The Wolverines confronted the Spartans in refurbished Spartan Stadium for the second straight year due to scheduling vagaries. Last year’s trip ended with an earned MSU victory 26 to 9. This year’s trip ended in a demoralizing loss and did nothing to salvage Brady Hoke’s slumping Michigan Head Coaching Career. Although Coach Hoke would not admit it pregame, this was a red letter game, more than just another rivalry game. It was the most significant game of his career as the Wolverine’s Head Man.
The Wolverines had put themselves in the unenviable position of having to win five straight to salvage a respectable season. After Saturday, they have just four chances left, and chances of winning all four are indeed iffy. When your offense can’t score TDs against defenses with a pulse, you are headed towards the bottom. I think that Devin Gardner played the worst game of his career and I wondered why Shane Morris didn’t get more of a shot late. He got one play.
Although I have supported Devin this past season, partly because he has been physically courageous, it is time to get someone ready for next season, although I don’t know if this staff can look forward to next season. The continuous litany of Gardner errors helps make it impossible to score enough to win. While the offensive line at time provided holes and pass protection they still are not a strongpoint of the team.
At stake this year was more than the unheralded Paul Bunyan trophy, more than bragging rights, or repayment for pranks. Greeted with ho hums in Ann Arbor when then Governor G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams created the four foot trophy in the 1950s, this year it was coveted in Ann Arbor with gusto because the Wolverines were looking for a much needed signature win. The Bunyan was regarded by disdain in 1953 by the M Athletic Department, and they didn’t even engrave it their first two possessions. Michigan State had our wins inscribed when it was in their possession for the first time.
The Spartans have become the dominant college football team in the State of Michigan. After 2007 they have bested the Wolverines 6 times and the Wolverines have managed just 1 win.
So much for the forty years in which the Spartans won only occasionally and then sometimes by questionable means such as the obvious but uncalled tripping of Desmond Howard in the end zone forcing a drop of what would have been winning TD pass, and the “clock-gate” cheating, which they also celebrate. Lately they have been producing real wins again as they did in the fifties and sixties, and they are catching the Buckeyes as major pains in the Wolverine’s tail.
The M team, the coaching staff, and the athletic director were all in need of a signature win, not to mention the fans. This team is still searching for an offensive identity.
The coaching staff, especially Head Coach Brady Hoke, had been held toes to the fire nationwide by the press recently for what some called on field game mismanagement, including the now infamous “concussion-gate” involving QB Shane Morris.
Some were calling for immediate dismissal of both he and AD Brandon, for that and, in Brandon’s case, a feud with the student ticket holders, among other criticisms. Many fans were unhappy with either or both. The disappointing performance of the Wolverines on the field this season has aggravated fan discontent. The Wolverines could not compete Saturday.
Brandon has been making a strenuous effort to allay some concerns. He has developed a system of negotiation with the students, and they showed up en masse for the PSU home game in M Stadium prior to the bye week.
But further image repair is still necessary for both, and that need is aggravated by this loss, much to the enjoyment of MSU fans.
The keys to AD Brandon’s future are in the hands of the new University of Michigan President, Dr. Mark Schlissel, who is studying the situation intensively and thoroughly.
While many fans have had their patience exhausted because of declining fortunes in the win column, and Brady Hoke has been working hard to get himself, and his team out from behind the eight ball, only wins can do that. This Saturday was a prime opportunity to do just that in the Wolverine’s biggest game of the season, and the Wolverines were not competitive. MSU dominated. Consider 446 net yards of offense to Michigan’s 186 net yards of offense. Domination?
SOME PREGAME CONCEPTIONS, MISCONCEPTIONS AND OPINIONS
That Big Ten Champion MSU was the best team in the Big Ten in 2013 was supported by their record of 13 wins, Rose Bowl Championship, and a year-end third place in the final 2013 polls. This is undisputed. They have a magnificent defense again. If not great in all categories this year as last, they were good enough in all categories to lay the Wolverines away.
Spartan QB Connor Cook drove his predecessor Maxwell to the bench, and has continued his outstanding development this year. He had a couple of outstanding jaunts, threw some nice passes and knew when to throw the ball away. Saturday he was the best QB on the field. He’s cooking. Cook was 12 of 22 for 221-yards. He was sacked once and threw no interceptions and a TD.
Spartan running Back Jeremy Langford ran very, very hard, often dragging the pile. Langford ran for 177-yards and scored twice on 35-carries. M’s De’Veon Smith lugged eleven times for 39-yards and a TD, and Justice Hayes did well running and pass blocking.
Several great MSU receivers stirred their offensive soup. Lippert especially, as he caught three for 103-yards, including a 70-yard TD pass. He had an outstanding day.
They have a pair of monster Defensive Ends, Shilique Calhoun, and the appropriately named Marcus Rush, and they were outstanding.
The interior of their defensive line was also outstanding. The back end of the defense clearly missed last year’s Dennard, and this season State had sometimes been subject to successful aerial assault. Not so much against the Wolverines. Their CBs did a nice job of disrupting catches.
While Michigan’s defense outperformed its offensive counterparts, they still gave up a big 70-yard TD pass play, and 28-points (7 points were the result of an MSU interception return). Jake Ryan and Joe Bolden each had 12 tackles.
Michigan’s prime wide outs, Funchess and Darboh both dropped catchable passes. Narrow misses, but misses all the same. Jake Butt caught one for a desperation 1st down, and Freddy Canteen had another for a near TD, confirmed short on review.
It was thought MSU’s blitzing defenses sometimes gave up big plays. Not Saturday.
