Squinting against the late-afternoon sun, Coach Hugh Daugherty stood on the sidelines of the Michigan State practice field at East Lansing last week and gravely watched his team work on a defense for the passes that the University of Michigan was expected to throw against them on Saturday. A reporter sidled up and asked a cautious question about Michigan's offense and about their magnificent end, Ron Kramer. Daugherty praised the Michigan attack and lauded Kramer. "But what you've got to remember," he added quietly, "is Michigan's defense. They keep the pressure right on you. And when they get an opening they really hurt you."
Daugherty had spoken better than he knew. Against hopped-up State last Saturday, Michigan's best offense was its defense. Making its own breaks, Michigan deftly turned an intercepted pass and a blocked kick into two touchdowns, dug in to stop two drives within its five-yard line, and won 14-7. For Daugherty, the loss was especially bitter. His Spartans went into the game as 13-point underdogs, came out with a solid lead in statistics that was meaningless, of course, but exasperating nonetheless.
State was the first Big Ten game for Michigan, and 97,000 fans packed every seat in mammoth Michigan University Stadium at Ann Arbor to see if Coach Bennie Oosterbaan's Wolverines were as good as the experts said. The day belonged to football. Before the game, in the bustling Student Union Building, only a handful of old grads and students bothered to watch the World Series on television. Outside, the trees were flecked with orange and yellow. Somewhere a pile of leaves was burning. Scattered about the campus were big hand-lettered signs reading: CREAM MOO U, a slighting reference to State's beginnings as a school of agriculture.
Walking along State Street to the stadium, Michigan students and their dates held hands and shouted genial challenges to every car with State banners that drove by. Over the years the students of the two schools have built up a restless rivalry. Usually the rivalry has led to pregame raids on each campus, but this year no statues were painted and no trophies disappeared from either Ann Arbor or East Lansing. Instead the Michigan students stayed home and whooped it up with a pep rally on Friday night that started innocuously enough with a few cheers and a bonfire and then suddenly exploded into a full-scale, shouting panty raid on the girls' dormitories.
But Saturday afternoon the panties were forgotten. Here was big-time college football at its best—two evenly-matched teams blocking and tackling with the rib-rattling ferocity that has made the Big Ten the most awesome conference in the nation. At Michigan, Coach Bennie Oosterbaan had built a team with enough power and speed to go into the season as the conference favorite, in part because of the presence of his kicker and pass-catcher, End Ron Kramer, who even the cautious Oosterbaan admits has virtually unlimited possibilities. For Michigan, Hugh Daugherty had State sky-high. "Our boys wanted to win this one more than any other," he said after the game. "We came down here expecting to win." As a sendoff, State's President John A. Hannah, a rabid football fan, dropped by the practice field to say a few words to the team.
When the 97,000 stood for the kick-off, State was wound spring-tight. Halfback Walt Kowalczyk grabbed Kramer's kick on the eight, found an opening on the right side of the charging Michigan team and darted to the State 37. Running out of the T and single wing behind an unbalanced line to the right, State ground out a first down and pushed into Michigan territory. Then, suddenly, with the ball on the Michigan 49, State made one of the two mistakes that lost the game. Spartan Quarterback Earl Morrall faded to pass, drifted to his left and threw. The ball was picked off in the flat by Michigan Halfback Tony Branoff, who sprinted down the sideline, then veered in to pick up a blocker and was caught from behind on the State 20.
Swiftly, Michigan capitalized on the interception. Fullback Lou Baldacci and Halfback Branoff took turns making yardage. State shifted into an eight-man line, but it was not enough. From the one, Branoff finally sliced inside Kramer to score. On the point after touchdown, Kramer carefully placed a yellow tee, waited for the snap with his head down and then stepped into the ball with a sharp, deft kick that was perfect. On the sidelines the Michigan cheerleaders bowed in homage.
Minutes later, the Spartans got a break in their turn but, unlike Michigan, they were unable to turn it into a touchdown. On third down Clarence Peaks, State's fine left halfback, dropped back a step before the ball was snapped and quick-kicked from his own 18. Michigan Halfback Terry Barr caught up with the ball on the 29-yard line and promptly was thrown back to the 27.
On the next play State recovered a Wolverine fumble. Quickly, State drove to the five, while half of the stadium exploded with delight. The Spartan band stood up and waved on its team. Then came the key defense play of the game: Peaks streaked for right end but never got there. Ron Kramer sliced into the State backfield and dumped him back on the nine for a four-yard loss. The roar from State's fans flicked off as though a switch had been thrown. State's band sat down. On the next play Quarterback Morrall dropped back to pass and then decided to run. For one tantalizing second it looked as though he would make it, but he was stopped on the three. Michigan took over on downs. At the half it was 7-0 Michigan.