just seeing (the linemen) practice, I knew it was going to be a great week. I always pride myself on us on running the ball and being able to execute the running game and we did that today. The credit goes all to my offensive line.
"I never stopped believing in them. I told them, all I need is a crease and I'm going to do something with it, and they were able to give me that. We knew we were going to be able to run the football, keep getting yards and keep running down the clock. The offensive line kept fighting."
After Michigan scored a touchdown on the opening series, Baker ripped off runs of 21, 12 and 12 yards on the ensuing possession to set up his own 1-yard equalizer.
Baker got the second half started an 11-yard gain from the MSU 46-yard line and his 25-yarder to the U-M 7 to set up Kirk Cousins' 10-yard touchdown pass to Keshawn Martin. The series featured six rushes, three passes and one completion, and the Spartans led the rest of the way.
An even higher premium was placed on being able to move the ball close to the ground because a swirling wind, with gusts of up for 40 mph, was blowing overhead, primarily from the north-to-south end zones.
Baker, who had been averaging a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, picked up 6.4 every time he touched the ball against the Wolverines. And if not for a third-quarter fumble, Baker's numbers would have been astronomical.
On first-and-10 at the Michigan State 20, Baker swept around right end and was breaking for open field and looking to deliver a fatal blow to Michigan's hopes. However, U-M linebacker Desmond Gordon made a desperate lunge that knocked the ball out of Baker's hand.
Instead of an 80-yard touchdown, Baker was credited with a 21-yard gain and a turnover.
"I saw the end zone, tried to hit another gear and lowered my arm," said Baker, who fell 16 yards short of his career-best. "(Gordon) made a great play. I was just getting ready to open up my stride and that's when the ball came out."
Even the Michigan players had to tip their hats to MSU's offense.
"I think they did what they thought they were going to do," said Wolverines safety Jordan Kovacs. "They came out and pounded us with the football. They were the better team today."
Meantime, MSU's nation-leading defense did its part to preserve the statistical trend by holding the Wolverines to 82 rushing yards. Denard Robinson, the U-M quarterback, ran for just 42 yards -- 78 below his Big Ten-leading average and his lowest total in 20 starts.
Coupling an effective rushing attack with a stingy defense would bode well for MSU's aspirations to stay atop the Legends Division for the rest of the season.
"I wouldn't say it was frustration, but it was tough at times knowing that I'm better than what I'm showing," Baker said. "I've been waiting for a game like this to showcase what I can do and show that last year wasn't a fluke.
"I don't think my running ability had anything to do with it. We had problems with the offensive line and things like that, but when our offensive line does great, like it did today, I'm going to play great. With this win, our offensive line is going to just keep getting stronger and things are going to happen."
Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar has been waiting for a breakout game from one of MSU's backs, and Baker was the first back to crack the 100-yard barrier this season.
"I thought he ran with a lot of passion and determination," Roushar said. "I was very impressed with the way he was taking it in there. Those are the things we've expected form him. You have to give a lot of credit to our offensive line and (fullback) Todd Anderson in front of (Baker) did a terrific job as well.
"We've outrushed (Michigan) each and every year so far, and we'd like to continue to be able to do that. I think our kids had a lot of determination, a great attitude and great mind-set. They came off the field after the first series and talked to (offensive line coach) Mark Staten and said, `Hey coach, run the football.' That affirmed what we thought."
The Spartans are 4-1 against Michigan since Mark Dantonio took over as head coach, but Baker was also quick to point out that MSU has beaten the Wolverines in four straight for the first times since 1962.
"Being able to do that, and being a part of history, is a great feeling," he said.
Maybe Baker should consider a double-major.