They actually grew on me as the game went on, and the sun went down. They do look a lot better in pictures than in motion. I'd love to see them again in a bowl — if MSU gets there.
Anywayyyyyyy, what's there to say about the 12-10 loss at Michigan that hasn't already been said after the other two Big Ten losses? MSU is 1-3 in the conference, with the three losses by a total of six points. The offense has scored 16, 13 and 10 points in regulation in those games, while the defense allowed 17, 13 and 12 points in those games and not getting the key stop late when MSU had the lead.
I picked a 21-10 U-M win. You can't fault the effort of the Spartans. They threw the kitchen sink at the Wolverines and just came up short. You can point to a missed field goal or some playcalling, but remember, Denard Robinson missed a short, wide-open touchdown, and MSU was lucky to recover two fumbles inside its own 20. So the breaks went both ways. U-M just made the extra play or two late to get the win.
As Mark Dantonio said after, I can live with how MSU played. For the reasons I listed in my pregame column, I wasn't even very upset about the loss. It was more about the not winning, if that makes sense. The awesome fake punt and the helmets might be lost to history now, but they were both pretty darn cool. Denard Robinson is a stand-up kid. He still went 1-2 vs. MSU as the starter, anyway. He can have a win. --
Looking back at my keys to the game:
Run the ball consistently: It was consistent, but consistently not good. Le'Veon Bell has 26 carries for 68 yards (2.6 ypc) with a long of just eight. No negatives plays, for what it's worth, but the Spartans couldn't pick up a 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter that resulted in a missed field goal. Given that MSU was again playing with a new offensive line (Donavon Clark at LT for concussed Dan France), this isn't unexpected. MSU was basically down 3.5 OL starters from the opener. Damn you, #AMSUOLHG!
Prevent big plays: Not a ton, but they almost all resulted in points. U-M's Fitzgerald Toussaint had a 38-yard run in the second that led to a field goal (also a 22-yard pass on that drive). A 35-yard pass to Drew Dileo resulted in another field goal. Denard Robinson finally broke off a long run against MSU, a 44-yarder that got U-M into field goal range in the fourth quarter, but penalties resulted in a punt.
Get off to a quick start: Bell took the opening kickoff to MSU's 44-yard line, but it resulted in a 3-and-out. Defense started well, though, which kept MSU's hopes alive throughout the game. I thought a couple early scores by U-M might break the spirit of the Spartans, but they never happened.
Run the ball successfully, any way possible: Not really. Robinson had his best rushing day against MSU, but it wasn't that great (20 rushes, 96 yards, 4.8 ypc), but if you take away the 44-yarder, it wasn't much at all. Toussaint had 52 yards on 10 carries, but most of that came on one run, also.
Stop Le'Veon Bell: Yep. Already talked about it above, but again, MSU did nothing on the ground all day, forcing MSU to pass it more than they probably would have liked. They also stopped MSU's rushing attack late in the game when it mattered most.
Turnovers: One apiece. However, Robinson's came on a heave at the end of the first half. Maxwell's came in Michigan territory, and led to a U-M field goal. Edge to the Wolverines. --
Now, thoughts on MSU's play:
2013 can't get here soon enough. The thing was, the passing game actually wasn't THAT bad. It was the rushing attack that was stifled, mostly because of the #AMSUOLHG. But Maxwell's final numbers (21-for-34, 192 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) are decent. They took more shots downfield than perhaps any other game this year. The receivers mostly played well and had some great catches. If MSU can get the same production from the passing attack in the future (and not just on that bizzaro touchdown drive), then things are actually looking up.
There are always situations where playcalling can be questioned, but I thought the overall gameplan wasn't bad. When you can't run and you can't block, and it's hard to get open, any gameplan is going to look bad in the box score.
