EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — No. 2 Michigan put together perhaps its most complete performance of its unbeaten season, and still wasn’t satisfied.
J.J. McCarthy threw three of his career-high four touchdown passes in the first half and the second-ranked Wolverines routed Michigan State 49-0 on Saturday night.
“We’re not even close to our peak yet,” McCarthy said.
The Wolverines (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) have won a school-record 20 consecutive conference games since losing at Michigan State nearly two years ago.
The latest lopsided win happened just days after it was disclosed Michigan is under NCAA investigation for allegedly stealing the play-calling signals used by opponents. Coach Jim Harbaugh served a three-game suspension to start the season as part of self-imposed penalties for NCAA recruiting infractions.
“People don’t like to see people be successful,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a target, yeah. Everybody has pointed that out from the beginning of the season, but our guys are very focused.”
The Wolverines were dominant from the start and didn’t let up, predictably a year after the Spartans roughed up some of their rivals in the Michigan Stadium tunnel.
Instead of kneeling to run out the clock, quarterback Alex Orji ran 6 yards for a touchdown with eight seconds left.
Michigan State (2-5, 0-4) has lost five straight games since former coach Mel Tucker was suspended and later fired for acknowledging he had having consensual phone sex with a vendor, who is a sexual assault activist and rape survivor.
Does interim coach Harlon Barnet think his reeling team hit the lowest point of the season?
“It might be,” he said. “I thought it was last week.”
McCarthy and Co. didn’t waste much time taking control.
He directed a game-opening, 12-play, 84-yard drive that took more than six minutes and was capped by Blake Corum’s 13th rushing touchdown of the season.
McCarthy followed up with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Roman Wilson, his 10th score this season, in the first quarter and a pair of 22-yard touchdown passes to tight end Colston Loveland in the second quarter.
The Wolverines led 28-0 after two quarters, their largest lead in the series at halftime since going ahead by the same score in 1947.
McCarthy threw his fourth touchdown pass to A.J. Barner midway through the third quarter and with a 42-0 lead, he was mercifully taken out of the game.
The dynamic quarterback finished 21 of 27 for 287 yards with four touchdowns and no turnovers. Barner, a transfer from Indiana, set career highs with eight catches and 99 yards receiving. Loveland was just short of career highs, making four receptions for 79 yards.
Michigan State appeared to make adjustments on offense to counter potential intelligence gathered by its rival.
Reserve quarterback Andrew Schorfhaar left the sideline and went onto the field to tell Katin Houser the play to run in the first half. The Spartans reverted to signaling calls to the offense with two staffers on the sideline in the second half.
“There are some teams in our league that are pretty good doing it, getting the signals which is all part of it, which is legal,” Barnett said.
Nothing worked for the slumping Spartans.
Houser was 12 of 22 for 101 yards with an interception, which was returned 72 yards by Mike Sainristil for his second pick-6 this season.
“We got our butts kicked,” Barnett said.
Michigan: McCarthy added to his Heisman Trophy bid, playing nearly flawless as he has much of the year. Coach Jim Harbaugh, a former star quarterback at the school, said McCarthy is on pace to being the best under center in school history and he has the numbers to back it up.
Michigan State: Just when it looked like a miserable season could not get worse, Michigan State showed Adolf Hitler’s image as part of a pregame quiz on videoboards before the game. In the second half of the game, a school spokesman apologized for the inappropriate content provided by an outside source.
Michigan will likely stay at No. 2 in the AP Top 25.
Michigan: Hosts Purdue on Nov. 4.
Michigan State: At Minnesota on Saturday.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll