M’s 900th WIN, AND BRADY HOKE’S FIRST WIN OVER MSU IN TWO ATTEMPTS, WAS A DEFENSIVE STRUGGLE RESULTING IN A SATISFYING, EVEN IF NAIL BITING, LAST SECONDS WIN.
The Green and White played somewhat like this was their Bowl Game, and a year- end Bowl for them may now be beyond reach, even if, as Lansing newspapers said, it was their best game of the year. Their options are becoming more limited with every loss.
After rolling into Michigan Stadium expecting to teach the Wolverine’s Football team another lesson in humility as they had the last four years, they got a loss.
Spartan players recently ripped Denard for his lack of success against them using Twitter as their club. Denard has breached 10,000-yards of total career offensive production, but he has had little success against the Spartans, with an average of 3.3-yards gained against them prior to Saturday. Not much for Denard to crow about there, and he hasn’t. In contrast, consistently, the Spartans do not need much ammunition to crow, and they have.
The Wolverines were able to restore some of that concern Saturday in the friendly confines of an energized Michigan Stadium. Seeking a spot representing the Legends Division in the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis, this was a game with bigger meaning than just Michigan/Michigan State bragging rights. It left Michigan’s title quest intact, and destroyed that of an arch competitor by giving the Spartans another Big Ten loss, bringing them to three Big Ten losses, while the Wolverines remain undefeated in the B1G.
STILL A SPECIAL GAME
The pregame hype out of East Lansing this year has been at an unexpected low in comparison to some prior years. Possibly because early season hype regarding visiting the Rose Bowl etc., has evaporated along with MSU’s national ranking as unexpected losses were acquired-Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Iowa. This lack of yak is not the usual pregame stance for Michigan State as on many occasions they have had a tendency to laud their team (talk smack) as much before the game as afterward. When they were usually losing, the smack was always pregame.
Rest assured hard feelings by fans remain on both sides of the ball, and they go back quite a ways and are sincere. It goes back long before this happened, but MSU fans felt spurned and aggravated by Michigan who opposed their entry into the Big Ten in their Biggie Munn era. Michigan fans hated MSU Athletic Director Smith who voted for Ohio State to go to the Rose Bowl after the M/OSU 10-10 tie in the Bo era. Bo threw a magnificent rage that M fans considered righteous indignation. The Spartan’s 1990 tripping of Desmond Howard in the end zone as he attempted to score a late game winning TD facilitated a 27-28 victory over a highly ranked M team, thus igniting M fans in the Moeller era. The 2001 “clockgate” game at Spartan Stadium, enabled another late MSU victory (24-26) in the Carr era that was enabled by homer timer Spartan Bob, who displayed official timekeeper’s deceit.
This competition has been a monument to hotly contested football as much as founded and unfounded billingsgate, but there has been as much bilge as attends some nasty political campaigns, and it is every year, not every four.
Michigan State usually plays well and aggressively in this contest regardless of prior season performances, and they always play hard. Very hard. Sometimes they are a little overly enthusiastic as harmful penalties hurt them. Some consistently rough play results in suspensions. An example was Sparty Gohlston’s week’s suspension last year for punching Wolverine Lewan. His twisting of Denard’s helmet did not draw official wrath, but certainly was not unnoticed by the TV cameras.
Once in a while a Michigan player has gone awry in this game, too. I remember our DE Cecil Pryor kicking a State player who was on the ground at the end of a play many years ago. They correctly threw him out. But the recent stuff has had more Spartan ownership than Wolverine.
No Michigan player or Coach was critical of the style or intensity of Spartan play this year before the game. They just said football was a rough game and said that is why they like to play it.
It is amazing that both the Spartan defensive coach Narduzzi, who lauded the rough play after the game last year, and their head coach, recently publically challenged this year’s officials to stop the rough stuff. Say what? To a Michigan fan this is like Al Capone challenging the Chicago cops to enforce prohibition.
In spite of all these things, or maybe because of them, this is always a special game. Its not Ohio, but its close in intensity. Players and fans often know each other. Coaches are recruiting the same schools and players. Everybody lives with the results for an entire year.
- Would the Wolverines be physically over matched again this year? Actuality: The Wolverines at least matched the Spartan intensity.
- Could the Wolverines keep their cool, and not make jittery mistakes, especially early, as has happened from time to time in Denard’s career? Actuality: For the most part the Wolverines were poised, and they never gave up. In crunch time, they crunched. Denard did toss up a late 2nd Quarter interception.
- Taking an early lead would be of immense value to the Wolverines. Actuality: While they did lead 6 zip at the half, they did not take a significant lead until the last 5 seconds of the game.
- Could they establish an other than Denard running game? Would it be Toussaint or Rawls? Fitz has not been as productive as he was last year. Actuality: As usual, DRob was the leading ground gainer with 96 net yards on 10 carries, and a long of 44. Vincent Smith had one carry. Thomas Rawls did not carry. Fitz Toussaint had 52 net yards on 10 lugs, with a long of 38. M had 52 carries for a net yardage of 163-yards with a 5.1 average.
