Michigan State's 2008 and 2009 victories against Michigan, while sweet, didn't feel quite whole. The victory in Ann Arbor two years ago came against the worst Michigan team in memory. Last year's triumph in East Lansing came only after a furious comeback by the Wolverines, and may not have been a victory at all had it not been for one terrible decision by Tate Forcier. The storyline after those two games revolved at least as much around the losing Wolverines as the victorious Spartans.
There are no such reservations about yesterday's victory. Michigan State faced up against a massively hyped Wolverine team--a team led by Michigan's second consecutive winner of the widely coveted September Heisman Trophy--and MSU perfectly executed a fantastic gameplan to win in amazingly convincing fashion. State won by getting into the backfield, tackling soundly, and preventing big plays on defense, and through an offensive attack which ran and passed with ease. MSU's secondary didn't totally stifle Michigan's receivers, but the coverage was close enough to seize upon Denard Robinson's mistakes. The offense was explosive without making its own mistakes. And most stunningly, after an evenly-fought first quarter, Your Spartans dominated Michigan's offensive and defensive lines. MSU was stronger and better in every meaningful facet of this game.
In short, MSU played brilliant Lloydball: the brand of tough, confident, physical football which Lloyd Carr's Michigan teams specialized in. The same brand of football which which obliterated MSU's fundamentally unsound, milquetoast teams 10 times in 13 tries. The same brand of football I envied for years and years. And, amazingly, the same brand of football which MSU is now becoming more and more proficient in, while Michigan flounders playing John L. Smith football with better talent, but stunningly similar results. (We'll see about the rest of this year, I suppose -- but even Smith had some decent seasons in East Lansing.)
I won't belabor the point too much, because it's been made in several other places in the hours since yesterday's game. But yesterday's performance was the realization of everything we've hoped for since the press conference after Mark Dantonio's hiring, when he promised a competitive, winning football, and a return to the physically tough teams of the past.
MSU lined up against an overmatched Michigan defense and did exactly what we hoped they'd do: scored on more than half of its offensive drives (6/10, excluding the final run-out-the-clock series), gained a ton of yards through the air (287 yards on 26 attempts) and on the ground (249 yards, 5.9 per rush, 3 touchdowns), and didn't turn the ball over a single time. The defense didn't totally shut down Michigan's prolific attack, but they came closer to doing it than anyone else has this year, and in forcing 3 turnovers, they provided the big plays MSU needed to win the game comfortably. Remember when Mike Valenti implored MSU to "MAKE PLAYS"? Our guys made plays. In spades. Needless to say, there were many outstanding individual performances, for which we'll happily award Biggies later this week.
So, yes, this one felt better than the last two games, because there's no arguing who the better team was on Saturday. MSU won in a place where so many dreams have been crushed in the past, in front of a Maized-Out crowd loudly seeking revenge for the indignities of the previous two seasons, in full view of a national media falling over themselves to proclaim the renaissance of the Victors Valiant, and against a team which had actually looked pretty damned good this season. And our guys won. Oh, they won. And now even bigger prizes loom.