By Andy Andersen
Saturday the Michigan State Spartans’ defense overwhelmed the Denard Robinson led Wolverine offense to notch their fourth straight victory over the Wolverines, and to notch Brady Hoke’s first loss as the Wolverine head football coach.
We should not be over eager to condemn Denard Robinson. The 7 sacks the Wolverines endured indicates that it was not the best game that the offensive line has had this year, although it is perplexing that Denard could not get rid of the ball more than he did.
The two ESPN announcers did continuously criticize Denard though out their game broadcast. Chris Spielman especially grated. Urban Meyer criticized Brady Hoke’s play calling to an unusual degree, much more than announcers criticized Meyer when the Chad Henne led Wolverines lambasted his Gators at the Capitol One Bowl four years ago. They are not unbiased auditors.
Meyer also criticized the use of Devin Gardner in some key possessions, viewing that as a sort of problem or punishment for Denard. Devin has been built into the game plan for several games. Hoke knows his team better than Meyer, but when you are losing the flood gates of criticism open. To be fair, some of Meyer’s comments were on point. His knowledge of the game can’t be questioned, but he has to develop as an announcer.
While it was admittedly not Denard’s day, and some passes were high or wide, and high and wide, the persistent pressure that the offensive line could not handle finally wrote doom for Michigan’s hopes in Spartan Stadium. Usually rushed, Michigan’s mistakes did not help, and could not be overcome by the many cheap personal fouls and other penalties that the undisciplined Spartans perpetrated. They were called for five personal fouls, and 13 penalties overall. In this respect, they do not look like championship material, notwithstanding their quality defense.
Denard threw a key late game interception. Returned for a TD, that errant toss ended Michigan’s fourth quarter comeback attempt that was building, by making the score of 14-28. The comeback attempt had included a Denard pass over the middle to Roy Roundtree for a TD to make it 21 to 14 early in the fourth quarter. Roy made an outstanding run turning a short pass into points by evading the coverage, and hauling 34-yards. He had 4 catches for 66-yards.
The sometimes amazingly classless Spartans almost lost the capping TD on the interception by taunting Denard, but the sometimes amazingly classless refs chose to ignore it. It was taunting, it was a foul, it was against the new taunting rule, and should have been called, but the loss did not hinge on that.
According to Coach Hoke the Wolverines were outplayed and outcoached. Coach Hoke : “First of all, give Mark and his staff credit. He outcoached us and outplayed us, and we have to do a much better job in a lot of different ways. Our kids fought and (I) thought they responded well. I don’t think they ever thought they were going to lose the game until the game was over.”
Late in the game, before the Spartan thirty-nine yard interception return, Robinson was sacked on a fourth and one, with the play originating on the Spartan nine. This play seemed a mistaken call as he had engineered a first down on fourth and one previously in the drive by his usual shifty running. The play surprisingly was a play action pass try, instead of a Denard run. That one hurt. Really hurt. Brady defended the Al Borges call, citing previous instances when it had worked.
Coach Hoke on Robinson’s play: He made some things happen and he always plays with a lot of energy. I don’t know what he saw on the interception but I thought he held in there. Our kids prepared well all week. We had the two penalties in the first half for delay of game and those are just communication things we have to do a better job with. I think there was more competition probably at the line of scrimmage with receivers getting off, and obviously he saw a lot of pressure.”
The Wolverines defense recovered a pair of second half fumbles, but put no points on the board because of them, to the credit of the Spartans tough defense.
For the game the M defense got some key stops, and forced two fumbles (JT Floyd, and a strip by T. Gordon). Kovacs and Morgan recovered. Roh had 2 TFLs, but the Spartans managed 213-yards on the ground. Again the dominant rushing team won the game. Obviously there is still work to do by Coach Mattison’s charges.
On a late game late hit, which correctly resulted in a fifteen- yard penalty, Denard was shaken up and had to leave the game. He was replaced by Devin Gardner. Devin had a TD pass correctly called back because he was past the LOS. On a fourth and twenty-one , the last Wolverine offensive possession ended in futility on a bizarre Gardner keeper. He ran right, reversed and lost ground, came back right, but was collared short of a first down, and could not locate a wide open receiver downfield. And that was it for the Wolverines offensively. Coach Hoke on playing Devin: “We thought we may do some of it and part of it that pushed it over a little more was the wind. I think Devin at times can throw the ball a little more accurately.”
Neither quarterback fared well against the Spartans defense. DRob suffered a bad passing day, going 9 of 24 for 123-yards, and a TD and an interception. In the rushing category, he was held to 42-yards on 18 carries, with a long of 15-yards, and a TD. The running backs did not contribute much. Devin was 3 of 7 for 37-yards, but fumbled at a critical time and missed finding a wide open Stephan Hopkins for a TD to tie. The Wolverines were just 3 of 15 in first down conversions.
The scoring went like this. Michigan received and drove 80-yards in ten plays to score on a 15-yard Denard run. The drive included a Vincent Smith run for 26-yards, and a three-yard Drew Dileo run for a first down on a fake punt.
Michigan State immediately answered with a long drive of their own.
The first half ended tied at 7-7. Some thought that since M had been a second half team, things were looking Maize and Blue.
The Spartans took control of the game after receiving the KO, marching only 54-yards on the wheels of E. Baker and the arm of Cousins. A faulty M squib KO set up the shorter field situation. M-7, MSU-14.
State added to its lead, mostly on Cousins arm. M-7, MSU-21. It was getting to be a dismal afternoon. Then some M lightning struck. Denard hit Roundtree who scampered 34-yards for a TD and it was now 14-21 and hope is restored. Well, a little bit restored anyway.
Floyd forced a fumble, Kovacs recovered and hope soared. But Denard was sacked twice, and they gave up the ball on downs on 4th and 1 attempting to execute the play action pass already described. Stunning call, stunning defense. Later Denard threw an interception that was returned for a score, and the Wolverines best chances were foreclosed for good, although they did not quit. Final: M-14, MSU-28.
Before the game some were wondering if the bye week would benefit MSU. Ans: It appeared that it did, as they were ready for everything, especially defensively. Would MSU resort to trickeration? Ans: No, M did. Drew Dileo, the place kick holder, ran to supply a critical first down. Would the somewhat suspect Spartan OL perform well enough to win? Ans: Yes. Would Ricky Barnum play? Ans: No. Would the Spartans Martin dominate with KO run backs? No, he dominated with two receiving TDs.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that after the count-down clock, re-emphasis on the importance of this game, and with the top spot in the Legends Division at stake, Michigan simply did not have the wherewithal to beat the Spartans at Spartan Stadium. The Wolverines were beaten by a team with a markedly better defense, and a little better offense on this day. Coach Hoke on losing to Michigan State four years in a row: “Not good. I think they did what we thought they were going to do. They came out and pounded us with the football. They were the better team today. You have to give them some credit; we didn’t do exactly all the things we needed to do.”
I would not bet that this is going to carry over to a chain of losses in the Big Ten as in the prior three years. They are a tougher team than that on all levels. Put that Genie back in the bottle, cap it, and seal it.
The real measure of this team, I said before this game, was not how they played Saturday, or if they won or lost, but how they reacted to their first loss when it came. Hopefully, they will not make a little foul water over the dam into a roaring waterfall.
Now we will see what Brady Hoke and company are all about in their first real adversity this season. The team and coaches, will have plenty of time to think about it, and prepare for Purdue as a most welcome bye week is next.