Ducks Fly Away From MSU; U-M Lays Golden Egg
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It wasn't a happy weekend in the Big Ten. Ohio State slips on their buckeyes (hairless nuts, that is) at home against Virginia Tech. The only undefeated team in The State of Michigan is Central Michigan. CMU moved to 2-0 after beating B1G's Purdue 38-17, while both MSU and Michigan disappointed their respective fan bases, albeit in completely different ways.
On The Sparrow Tailgate Show Saturday afternoon at Harper's, co-host Jack Ebling told us that he felt that, however the outcome of both games for the in-state rivals, that too much would be read into it by both fan bases. Had MSU won, they'd be unbeatable, run the Big Ten slate, which they may very well do, and be a shoe-in for the new playoff. Had Michigan won, they'd be back and set to take a shot at MSU and Ohio State. Neither happened. However, Jack also said that the sky would be falling after losses for either team. Likely, that looks to hold true, but for only one team.
It's easy to see that MSU actually showed up to play in Eugene, Oregon Saturday. It's also easy to see that their glimmer of greatness was shown for, at best, two quarters of play. The Spartans ran into speed they haven't seen in a while. A lot of talk was about how Oregon hadn't been hit like State was going to hit them, including from Sparrow Tailgaters Joey Pants and David DeMarco. Well, the reason for that may be due to The Ducks' ability to outrun the bulls. Michigan State had a brilliant display of what this team is expected to do this season in the 2nd quarter, and the early stages of the third. A long third down conversion by Oregon, when the Spartan D looked like they had Ducks QB Marcus Mariotta dead to rights, seemed to be a pivotal play that led to an Oregon score. Many more followed as The Ducks outscored The Spartans 28-3 in the second half, en route to a 46-27 win.
It was a disappointing loss for State....the team and the fans. But, I think Jack is right. The sky isn't falling. Despite the loss, there was a solid 25 minutes of Spartan Football that looked great. We learned the 2014 defense is not the 2013 defense. Connor Cook and the MSU offense made mistakes. They aren't invincible. C'mon, folks...they can't be perfect all of the time. But, it's how a team responds that makes the difference. There is no reason to doubt MSU Coach Mark Dantonio when he says that this is not the end. They will learn from this loss and move on. I have no doubts that the Spartan D will learn to grow from their second half lumps. Communication and chemistry will develop. If there is anything we can take from watching Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi directing past units, this defense will continue to develop as the season goes along. And, as we look around the rest of the conference, even after a "high-profile" loss to Oregon, MSU looks like even stronger of a favorite to win a second straight B1G Championship.
Michigan. My beloved Wolverines. No, I didn't go there...call me what you will. (I'll call you full of s#!t) Those hopes were there as a young boy, learning to love the legacy of the Great Michigan Tradition. But, those hopes were dashed quickly some time around puberty when I had a knack for finding new and interesting ways to f' myself...grades were just the beginning. I have talked more than my fair share of smack. Probably, I have invested more emotionally into a sport, as a fan, than any human should. Well, humility sucks. But, after the Michigan display Saturday at Notre Dame (lack there of, rather) it appears humility has planned an extended stay in Ann Arbor. Now, I will attempt to put an objective spin on this debacle.
There was so much talk from Michigan camp about Notre Dame being "chicken-you-know-what" since ND announced it was discontinuing its series with the Wolverines. Well, it was Michigan who laid the Golden Egg next to the Golden Dome, not mustering up a single point in a 31-0 loss. You would think that in the final game of an epic series, a team that has talked about nothing but change all off-season would put forth a better effort. What we saw from The Wolverines was more of the same. Those changes included the hiring of Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier, formerly of the Holy Football Kingdom of Alabama. Somehow, Michigan out gained ND in offensive yardage, but was shut out for the first time since 1984, ending a streak of 365 games...meaning, even Al Borges mustered up scores during his worst times. They were forced into difficult third down situations all night, thanks largely in part to an inept effort from the O-Line once again. Another one of those changes. But, that O-Line's biggest weakness is providing protection for U-M QB Devin Gardner in third and long. Gardner showed his tendency to make bad decisions under pressure, again. Another one of those things that has supposedly changed. Michigan was torched on defense all night long. Another of those supposed changes....great depth on the D-Line, athletic, more aggressive secondary, leadershipfrom the LB corp...(Subjective view: What the hell has happened to the great scheme of Greg Mattison????!!!!)
Read and hear what you will from Michigan Coach Brady Hoke. The players are drinking from the same challis as Hoke. Sure, this is one game in a long season. That's what I fear as a Michigan fan. It's easy to say that I bought into the hype too much. But, there really wasn't a whole lot of hype. I heard speak talk. The same speak talk that has had me behind Brady Hoke, and Athletic Director Dave Brandon's decision to hire him. I'm not giving up on this team or this program as a fan. But, it is damn frustrating to watch. This Michigan loss speaks a lot louder for the program than MSU's loss to Oregon does. Is the sky falling over Ann Arbor? It's hard to not believe so. There are some who feel it did the day Bo Schembechler passed away November 17, 2006. It's easy to understand where these people are coming from. Things haven't been the same. Coach Hoke said today that true fans will believe in his kids. Those who don't believe, don't. Coach, personally, I think the fans, students, and the kids themselves believe in these kids. I hope they continue to believe in you. Frankly, it's time put up results on the field. I'm not sure the fans and, more importantly, the U-M Alumni have much more belief in your ability to prepare these kids for success, especially on the road. After all, in your own words this is Michigan, for God's Sakes.
As the MSU faithful mock their rivals, I will remind you that your present success wouldn't be as significant without U-M's storied past. MSU is now a legit force in the Big Ten, and are poised to be for sometime. But, when will Hoke's change actually play out on the gridiron? Will it ever? Despite what happens, and what anybody says, personally, my affinity for the Great Michigan Tradition will never fade. I know this program will be back to its heydays someday. When? With Whom? I don't know. What I do know, humility as a fan sucks. It makes me wonder. Why does it seem to be acceptable for those with an actual vested interest? How much patience will those folks have?