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!