Spartan special teams this year were not as special as when DeAndrea Cobb zipped downfield, and they seemed more vulnerable than last year. Their FG kicker missed an easy 36-yard FG late in the first half, and M’s Hagerup out punted them all day, producing two 50-yarders. Unfortunately, Hagerup’s average was diminished when his punted ball consistently hit the ground end first, bouncing and rolling back from deeper MSU territory.
The old adage is that the team that rushes best wins this game, as proved in 41 of 44 prior games. And so it proved again.
To win the Wolverines had to conquer that persistent turnover bugaboo. Michigan nearly lead the nation in gifts. They have made them all season long, but have received few in return.
Saturday the Wolverines did get two fumbles. Devin Gardner made up for this advantage, losing one fumble, and a pair of interceptions. One was a thoughtless shovel pass to the Spartans, as he hurried to get rid of the ball. Devin Gardner did not play well enough to win in the biggest game of the year. His throws were often off. He had an erratic game.
The Wolverines had to score multiple TDs to win against State this year. Had to put more than 35 points on the board. Scoring has been a problem against MSU in recently, and has been a Wolverine offensive problem all year, so this was a tall order.
The Wolverines got a consolation TD, which ended the day count by the Green Meanies regarding the amount of time since the Wolverines had scored a TD against them. Always a team sport, Gardner had help losing it. MSU is a good team, but this was a remarkable failure in significant part due to Devin’s gaffs.
BRIEF GAME RECAP
The Blue won the toss, but the Spartans went 75-yards to score, as Langford ran in from the two yard line. A Lippert catch was a key part of the drive, and before Michigan got to touch the ball MSU was on top by seven. MSU’s Greg Frey whacked Devin with his helmet, was called for targeting a hit on Amara Darboh, and was tossed from the game. He walked off the field to roaring approval of the MSU crowd, which he elicited by rising arms like he had made a great play. Gardner then spoiled great field position with a fumble. Michigan held in the red zone. The first quarter ended with Spartans up 7.
In the second quarter, the Wolverines sputtered, but so did the Spartans as they went for an iffy 4th and 7, instead of an available field goal. Subsequently MSU missed the short field goal after losing 13-yards in the red zone. After another M punt, the Wolverines recovered a Spartan fumble as the result of a great Jerrod Wilson hit, which D. Hill recovered on the MSU 31. Matt Wile then connected on a 48-yard field goal, and it was 3-7.
State used the last 3:30 of the first half to stage a 73-yard drive capped by a one yard Langford TD run, establishing another late first half defensive failure. This has become a habit this season. It was 14-3 at the half.
MSU was leading the statistics and score, but the Wolverines were still in the game and had the ball to start the second half. The MSU defense was up to the task. They later collared an errant Gardner throw, and ran it in for a 29-yard TD. Now it was 21-3 in the middle of the third quarter. Hope began to evaporate, and was completely extinguished when Tony Lippert caught a 70-yard Cook TD pass. It was 28-3 at the end of the third quarter. The Wolverines were cooked.
Still the Wolverines battled to the MSU six, but Devin was stopped while attempting a run trying to get a first down on fourth down. He fell inches short of the fourth and five first down, as he was turned around on a great play by the Spartans. I was surprised and disappointed that there was not a measurement.
With just a little more than five minutes on the clock, M recovered a fumble on the Spartan’s thirty-three yard line. Catches by Funchess and Canteen advanced it to one and Smith bulled it in on his second attempt for a TD. His first TD was called back. Canteen had almost scored but he was outside the marker, and a review confirmed he was a yard short of the plane. Devin then threw a short Pass to Jake Butt for two..
The game closed 11 to 35, after MSU drove for another TD.
If it is any consolation, M still leads the series 68-34-6.
There is nothing that can mask the fact that Team 135 is in downward free fall. The fact that they may have difficulty winning any more games this season is apparent. Their best chance seems to be Indiana, but who knows. They do not have an offense that is consistently competitive in the Big Ten.
M’s prime time receivers must be wearing mittens, because they keep dropping key passes. Funchess, Darboh, Norfleet. In fairness, some of the passes are too high, behind, or plain out of reach of receivers. Not as many would be errant if pass receivers would finish their routes every time.
Part of it was MSU’s good play, but part of it is on the receivers, and of course, Gardner. QB Devin Gardner has regressed, and seems to lack confidence. To date, OC Nussmeier has not been an improvement over prior OC Borges. Not in results.
The OL is at best Big Ten ordinary, if that, and will likely not be much better this year.
Rushing was therefore an adventure. Twenty-eight plays for sixty-five yards, and an underwhelming 2.3 average is not good enough. Fifty seven plays for 3.3-yards per carry constituted the total offense. A great job by MSU, not so great by the Wolverines.
Special teams, outside of Wile’s kicking and Hagerup’s punting, did little to help.
I have been watching M football for over 65-years, and this was the most disorganized I have ever seen a Michigan offense.
Inexplicably, the players drove a spike in the ground pre-game which provided more fuel to the MSU fire. This disrespect will be a source of satisfaction to MSU for a long time.
An ABC sideline reporter made a snide, cutesy comment regarding Michigan when talking of Rich Rodriguez’s Arizona Wildcats, saying, in effect that maybe, when searching for a Coach, M should consider er, RR. For shame, ABC!
The swirling winds of discontent and change surrounding Michigan’s football are deservedly reaching gale force, as the offense continues to sink, and the coaches continue to fumble for solutions and can’t find them. It looks like hard work and unity alone cannot solve the problems.
Anyway, whichever way the wind blows, I intend to continue to ….