MICHIGAN FOOTBALL 2018-The TEAM, THE TEAM, THE TEAM SUBDUES MSU 21-7

On Saturday, it was that big game time of year again. For the Wolverines it was one of their best victories in a long time any way you look at it.  A big one against MSU on their football field constituted a “significant’ win over a ranked team.  This win provided much personal satisfaction to most Michigan Fans.

It gets personal, does this game.

So did the weather.

The game weather was remarkably fickle, quickly changing from warm to cold, blue sky to clouds, calm winds to gusty, rain to sleet to snow, and back and forth.

Even so, the weather couldn’t inhibit  a great M win, and neither could the Spartans.  17 prior M losses to ranked opponents in away games didn’t become 18.

ALMOST EVERYONE FROM THE STATE OF MICHIGAN HAS SOME KIND OF STAKE IN THIS GAME, having a relative, friend, neighbor, co-worker, brother, sister, Grandparent, or acquaintance that supports one side or the other.

Some of my growing up occurred in the Lansing area, and I lived there for years after. I had a much older brother while growing up, that bled Green and White. Truth be told that is was a reason, among many others, that I chose to become a Wolverine. Just contrary I guess, but win, lose, or draw I have been as happy with my decision, as my brother was with his decision.

Living in this area, it is easy to recognize the depth of the feeling at Michigan State regarding anything Wolverine.  If something goes bad at Michigan State they are quick to declaim how it is just as bad or worse at U. of M.

I have friends that say the MSU motto ought to be Green with envy, White with fear, but that is not the case.  Their teams and fandom have been taught for years to appreciate the value of a “chip” on their shoulder. They recruit aggressiveness. They prosper as underdogs, value that status, engineer it.  It has worked for them. Too, well. Too, long. But not this time.

For forty years the Wolverines ruled, and Sparty briefly, but now the pendulum has swung again.  And not a moment too soon. The Spartans had bested the Wolverines 8 of the last 10 years. Perhaps another era has begun with this win over the then 24th ranked Spartans by the 6th ranked Wolverines.

You might work up into a strenuous debate with some of their fans by indicating that “chip” might consist of bovine waste material.  They want to forget their agricultural origins, and is true their institution has grown more sophisticated over the years educationally since their exalted President, the late and great John Hannah, put them on the map after WW II by understanding the value of the GI Bill to students.  A large cadre of veterans became students. Most of the vets enjoyed East Lansing, but some probably did not enjoy so much that East Lansing was at the time a “dry” town.  Watering holes like the Deer Head Inn had to be accessed out of town.

MSU FIELDS GOOD FOOTBALL TEAMS that prefer slam bang to finesse.  Like a Phoenix they sometimes rise from the ashes to resurrect a season.  They demonstrated this recently by whacking ranked Penn State at Beaver Stadium Saturday before last, and they wished to complete their project against the Wolverines Saturday in the same fevered way. It was a hard hitting, and rough and tumble game Saturday. A brawl that the tougher team won.

WOLVERINES NOT INTIMIDATED: The Spartan team tried to intimidate the Wolverines Saturday, using their pregame arm in arm walk down the field, while a few Wolverine players were on the field, in an attempt to discombobulate them, according to after game comments by Coach Harbaugh. An approving D’Antonio looked on (sources other than Harbaugh).  Two players were clotheslined, and some earphones were tugged off. I think Lawrence Marshal was one of the clothes line victims.

Devin Bush got the last lick as he ran to their huge and beloved Spartan head/helmet 50-yard line logo. He ran his cleats through it, and over it.  Hard enough to disturb its sanctity. Grounds keepers had to spray paint parts of it again. He was pulled off the field by a coach.

In this game the Wolverines were intimidators, and not intimidated, as offense, defense and special teams contributed in this true team accomplishment.

No matter what their record is, MSU battles M with their best effort, and coaching. Saturday that was not enough.

LUCK HAS OFTEN BEEN OFTEN WITH MSU, and they have sometimes made their own.  A trip of M Receiver Desmond Howard in the 1990’s was not called as it should have been, and it stopped a winning M TD.

Later, creative timekeeping by a Michigan State timekeeper in the closing seconds of a game led to an MSU victory, and a change of NCAA rules which hoped to prevent bogus timekeeping by the host timekeeper. That event is now sometimes referred to as clock-gate.

Even without creative luck they have been recent masters at winning the close ones over the Wolverines. There was worry that they might do it again, win over the better team, when they got a TD in the third quarter to tie the score in last Saturday’s game.

