MSU beats Michigan again
Published 2:09 pm Sunday, October 16, 2011
EAST LANSING — On a beautiful afternoon in East Lansing, the TV would have made it look like a picture-perfect day to play football Saturday.
When in-state rivals Michigan and Michigan State faced off, however, there was more to it than what met the eye.
The howling of the wind was enough to scare fans of errant passes. The strength of the wind was enough to force both teams to run the ball a combined 75 of 130 plays. On paper, Mother Nature would favor Michigan’s spread-oriented run attack, highlighted by lightning-fast quarterback Denard Robinson, who has struggled mightily with his accuracy so far this season. In reality, however, it was the Spartans who capitalized in the diverse circumstances.
Michigan marched down the field on its opening drive for a touchdown and a quick Michigan State answer for a touchdown left fans planning for a shoot-out. After those initial scores though, both defenses stepped up in a big way, but the Spartans’ was far more impressive.
On nearly every offensive snap for Michigan, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi had blitzes dialed up, sending players into the backfield from the left, middle and right of Michigan’s offensive line. Robinson struggled with the pressure in a big way, completing just nine of 24 passing attempts while rushing for a very pedestrian 42 yards on 18 carries. And although those running numbers are skewed because quarterback sacks are counted against the quarterback’s rushing totals, the picture is painted clear — Michigan State’s defense was the name of the game.
On offense, Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins had just enough in his bag to keep the Wolverines at a comfortable distance away on the scoreboard, completing 13 of his 24 passing attempts, including two for second quarter touchdowns to wide receiver Keshawn Martin. Running back Edwin Baker was plenty of help as well, carrying the pigskin 26 times for 167 yards and Michigan State’s first score behind a revamped offensive line that held its own against a stout Michigan defense.
Despite what the 28-14 final score would suggest though, Michigan was mere inches away from tying the game up midway through the fourth quarter when it faced a fourth-and-inches from Michigan State’s 9-yard line trailing 21-14. Spartan safety Johnny Adams read the play perfectly and exploded past the line to sack Robinson for a 10-yard loss, forcing a turnover on downs. Still, Michigan was alive after forcing a three-and-out and receiving the ball at its own 35-yard line with 4:40 remaining on the clock. One play later, the game was over.
Whether Robinson’s inaccuracy, the wind or Michigan State’s defense was the biggest factor in Shoelace’s dubious throwing numbers is debatable, but in the end, it was a moot point. On what ended up being Michigan’s last meaningful play, the speedy Michigan quarterback dropped back and once again faced an onslaught of pressure within moments of the snap. Having to make a spur of the moment decision, Robinson tossed the ball to the right, looking for Jeremy Gallon on his hot route, but a miscommunication resulted in an Isaiah Lewis interception for a Michigan State touchdown.
With the victory, Michigan State has now claimed four straight victories over their archrivals for the first time since 1962, denying Michigan’s senior class its last chance to bring the Paul Bunyan trophy back to Ann Arbor for a year.
It was the type of game that one would expect to completely turn around after a turnover, but Michigan’s two forced fumbles proved worthless for them as they failed to put points on the board either time. Michigan State’s conversion rate was also far superior to Michigan’s, going 7-of-14 on third downs to the Wolverines’ 3-for-15.
The win gives Michigan State a big advantage in getting to the inaugural Big Ten Championship game, as they are now the only Legends Division team with an unblemished conference record. Wisconsin looms large next weekend though. The Badgers power running game and dynamic quarterback, Russell Wilson, will present a huge test for the Spartans in East Lansing.
Michigan will come off the loss with two weeks to think about it, entering a bye week before facing Purdue. The Wolverines will look to make a big statement in their homecoming game before heading to Iowa and Illinois.
Every game for the rest of the season is crucial for both teams as they fight to win their division. Only time will tell if this loss debilitates Michigan’s chances or bounces Michigan State to the top.
By SAMUEL JOSEPH SEDLECKY
Special to Daily News