The college football melee that annually occurs between Michigan’s Wolverines and Michigan State’s Spartans took place Saturday at hostile Spartan Stadium in an evening battle. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the Spartans dominated, and left the Wolverines with several burning issues. Like not being a B1G contender this season, and therefore is the Brady Hoke era headed in the right direction?
As a result of winning, the Spartans were forced to harbor the gigantic Paul Bunyan trophy, an award that pales in comparison to the venerated status of the first college football trophy, The Little Brown Jug. This demonstrates the difference in the aura awarded a trophy instantly created by politicians, as opposed to one that grew out of the fan base over a long time. In any case the PBT will sojourn in East Lansing till next year, whether it wants to or not.
Make no mistake, however, that even if the name of the trophy was not on the lips of the coaches or fans, this game was among the most important of any game that either team will play this season.
With winning this game, a possible shot to represent the Legend’s Division against the Leader’s Division in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis was at stake. The Spartans are now well positioned for such a run. In all probability, the Wolverines now resemble an also ran.
The Spartans looked to skate through the balance of their relatively easy season, if the Wolverines couldn’t best them. The Green Meanies avoid the Buckeyes in regular season, and played the Wolverines at home with outstanding success. Now they may get to play the Buckeyes once, but only if the Wolverines can not help it.
The Spartans were undefeated in the B1G prior to Saturday primarily because of the competence of their defense, and they were on a roll. They still are on a roll, again in large part because of that same over powering defense. Michigan lost a record setting minus 48-yards rushing. Devin Gardner was sacked 7 times, 4 times in the 4th quarter. Devin was 14 of 27 passing for 210-yards, one interception and zero TDs. MSU’s Cook was 18 of 32 for 252-yards, and 2 TDs.
Fitz Toussaint ran 8 times, gaining a net of 22-yards. In his post-game presser Coach Hoke was adamant that the failure of execution extended to other positions than just offensive line, to backs, and tight ends and others also. It surely did, but the offensive line was noteworthy in this respect.
An over the head center snap killed the effect of a couple of first downs, and helped turn the game around in a bad way for Michigan’s offense.
The effort of the Wolverines was considerable and admirable. Devin Gardner took a pounding, but a great effort was there, even if enough blocking was not. After the game, Hoke said that Devin was not injured unless being beat up was an injury.
Jeremy Chesson contributed 3 catches for 82-yards, including a long of 58-yards. Too bad the receivers did not make it into the end zone. Unfortunately none of the catches were carried into the end zone, and the 58-yard Chesson reception to the MSU 22=yard line in the 2nd Quarter only resulted in a 46-yard FG. Jeremy Gallon caught 5 for 67-yards with a long of 35-yards. Gallon had three catches on the opening drive for 57-yards. Devin Funchess had 6 for 65-yards.
When Gardner had time he threw some nice passes and the receiving corps made some outstanding catches. Defensively, Raymon Taylor had 12 tackles with one TFL and one break up. Frank Clark had 9 tackles.
Michigan constantly lost field position because of deep punts by the Spartans. The Wolverines were dominated on special teams, offensively, and on pass defense, but did a good job against the run until late in the game. The Wolverines could not stop slant/crossing patterns. They let out big passing plays, and otherwise let the Spartans dominate the passing statistics.
The Wolverines were out coached in some respects. Early in the game, M was threatening. They were on the MSU 20-yard line with a third and two. They saddled up and attempted a rush. It was a disaster, for a nine yard loss. Was this a good call? There was a notable lack of innovation, after a two week recess.
Later in the game, in the second half, the Wolverines had decent field position due to an interception. Devin was additionally sacked three times. Losses and sacks on three straight plays! Fitz Toussaint was out manned in protection and the OL did not block effectively. This was consistent all game long for the OL, as the running game, or more precisely the lack of it, was reflected in that record setting minus 48-yards rushing.
Pregame, this season the usual insults were hurled, and caught by fans on both sides. This was business as usual, maybe more so. The Spartans are practiced and adept at this activity, especially before the games, often less so afterward. Obviously, this year will be an unavoidable exception to that rule.