Michigan’s offense got another score, and then needed subsequent first downs, through the ground game and Shea Patterson’s arm and legs. They did not let the over an hour and 15-minute lightening game delay or distract, nor the inclement weather itself distract them.  Neither did the defense, although both units did not play at their very best during the third quarter rain.

Despite the third quarter lapse, the defense was solid though out, and as a unit played a great game.  What an asset Will Hart has become as a punter. He hit his punts long, and accurately, and that played a big part in M winning the field position battle again and again.

The defensive performance was outstanding. MSU was held to 94-yards total offense. They were zero for twelve on third down.

In 2015 a gaffe on a late game punt (2015) by the Wolverines, sealed M’s loss in Coach Harbaugh’s first year.  It stamped the Spartans as winners in a 27-23 game in which the clock expired just after the recovered fumble crossed the M goal in the hands of Spartan Jackson Watts. This of course riled M fans, and delighted the Spartans.  Saturdays win did not erase the pain of that loss, but drives it deeper into the past.

Then last year (2017) came a cloud burst downpour in the second half, which hampered the Michigan offense that was playing catch up during crunch time.  M QB John O’Korn tossed a couple a couple of key interceptions that blended with other miscues to grease the skids for a 14-10 Spartan win.  One M TD was not enough to protect home turf, but this year three TDs were more enough to do the trick.

THE WOLVERINES HAVE NOW BECOME EFFECTIVE GAME CLOSERS:  Saturday, the M offense, in the inclement weather and out, worked hard for two more TDs which were added to the first, to effectively close the game. Effectively closing the game has often eluded the Wolverines in recent past years away games.

SOME STATISTICS:  M had 183 net rushing yards, and 212 passing yards for 395 total yards of offense.

MSU had15 total net rushing yards, and 48 passing yards for 94-yards of offense. Sometimes statistics say and mean more than words.  The Wolverine’s defense had four sacks. M’s offensive line allowed two.  M’s Josh Uche equaled that as he collared two sacks. Five of MSU’s first downs were because of penalty calls on the Blue.

Karan Higdon again led the ground game, with 33 carries for 144 net yards. Donovan Peoples-Jones had that spectacular pass and run to a 79-yard TD to lead the receivers. Nico Collins also had a TD grab among his 3 catches, with a long of ten yards. Altogether 8 receivers grabbed passes.

Shea Patterson threw no interceptions, tossed two TDs, and gained 125-yards, on 14 tosses with 25 completions.

HOW THEY SCORED: The first quarter was barren of any scoring by either side.  The M defense was on track from the first of the game.  The Wolverines scored first and last.

Nico Collins made a spectacular catch of a tipped ball to get a first down and sustain the drive.  The drive ended with a 6-yard, perfectly thrown pass to a leaping Nico, who came down with the ball for six.  M-7, MSU-0.  Earlier, Nick Eubanks had grabbed a 25-yard pass to aid the 14-play, 84-yard drive in achieving a TD.  M-7, MSU-0.

In the third quarter, a fumble by Chris Evans was possessed by MSU, and they engineered a two play, 7-yard TD.  It was 7 up.

Donovan Peoples-Jones then answered with a 79-yard TD pass catch, and the Wolverines went ahead 14-7 on the first snap of the possession.

In the fourth quarter, the Wolverines designed a 13 play, 84-yard masterpiece.  There were several smaller gains, and Patterson got an 11-yard run. Higdon ran for 9 and 3. Ben Mason blasted through for the six.

It was over with a score of Wolverines 21, Spartans 7.

TAKEAWAY:  This was a signature win on foreign territory. A hard-fought victory was obtained despite a one-hour plus weather delay, a fired-up foe, and third quarter wind, and rain.

It was earned by the offense, the defense and special teams, even though Quinn missed another make-able field goal.

Will Hart’s punting was spectacular. He averaged 45-yards per punt, and kicked 3 over fifty-yards. He hit a long of 65-yards.

Michigan had three consecutive chances to score from good field position, which was enabled in part due to great punting.

That the offense blew these three field position advantages, and the fact the penalty bug reappeared, needs notice, but does not alter the fact of an otherwise sterling performance by the entire team.

Finally, we have enough empirical evidence to measure the Wolverines as a contender for the Big Ten East Championship.  No one gives it to you, it has to be earned, but to now they have improved their position every week, and gained hard earned respect.  Penn State is and example of how quickly and easily rankings can disappear after losing at home to MSU.

