EAST LANSING, Mich. - Willis Barringer has played in two Rose Bowls, but the biggest game of his Michigan career was likely yesterday, here in the heart of the lower peninsula.
The Scott graduate intercepted two passes and had six tackles in the 34-31 overtime win here against rival Michigan State.
Barringer and the rest of the Wolverines had their backs to the wall after losing two of their first four games and seeing their national championship hopes evaporate while their goal of winning a third straight Big Ten title appeared in jeopardy. Facing an unbeaten and ranked Spartans team left Michigan with only one option.
"We knew we couldn't lose this game," the 6-foot, 207-pound redshirt junior free safety said. "We just had to get a win - any kind of win."
The Wolverines got a thrilling, exciting win, aided by Barringer's play at safety where he helped limit the impact of the Big Ten's top-rated passer, Michigan State's Drew Stanton.
Stanton had led the Spartans deep in Michigan territory near the end of the first quarter when Barringer picked off a halfback pass by Jerramy Scott, and the Wolverines used the turnover to start an 11-play, 87-yard scoring drive for a 21-7 lead. He later intercepted Stanton just as the first half came to an end.
"This is a big win for us, a big, big win," Barringer said. "It felt really good to play good. It feels good just to get a win. We never doubted ourselves, we just found fault with ourselves. We're believers now."
Barringer, who made the 10th start of his Michigan career, has appeared in 26 games for the Wolverines. He had a career-high seven tackles at Wisconsin, but said his performance against Stanton and the Spartans was his high point, to date.
"It's nice to get my first two interceptions against Michigan State," Barringer said. "We just wanted to put pressure on Stanton with the defensive line, have our linebackers help out, and have the defensive backs just stay back and zero in on his passes. We followed the plan and it worked."
NO BREASTON: Michigan played without senior wide receiver and kick returner Steve Breaston, who did not dress for the game due to an undisclosed injury.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said Breaston was hurt in the Wisconsin game Sept. 24. The senior from Pittsburgh, who had been expected to inherit the play-maker role for the Michigan offense after Braylon Edwards moved on to the NFL, has hardly raised a stir so far this season.
Breaston has just six catches for a 43 yards. In the loss at Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener, he caught one pass for minus-1 yard.
FIELDS' DAY: Michigan State punter Brandon Fields, a junior from St. John's, averaged 48 yards per kick on his three punts yesterday against Michigan.
Fields, who also served as the holder on the Spartans' extra-point and field-goal kicks, had a long punt of 54 yards and dropped one inside the 20, a 49-yarder in the second quarter that stopped dead at the Michigan 2 yard-line.
CONFIDENCE BUILDER: Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, whose team appeared to be back on its heels after going 2-2 in the first four games of the season and losing its place in the national rankings for the first time in 114 weeks - going back to 1998 - said yesterday's win will help morale, but confidence is a tougher thing to measure.
"Confidence is a funny thing," Carr said. "Just because you're talented doesn't mean you have confidence - it comes and goes. A win like this is big for a team that needed a win, and I don't think there's any question that there is going to be a big boost in our team's morale. Confidence, we'll have to see about that, but I know that the morale is awful important."
BLUE CHIPS: Michigan leads the all-time series 65-28-5 and has won four in a row over the Spartans. ... The crowd of 79,401 was the 10th largest in Spartan Stadium history. ... Michigan has won all four of its overtime games. ... With the win, Michigan earns possession of the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the 32nd time in the 53 years the prize has been contested.