- Could they stop the run and would the ground game belong to the winner? Actuality: Yes, MSU gained only 112 net yards on 31 carries. L. Bell had 26 for 68 net yards.
- Would the Wolverines have a successful passing game? Actuality: Drew Dileo was outstanding. He made the tough catches when they were needed including the one that enabled the winning field goal. He snagged 4 for 92-yards. This was his most significant game as a Wolverine, and it made Wes Welker comparisons live on. The rest of the receivers caught one or two, including a 22-yarder by Jeremy Gallon. The receivers totaled 14 for 163-yards.
- Most importantly of all, could the Wolverines possess the ball and avoid interceptions, and fumbles? Are they now vaccinated against turn overs? Actuality: Probably not, but the most significant TO of the game was owned by the Spartans as Jordan Kovacs picked one off just as it appeared the Spartans were driving to seal a victory.
- Would special teams contribute? Actuality: When four field goals provide all the scoring in the game and the winning margin special teams have done something right. Will Hagerup hit punts for 218-yards averaging 43.6-yards. Matt Wile had 2 for 77-yards.
- Would the seemingly effective Michigan secondary be able to cover effectively? Actuality: State caught 21 passes for 192-yards, and one TD.
- Could they stop big plays and Sparty trickeration? Actuality: They did not and it almost bit them. Sparty significantly advanced its cause with a gem of fake punt run for 26-yards. At the time it seemed to seal the Wolverines fate, enabling a 90-yard drive.
- Would one of the least loved trophies, the Paul Bunyan, finally return to the warmth of his Ann Arbor home? He is home, and intends to stay awhile.
GAME AND SCORING SUMMARY
The 1st quarter was a defensive standoff and a boring quarter if one was ever invented. The offenses moved with the alacrity of refrigerated molasses.
The second quarter did not yield the expected Wolverine TDs, but fortunately the Wolverines collared a pair of field goals by Gibbons and Wile. Gibbons for 24-yards and Wile (Coach Hoke said he has the stronger leg) for 48-yards.
The half ended M 6-MSU 0, and there was a reasonable expectation that since the Wolverines received to start the half, half time adjustments would get the offense moving and keep the defense effective. Didn’t happen.
The offense stalled and the defense allowed the aggressive Spartans to produce an 80-yard, 10-play drive culminating in a two-yard TD pass. M-6, MSU 7.
The teams traded punches for most of the third quarter with little result.
Suddenly with a couple of minutes left in the third, a dull ball game got interesting, as Michigan began to drive. Jordan Kovacs intercepted an MSU pass to stop what could have been a game winning MSU drive. Instead M got an opportunity. Robinson ran, Roundtree caught a 15-yard pass, and the drive continued into the 4th quarter, finally stalled and Brandon Gibbons hit a 21-yarder and Michigan held a precarious lead 9 to 7.
MSU produced a drive of 8-plays and 90-yards, enabled by the fake field goal, and hit a FG of 21-yards. M-9, MSU 10.
Denard than skittered for 44-yards, and it looked like a score was in the bag. A holding call and an inability to convert a third down attempt added to the drama as M punted at about 3:07.
At the 2:00 mark, M had the ball and began a drive. Vincent Smith had a 12-yard run, MSU contributed a 5-yard off side penalty, Denard ran for a short 1st down, and pass to Fitz Toussaint was completed but he was thrown for a loss, and the drive was stalled, but suddenly the Wolverines had a field goal chance. Brendan Gibbons struck a 38-yarder which angled a little to his right. I wondered at the time if it would be wide right. I had a good look at it as I was standing by the left upright. It was a happy moment when that baby sailed through. After the goal, 5 seconds remained on the clock.
Coach Hoke on execution of the final drive … “You teach those situations, you talk about those situations. I really thought that Denard (Robinson) handled it well. He ran the offense, the other guys hurried back to the line of scrimmage. As far as Drew (Dileo) goes, he isn’t the biggest guy in the world, he’s not the fastest, but I can tell you one thing. Drew Dileo is a football player and he is a tough, little football player.”
I was standing next to former Wolverine center Steve Everett, who was also elated, and I got quite a celebratory bear hug and back slapping there. Like the rest of us Steve was mighty happy to see his Wolverines prevail, but probably more so.
It was a wild finish to what for most of three quarters had been among the dullest offensive games I have seen.
What a beautiful and impressive scene it is from ground level in M Stadium. There are bands blaring on either side, scoreboards loud, activity everywhere, at times it seems to border on bedlam, and a collision sporting competition is in progress. I did not think the old bowl could be improved, but it has been. Even the lights enhance the ambiance.
But the Wolverines have to leave all that behind and travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to try to husk the Huskers. They may not face again this year defense on the level of Alabama, Notre Dame, and Michigan State but all their remaining schedule can bite the Wolverines. Stopping that productive Husker offense will be the next challenge.