The regular season road still has rough spots with Penn State at home after the bye. Then Rutgers and Indiana away, and the powerful Buckeyes at home.  These games have cemented more realistic aspirations. They are just not Kool Aid any more, but have gotten more realistic with every victory.  This win also put a little polish back on Jim Harbaugh coaching reputation. Also, he has assembled a great staff that seems to have blended well.

It seems that this season the Wolverines are improving on schedule.  That has to keep happening, and now it seems like it will!

Go Blue!

MICHIGAN FOOTBALL 2018-WOLVERINES SLAP DOWN RANKED BADGERS AT HOME 38 TO 13

Since the beginning of this season, Wolverine fans have awaited Saturday evening’s football tussle with the Badgers of the University of Wisconsin.  Many fans believed that they could not measure the Wolverines prior to this Wisconsin game, believing that no prior game, except Notre Dame in the non-conference season opener, was a stern enough test to provide a rational forecast of the quality of this season’s edition of the Wolverines.

While the Wolverines’ prior five football challenges were hard hitting and hotly contested at times, they were mostly against teams that did not field strong offenses directed by QBs that could attack, or that featured bruising offensive lines, plus exceptional defenses.

It was considered before Saturday’s struggle that the Badgers offensive group was better than their defensive group, especially their offensive line, and that proved true.  Still the Badgers had great LBs, and other defensive talent.  They are big and they hit, and they got 3 sacks.

While Notre Dame was a nasty loss, it may prove fortunate to the Wolverines that it was at the very start of the season and not later.  As Notre Dame rises, and the season progresses, that loss loses some sting.

Finally is was Wisconsin, and the meat of the season was put before ravenous Wolverines.  The Wolverines were outstanding on offense and defense. Two missed field goals were the only criticism of the specials teams unit.

THE SEASON’S FIRST SATURDAY JUDGEMENT DAY IS PAST: The first Saturday judgment day for this season is past, and we now have a more authentic bench mark of this year’s Wolverines.  There are more, and tougher hurdles down the pike, but this was the first against one of the better teams in the Big Ten. Without question it was a good test and result. 

Wisconsin could be the master of the West Division of the Big Ten, and it is possible Michigan could meet them again in the Big Ten title game. Maybe not probable, but quite possible.

WOLVERINES PASSED THE FIRST EXTREME CHALLENGE OF THE SEASON AGAINST THE TOUGH, AND TALENTED WISCONSIN BADGERS: The Badgers sauntered into Ann Arbor with a great QB Alec Hornibrook, a great running back Johnathon Taylor, and a tough and experienced offensive line.  RB Johnathon Taylor had pre-game statistics indicating that he had been the most productive back in the country this season. 

He could not live up to that high standard against the Wolverines defense Saturday as he was held to 101-yards on 17 carries.

Wisconsin’s offense faltered as the Badgers made 28 rushing attempts for only 183 net yards. M’s defense held them to them to 100-yards passing for the game and a total of 283-yards.  That is a season low for the Badgers. Seventy-five of those yards came late in the game, in the 4th quarter.

The Wolverines held Badger QB Hornibrook to 7 completions on 20 attempts for 100-yards, 2 interceptions and 1 TD.

It was pointed out by the Badgers before the game in a big banner headline on their athletic site, that under current Badger Head Coach Paul Chryst the Badgers were 15 and 1 in true road games.  Now, courtesy of the Wolverines efforts Saturday, make that 15 and 2.

SHEA PATTERSON RISING:  Patterson provides something the Wolverines have long lacked.  He is a play maker at the QB position.  His 81-yard scamper around left end in the second quarter got the stalled Wolverine offense, that had stalled in the first quarter, going in a spectacular way in the second.  He did get caught as he neared the end zone, but that was a timely and necessary big play.  The offensive play of the game. Shea tossed 14 completions on 21 attempts for 124-yards.  Doesn’t seem like much, but he threw zero interceptions, and used his wheels nine times for 113-yards (90 net), including the 81-yard run, and a TD run.

On the first drive of the game which stalled, Coach Harbaugh played a little bit of a river boat gambler role by inserting Joe Milton on a critical 3rd down.  The fact that Joe was in there must have tipped them to a QB run as he was stuffed for a one-yard loss.

 

In the 4th quarter, Milton had a couple more attempts for 23-yards (net 22), one of which was a 23-run.  Very happy to have him get some prime time game action.  Dylan McCaffery ran once for 44-yards and a TD.

