Michigan State football

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Ranking top 5 individual Michigan State football performances vs. Michigan since 2000

Since 2000, what have been the best performances of any Michigan State football player against rival Michigan?

What makes an individual performance legendary? In the Michigan State football program, it’s putting up career numbers in a rivalry game.

In honor of Hate Week, I’m going to rank my top five individual performances by Spartans against the Wolverines since 2000.

Why since 2000 and not further back? Because my earliest memories as a Michigan State fan really go back to the early-2000s — sue me.

Before we get into the top five, here are my honorable mentions:

  • Javon Ringer 2008 (194 rushing yards, 2 TDs)
  • Antjuan Simmons 2020 (11 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups)
  • David Dowell 2017 (2 interceptions, 7 tackles)
  • Aaron Burbridge 2015 (9 catches, 132 yards)
  • Edwin Baker 2010 & 2011 (314 rushing yards combined, 2 TDs)

Now let’s get on to the top five, starting with No. 5.

5. Jeremy Langford 2014 (177 yards, 3 TDs)

Watching Jeremy Langford run wild in big games was a thing of beauty. He had some of his best performances against top teams and rivals. That included the 2014 blowout of the mediocre Wolverines when he had 177 yards and three touchdowns which included a final score with 28 seconds left as Mark Dantonio wanted to drive a stake through Michigan after they drove one into the field before the game.

Honestly, you could probably throw Langford’s 2013 performance against Michigan in here, too, as he rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown.

4. Ricky White 2020 (8 catches, 196 yards, 1 TD)

While this season doesn’t really deserve to be remembered or celebrated, this performance certainly does.

Ricky White went into the Michigan game as a true freshman with one career reception for five yards against Rutgers and proceeded to put up eight catches for 196 yards and a touchdown to shock the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Michigan State was near-30-point underdogs in this one and the Rocky Lombardi-to-Ricky White connection was unstoppable. No, that’s not a typo.

3. TJ Duckett 2001 (230 all-purpose yards, 2 TDs)

Don’t let Michigan fans tell you that the clock should have ran out. This was a fantastic game for TJ Duckett and the Spartans. Sure, that final second lasted an eternity, but it is what it is.

Jeff Smoker clocked the ball with a second left and found Duckett for the game-winning score with no time on the clock. People remember that play — which was legendary — but forget that Duckett had 211 rushing yards and another touchdown that game. This was an all-around elite performance from Duckett.

2. The entire 2013 defense

Devin Gardner still wakes up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night thinking about this game. Instead of monsters, he sees Shilique Calhoun, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, Darqueze Dennard, and Marcus Rush in his nightmares. These guys made Gardner part of the Spartan Stadium turf that day.

Gardner finished the game with -46 rushing yards and the team, as a whole, had -48 rushing yards. That Michigan State defense was just straight filthy and it was nearly impossible to choose one standout from this game. They were all good.

1. Kenneth Walker III 2021 (197 yards, 5 TDs)

Michigan State doesn’t beat Michigan in 2021 without Kenneth Walker III. It’s really that simple.

When I think of legendary performances by Michigan State football players against Michigan, this is always going to be the first one that comes to mind. I know some pre-2000 experts will say the Plaxico Burress game in 1999, but I think that what Walker did will never be replicated.

Down 30-14 and with the game looking out of reach, Walker really put the team on his back and scored five touchdowns to lead the team to a 37-33 comeback win in East Lansing.

Best atmosphere I can remember at a Michigan State football game. And best finish since the Kirk Cousins Hail Mary vs. Wisconsin or fake field goal vs. Notre Dame.

All-around epic individual performance and elite game.