Photo courtesy of Michigan State athletics
For schools with nicknames of Trojans and Spartans, contests of USC and Michigan State should be ones of epic proportion. The teams will soon become conference foes in the Big Ten, but in 1987, they met in the Rose Bowl.
Prior to meeting in Pasadena to close the season, the teams met in East Lansing to open the season. That contest came on this day 35 years ago with Michigan State winning 27-13.
Setting the Stage
Michigan State was unranked and coming off a 6-5 season and it arrived for the opener at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 7, 1987. In its fifth season under head coach George Perles, the Spartans had lost at least five games in each of their previous eight seasons.
USC head coach Larry Smith was just beginning his tenure in Southern California. Coming off a 7-5 season, USC arrived for the Labor Day contest ranked No. 19.
Michigan State Dominates on the Ground
The contest was hardly a thing of beauty as the teams combined for seven turnovers, but when it came to ground game, Michigan State dominated. The Spartans rushed for 238 yards to just 61 for USC. USC did hold the edge in total yardage.
Michigan State opened both halves with touchdowns. Lorenzo White led the way with 111 yards and two touchdowns. To cap an 84-yard drive to open the second half, Bobby McAllister scored on a 9-yard keeper.
What had been a 10-6 contest at halftime had become a 27-6 lead for Michigan State late. USC finally found the end zone when Kevin McLean found Randy Tanner for a 26-yard touchdown with less than five minutes remaining.
The Sports Notebook
With the victory, Michigan State moved into the top 20 but dropped consecutive contests against top-10 teams in Notre Dame and Florida State. The Spartans would circle the wagons by going undefeated in Big Ten play with a tie against Illinois being the only non-victory.
USC wouldn’t be ranked again for the remainder of the regular season, but closed it on a 4-game winning streak. That included a victory over No. 5 UCLA in the regular season finale to win the Pac-10 and earn a spot in the Rose Bowl.
In the Rose Bowl, the Trojans and Spartans would meet again. The contest was closer this time around but a late field goal for Michigan State and fumble by USC allowed the Spartans to escape with a 20-17 victory.
Both teams finished in the top 20. Michigan State finished eighth at 9-2-1. USC finished No. 18 at 8-4.
Before the teams met in Pasadena on New Year’s Day, they opened the year in East Lansing on Labor Day. That matchup came on this day 35 years ago.