MORE STATISTICS, AND A SALUTE TO HIGDON:  The receivers were productive, but had no TDs.  WR Nico Collins nabbed 4 for 31, with a long of 11.  WR Donovan Peoples-Jones grabbed 3 for 39, and Nick Eubanks one for 28-yards. Evans, Higdon, Martin and Thomas all had a reception.

The Running Backs were led by the Wolverine’s other stunning playmaker, Karan Higdon.  Higdon now has six TDs this season, and had his 5th straight 100-yard rushing game. He toted 19 times for 111 (105 net) yards, with a TD and a long of 25.  Higdon is a play making workhorse. 

Chris Evans had five carries for 18-yards with a long of 6.  It was great to have him back on the field.  Later he will be needed.

Defensively Rashan Gary did not play, but  Carlo Kemp returned after having been nicked last week. 

Wisconsin had 3 sacks, and the Wolverines two.  Josh Metellus led the defense with 5 tackles-3 solos.  Devin Bush and Josh Uche had sacks.  The unit played great again.

HOW THEY SCORED:  The Wolverines decided that they would be a good host to the Badgers and did not score in the first quarter.  The Badgers returned the favor. M-0, W-0.

The second quarter got more exciting as M began a scoring drive.  Patterson scooted down the eastern side line 81-yards from the Michigan 13 where he took the snap. Higdon ran for two and then 3, and it was suddenly M-7, W-0.

Wisconsin immediately answered on a 4-play, 73-yard drive. and the score was 7 up. A Badger 7-yard Patterson sack stalled the drive.  M’s Quinn Nordin hit a 42-yard FG, and the Blue was up three.  M-10, W-7.

On the next drive, Nordin hit another FG, this time from 33-yards as another drive stalled. M-13, W-7. A couple of incomplete passes did the damage.

The first half ended with Michigan leading in all the statistics but the score, because of  two FGs instead of TDs. M had 207 offensive yards, and W had 127.  There was not much consolation in that, or a 6-point, two FG lead at the half. 

The Wolverines received at the half.  They had a couple of short gains and it looked like the drive would stall.  But hopes were renewed when the Wolverines got a holding call, and a first down on the holding call by a Badger name of Wildgoose.  This wild Wildgoose chase resulted in an automatic first down for M.

The Wolverines benefitted from another Badger gaffe, as the Badgers were hit with a personal foul for 15-yards, and the Wolverines were at the Badger 41.  Karan Higdon hauled it 25-yards, Chris Evans got 5, and Shea scored on a 7-yard run.  Shea then threw a laser to Nico Collins in the end zone for the two-point conversion. M-21, W-7.  Things were looking better as the third quarter played out at 21-7.   Wisconsin attempted 7-third down conversions in the quarter and converted 1. The Wolverines had 4 conversions on 12 attempts.

The Wolverines had the ball to start the 4th quarter, and were benefited by another Quinn Nordin FG, this time for 36-yards.  A couple of Karan Higdon runs helped pushed the ball down from the Wisconsin 48 into FG range. M-24, W-7.

Lavert Hill made a great quick snag of a Hornibrook pass and had a 21-yard pick six.  M-31. W-7.

On the next series Tru Wilson had 5 consecutive carries for 24-yards.  Dylan McCaffrey scampered 44-yards for a score and it was suddenly M-38, W-7.

Badger QB Hornibrook passed his way to a final TD and the game ended 38-14.  Much of the Badgers passing yardage came on this, their final series.

TAKEAWAY: This was a great effort and accomplishment on the part of the Wolverines.  They finally nailed a ranked team, and they are on the rise progressing to the heart of the season.  

The style points were not always there in this game, but the results and performance of the Wolverines on both side of the ball was outstanding.  The Wolverines are climbing the Big Ten Ladder by means of constant improvement through working. 

No one can call the Wolverines the not ready for prime time players.  Saturday they were prime time.

The Stadium looked great at night, and was packed with 111, 360 on lookers.  Afterwards, in the traffic, you get to personally experience how many cars that puts on the road, but it is all worth it. Ann Arbor handles the traffic well.

Pregame they honored 20 Offensive Line players that earned letters at Michigan, and later ended up playing professional football, were all BIG Ten or were a Michigan Football team Captain.  A neat touch when you are trying to attract the best offensive linemen possible.

Bring on the always ornery Spartans.  Fresh from their win at Penn State, their swagger will be back. It was quite a victory by the Spartans.  The Wolverines will be ready too.

Go Blue!