Of course, I wouldn't count on a similar performance from the passing offense, because the group has been so inconsistent. But that brings me back to 2013. If Fou Fonoti can get a medical redshirt, four offensive line starters will return (France, Jack Allen, Travis Jackson and Fonoti), and the quarterback and entire receiving corps will return. The one question, of course, is Le'Veon Bell. It's always hard to say with running backs, given their short career lifespan and the punishment Bell takes with his style. Might depend on how the year finishes.
Still, it'd be great if MSU could break the 20-point plateau more often than not.
Overall, Michigan had an equal 163 yards rushing and passing. Unfortunately, the rushing yards were more than MSU, and we all know what that stat means in this rivalry. Toussaint and Robinson's long runs accounted for half of those yards.
U-M nearly botched that last drive before the final pass to Dileo. Yeah, the defense couldn't get the final stop at the end, just like against Ohio State and Iowa, but when you don't give up a touchdown, you've more than done your job. Period. They're fifth in the nation in total defense.
Robinson will finish 1-2 against MSU, in what has to be considered three of his worst performances, even if one was a win. The rushing numbers are above, and he also went 14-for-29 passing for 163 yards and an interception (though it wasn't a big deal).
What has been most frustrating about Dan Conroy's struggles this year is the inconsistency. He's 3-for-3 from 50+, which is great. He's 3-for-6 from 40-49, which is understandable. He's 3-for-6 from 30-39, which is not good. And he could leave as MSU's most-accurate kicker ever. If those three 50+ makes are instead from 30-39, he probably isn't criticized as much. But it's like the 50-yarders are a tease.
Also, the reason he has so many misses is because he has so many attempts. He's fourth in the nation in makes. His 71.4 percent is still top 50 in the country. But when you have a struggling offense like this, the margin for error is so small, and close losses are you going to lead you to point to any one play that could have changed things.
Mike Sadler averaged 41.4 yards on seven punts, with a long of 49 and four inside the 20. A solid performance made even better by such a ballsy fake punt call. Brady Hoke had said U-M was ready for all sorts of fakes (they sniffed out the Lippett reverse pass), but the genius of Dantonio's fakes are that they always come when they're least expected. If MSU wins, that play goes down as one of the really memorable ones in MSU history.
Bell had two kick returns, while Nick Hill had one. Linebacker Kyler Elsworth was also out there, for I believe the first time this season. Andre Sims Jr. showed solid fair-catch ability, and did have one return for 14 yards. The punt return blocking is terrible, so all MSU needs is someone who can catch the ball.
Of course a loss to Michigan sucks for MSU fans, but the winning streak was going to end at some point. It certainly was weird seeing Paul Bunyan with the other team. I might be off, but I certainly felt that there was a good deal of respect from both sides after this one. Both schools are going to be good in coming years, and Saturday was the continuation of some epic matchups in the near future. Of course there are the troll-tastic fans who will never have any respect for the other school, but generally, I thought MSU earned some respect in this one. The storming of the field was just one sign.
There aren't going to be any four-game winning streaks in this rivalry again for a long time. ("It takes four years. Of course it will be a long time." Shut up, guy). MSU will get the favorable schedule U-M has enjoyed for the next two years, and both teams are starting to stockpile talent. (If you bring up recruiting rankings, I'm going to punch you).
But before we can get ready for the future, MSU has to avoid a complete meltdown. The quotes after the game didn't appear to be from a team about to divide between offense and defense, as Dantonio warned about last week, but you wonder how much the defense has left having carried this team. Four games left: at Wisconsin, vs. Nebraska, vs. Northwestern, at Minnesota. They're all winnable. They're all losable. MSU is literally a couple plays from 4-0 in the Big Ten, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. All the Spartans can do now is try to squeeze their way into a bowl game and get the extra bowl practices, which are very important.
There are only 15 seniors on the whole roster, and eight on this week's two-deep (off/def/st). With a young team in 2009, they lost a bunch of close games, and rebounded with a Big Ten championship in 2010.
The rebound is certainly possible in 2013, but from how far they have to bounce back is yet to be seen.