2. October 30, 2021
Speaking of games that tricked us into thinking Mel Tucker was going to be the next Nick Saban, Halloween Eve in 2021 might have been the signature win of the ex-coach’s career. While I would love to discount anything he did, Mel Tucker did a fantastic job getting his players ready for this game.
There was adversity early in this game but never let his team put their head down and admit defeat. Did Michigan take their foot off the gas? Did going hurry-up prevent Michigan from stealing signs? Was it just that Michigan State was the tougher team and much like 2020, Michigan just thought they could stroll to a victory while the Spartans dug deeper, hit a little harder, thought a little sharper, and executed when they needed to and didn’t have to appease a freshman five-star quarterback by giving him snaps in a game he had no business being in and essentially cost them the game due his fumble? Who knows, but Tucker was 2-0 against Jim Harbaugh and cemented Kenneth Walker III as the greatest running back to set foot in East Lansing, albeit for only a year.
Every single touchdown he scored in that game had something special to it. The first one, the Michigan defense called the perfect play (how convenient) with a six-man front and had him dead to rights at the line of scrimmage. The problem? Everyone rushed to the spot he was running to, only to have him bounce it outside for a 27-yard touchdown. His second touchdown came of the heels of an incredible fourth-and-1 play where everyone in Spartan Stadium thought Walker was getting the ball only to have Payton Thorne hit Speedy Nailor for a 40-yard gain to the 8-yard line.
What happened next was one of the turning points of the game, while Michigan was getting new players on the field in a mass substitution, MSU decided to keep the same players and run a hurry-up play. It caught Michigan totally off guard with multiple defenders not ready and not even on the correct side of the ball and gave Walker an easy rushing touchdown. It would be another hurry-up touchdown for Walker’s third, only this time it was strength on strength between the offense and defensive lines with Michigan State cutting the lead to eight with a successful 2-point try.
His fourth touchdown also came with a quick snap (sensing a trend here?) on third-and-4 with Walker just beating the defenders to the sideline and leaving them in his dust (mud). The fifth and final touchdown of the game not only gave the Spartans the lead for good but was a microcosm of what Walker’s ability meant to this team. The hole he ran through could not have been much wider than his body, but it was just enough for him to slip through the line of scrimmage and rumble into the endzone. The offensive linemen did not create a whole lot of space and lesser running backs would have turned it into a gain of a few, but Walker just needed a crease to make magic. It was a game with several Heisman moments and for him to be snubbed will forever be a tragedy.