Tales from the Deuce

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

Michigan State 34 – Michigan 17

As a self-professed “know-it-all” I often relish being right.  But not today.  Yesterday my beloved Wolverines felt the full thrust of Sparty’s pimp hand, and it was not fun.  I predicted that the Spartans would win, but I expected our offense to score more points against our in-state rivals.  Though we moved the ball with ease, costly mistakes led to the margin of victory.  Here are a few thoughts on what I think were keys to yesterday’s game.

Costly Mistakes: The turnovers and missed opportunities in yesterday’s game affected both teams’ momentum and played a role in the outcome of the game.  As early as the first possession of the game, the Wolverines moved the ball down the field effortlessly.  3 of the Wolverines’ first 4 drives went for 65, 73, and 60 yards respectively.  Yet they only came away with ten points during that stretch..  For instance, on the first drive, Michigan’s superstar quarterback Denard Robinson made an uncharacteristic mistake in the redzone, by throwing an errant pass that was intercepted. Despite the mistake, the Wolverines were still able to force the Spartans to punt.  On the Wolverines’ next possession, they drove the ball well again.  In fact, they seemed to be poised for a big play touchdown when Robinson threw a strike to an open Darryl Stonum.   But Robinson misfired, overthrowing Stonum, thus forcing the Wolverines to settle for a field goal.  Still, the Wolverines were able to hold the Spartans scoreless after the first quarter, leaving the score at 3-0 in favor of the Wolverines.

At that point, I began to wonder whether we could actually play a competent game defensively against the Spartans.  Obviously that was a foolish thought as Michigan State running back Edwin Baker roared down the field 61 yards for a touchdown on their next possession.  All told, the Spartans scored 5 times on 5 straight possessions including Baker’s run.  Sure, it appeared at times as if the Wolverines might put up a fight, but on several occasions, they sputtered, mostly as a result of costly interceptions by Robinson.

Keys: The Michigan State defense did a good job of containing Michigan’s rushing attack, holding Robinson to his lowest rushing total of the season (86 yards).  Strategically, they forced Denard to win the game with his arm, and that proved to be a wise decision.  Finally, they did one thing that the Wolverines defense was clearly unable to do all day; tackle.  Offensively, the Spartans did what they always do.  They ran the ball well, and used that success to set up big plays in the air.

What does this all mean? In my mind, very little.  I’ve felt all along that this would be a win for the Spartans.  Although this means that we’ve now lost to our in-state rival three years in a row for the first time in 43 years, we’re still right about where we should be. I think we still go 8-4 this year.  Purdue is a team clearly beatable with huge injuries at the skill positions.  Penn State is also a game that we should win, given their huge losses on defense and quarterback.  This leaves Illinois who, despite yesterday’s victory over Penn State, is still a Ron Zook team, and rebuilding; oh and its also a home game.  So, 8 wins is certainly doable, and anything less than 7 should be grounds for Rich Rod’s dismissal.

One Final Thought: I’ve heard a few people question Denard Robinson’s abilities as a quarterback.  Some even suggesting that his arm is a liability.  I think that that is a misreading of yesterday’s game, and for a few reasons.  First, Robinson has proved on several occasions that he’s able to make clutch throws.  In the Notre Dame game, in his first career road game as the starter, he made critical throws on the final drive, including a key third down strike to Roy Roundtree.  Last week in the Indiana game, Robinson’s arm carried the day during the final drive that included a 42-yard pass to Junior Hemingway.

Where I think Robinson had problems was in facing his first real defense all season.  Its important to consider that Michigan’s previous opponents ranked 59th, 83rd, 119th, and 94th in total defense in the nation (UMass ranks 41 in total defense in Div I-AA).  I believe that this may have given him a false sense of security with some of his decisions.  Particularly on the last pass that he threw to Kelvin Grady, into double coverage, which resulted in his third interception of the day.   I also think that nerves may have played a role in Robinson’s performance.

In any event, we all just need to relax and understand that halfway into Robinson’s first season as the starter – as a sophomore no less – Robinson is still a viable Heisman candidate and 5-1.  So please lets relax with all the doom and gloom and let this season takes its course.

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