This pair’s annual smash ups since the 1970s show the Wolverines winning thirty-two games to the Spartan’s 6. Unfortunately for Wolverines’ fans, lately the Spartans have won five of the last six, with the Wolverines only prevailing by a scary score of twelve to ten last year.
M fans rightfully worried regarding M’s recently remodeled interior offensive line, the Spartans inside blitz, ineffective play calling, turn overs, toughness, pass defense, and inability to win consistently away from home. As it turned out, these issues all remain.
In spite of an overall 6-1 record and a conference record of 2 -1, Team 134 had not grabbed an identity. They had been winning somewhat ugly, and now the angst continues, will build. The pass defense stepped into the shadows against Indiana’s prolific passing game. And fell deeper into the shadows Saturday, against MSU. An unfortunate identity is beginning to emerge.
Of course, some M fans had their doubts pregame, as to how tough the Spartan defense really was. We questioned the efficiency of a Spartan offense that also had struggled to score points against some lesser competition. M had scored 297 points to MSU’s 239 this season. The Spartan’s performance Saturday on both offense and defense erased most doubt.
All in all it looked like the Wolverines had their work cut out for them, and it proved out that they did.
M lost the toss and received. Jeremy Gallon caught a nifty 35–yard pass on the opening play of the game. This was one of Jeremy’s three receptions on this 54-yard drive. Matt Wile scored on a 49-yard FG. M-3, MSU-0.
MSU got three of their own on after a big 49-yard catch and run on MSU’s first pass play. A field goal tied it at 3-3. MSU hit another FG to make it 3-6 going into the 2nd quarter.
Now it was raining on everyone’s parade as the teams traded punts with Michigan finally scoring on a 57-yard drive that featured a leaping Jeremy Chesson catching a 48-yard pass. Brandon Gibbons then hit a very lucky FG. The ball bounced off the right upright for three, after traveling 39-yards. It was tied at 6-6 at 3:22 left in the second.
Next came the Spartan effort that was a key to the game. They went 75-yards for six, ending with a fourteen-yard TD pass and it was M-6, MSU-13 with 23-seconds left in the second quarter. This was back breaker, in view of the Spartans tough defense.
The field position battle which M was losing would continue in earnest into the second half.
MSU received and had to punt four times time, each time improving their field position. Michigan was practicing punting,too.
Finally Ramon Taylor improved field position with an interception, and sprinted 18-yards to the MSU 41-yard line. Now M had some field position. But Gardner was sacked for three consecutive plays. Nothing innovative for the Wolverines offense in that possession, and it was perhaps the final straw, as M had to punt, and a golden opportunity to score was wasted. MSU executed and M didn’t.
MSU did not pass up the ensuing opportunity, but passed 44-yards, and plunged 1-yard to pay dirt. M’s Willie Henry blocked the extra point. M-6, MSU-22.
Michigan then moved the football, but a late interception ended their threat to score. MSU quickly stuck up another on a late TD scamper for six after a 97-yard drive. Final M-6, MSU-29.
Not since the sixties have I seen a Wolverine football team beaten this soundly by Michigan State. There is nothing worse than seeing Coach “Happy”, happy. He and the Green Meanies earned a perfect right this time.
M’s coaches have much work to do. And a little soul searching ought to go with it, as they, team and coaches, have not been able to match their often proclaimed goal of being a physically dominating football team this season, to be a team which can run the football, and utilize the pro set to advantage. They simply have not met those goals. The offense is not improving and the pass defense remains problematic.
Tough loses engender team dissension. The Captains will have to cut that kind of stuff off at the pass. Last Saturday’s game measured the Wolverine’s physical toughness. Next Saturday’s will measure their mental state as well.
Next week is another tough competition, as the Corn Huskers invade M Stadium. We will see whether there is a hangover from Saturday, or will, they just come out mad. It will be an interesting match up.
In any event, win or lose, it is forever good to be Blue.