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Michigan checks off rivalry win, continues march toward Columbus

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- It wasn't exactly a dagger that No. 2 Michigan brought to Spartan Stadium, but it was a lot better than a lawn stake.

The Wolverines continued their steady march through the 2016 season Saturday with a 32-23 win over Michigan State. The eighth win of the season checked off another box for head coach Jim Harbaugh, who can now add beating the in-state rival to the list of improvements he has made in Ann Arbor during the last two years.

His team has at last pried itself free of whatever physical and mental headlock Mark Dantonio held on this annual series for eight years. The Spartans kept Michigan from running away with an easy one thanks to two late touchdowns, but don't expect any apologies from Harbaugh for the way his team picked up its first victory in East Lansing since 2007.

Michigan State, courtesy of sophomore running LJ Scott, stayed within a touchdown for the better part of two quarters against the heavily favored Wolverines. Scott ran for 96 yards and a score on his first 13 carries. But Michigan added 10 points in the final 40 seconds of the first half -- aided by a Jourdan Lewis interception to set up a last-second field goal -- and rode that cushion to a victory.

Michigan State's offense ran seven plays inside the 10-yard line on its first possession of the third quarter and came away with zero points. A fourth-quarter jolt from backup quarterback Brian Lewerke put a scare in the maize-and-blue contingent at Spartan Stadium, and Michigan State showed more second-half fight than it has all season, but the goal-line stand more or less made it clear that the talent gap was too large to provide any magic finish for Dantonio's crew this season.

Harbaugh's machine-like offense scored points on six of its first seven drives, flexing the many ways it can put up points this season. Quarterback Wilton Speight connected with seniors Amara Darboh (eight catches, 165 yards) and Jake Butt for big plays downfield. De'Veon Smith churned his way to two touchdowns. Jabrill Peppers added another score from his Wildcat package.

That offense, along with the country's top-ranked scoring defense, appears to be prepared to handle the sideswipes that so often derail promising college football teams. The Wolverines have made quick work of lesser opponents. They didn't flinch in the face of Wisconsin's suffocating defense. This week they showed the ability to plow through the mental hang-up of a rival that has had their number for the past decade -- never more painfully than last year's famous punt-return finale.

During Harbaugh's 18-3 start at Michigan, his team has picked up home wins, road wins, bowl wins, close wins, blowout wins. Now, at last, it has a rivalry win. There's one major notch still left for the belt around those khakis. Dantonio said at the start of this season that the road to a Big Ten championship still had to go through East Lansing. It did, and now the march toward Columbus and Ohio State continues.