Michigan Football: Michigan State at Michigan — What Happened And What It Means
Brutal Game, Brutal Mistake, Happy Ending
The game at Michigan Stadium Saturday will be remembered in many ways. This win was the 900th in the long and proud history of Michigan football. And it follows that since Michigan is the all-time win leader the Wolverines were the first to reach this lofty plateau. The win brought back the Paul Bunyan trophy to Ann Arbor after a long slumber.
The game provides sweet joy for Wolverines throughout the known universe. It also presents questions. But eventually drowning out the questions will be the final, universal truths.
First off is a discussion of the truths. Michigan won the game 12-10, and that is the one irreversible truth that will not be erased. Questions by the dozens may result, but none can override the final truth of Saturday, Michigan won a close game.
A second truth is that both defenses played lights outs, but were somewhat aided by offensive inadequacies of the opponent. Michigan stopped Bell enough to make scoring a chore and Michigan State stopped Denard enough to make scoring a chore. Michigan State countered by launching the ball deep, hitting a couple of well placed passes, but missing on many good opportunities. Michigan countered by just trying to complete enough passes to make a difference. One final pass over the middle by Denard Robinson to the sure handed Dileo ended up being the right guy at the right place.
A third truth is Michigan made a brutal, potentially critical mistake: the special team players turned their back to the ball and ran down field without checking the advance of the punter. The call was not an accident and as GBMWolverine stated in the final preview, Dantonio is very good at spotting weaknesses that can yield gold. That mistake cost Michigan three points and nearly the game. With the defense having stopped Michigan State just play regular defense formation and take the ball back. Do not invite disaster on what many say was a bold gamble by the Spartans. This case was not a defended fake where hard work earned the offense another four downs of offense. Gallon had to make the stop forty yards down-field.
A fourth truth is that this game was a much cleaner game than the past few between the two teams. This makes one wonder if the Big Ten office did not put out a little “don’t do that” notice earlier in the week.
Fifth, Michigan still has trouble scoring points against an excellent defense. A disclaimer is noted: most teams have similar difficulties.
Now on to a check of “What Happened and What does it mean?”The preview emphasized that mission one was stopping, or really holding to a respectful total, the big bruising running back, Le Veon Bell. Further, it would be up to the middle of the Michigan line to provide the initial stops. Michigan’s defense completed that goal in superior fashion. Michigan State ran isolation time after time and the gain was minimal, about three yards a carry. The difference between giving up two or three yards on iso blasts and four or five yards changes a game. Bell garnered 68 yards on 26 carries, a result that the entire defensive staff must be absolutely ecstatic about.
It was stated that Michigan would have to be very patient with the Spartan passing attack and not get sucked in on play action and give up big plays; that Michigan State would throw the outs all over the place, run crosses, and run screens when pressure was felt. The mission here was partially accomplished, but the donation at the blood bank was minimal and not terminal. Clearly, the Spartans thought the receivers could beat Michigan’s back four. A couple of times this happened, but it needs to be noted that the deep passes that were completions were both well thrown and were taken advantage of by defenders being just a little out of sorts. This is a far cry from the days when receivers had no defenders within five yards. Floyd fought and made some nice plays, as did Avery. The linebackers held the screen game and short outs to minimal damage. The reverses came; they always do and had some success, but again, nothing terminal.
Michigan State seemed bent on hitting the deep ball and only ran the toss sweep a couple of times, with minimal gain.
And now, on to the play of Andrew Maxwell, Spartan quarterback. Andrew threw plenty of quick slants as predicted. This is an easy call, MSU loves the isolation side and if a quarterback can get the ball to a receiver quickly and on target, the slant moves chains and hits a home run on occasion. Michigan defended the slant well. Michigan State won a few of the ten-yard battles, but Michigan’s defense was tough on the slant all day long and broke up enough attempts to make a critical difference. Maxwell played very well, probably his best effort so far. The Spartans counted on long passes finding the mark when the running game was stuffed and misconnections added to the continued MSU offensive difficulties.On offense GBMWolverine stated that Michigan must do something to counter the Spartan blitz package, but most of the game this did not happen. It was a guessing game and the Spartan defense won most of the mental encounters that led to defensive victories on the field. It was mentioned that Michigan would need to throw quick slants, quick screens, and hitting the outside could provide relief. Michigan’s reads were slow and ended up running right into the Spartan blitz package. The few plays that went outside with no hesitation (no read) had some success, some. There were enough misfires from both receivers and Denard Robinson to prevent Michigan from gaining game control.
The Spartans did however remain consistent in sending linebackers up the middle and Michigan hit a few passes to Drew Dileo in the vacated middle area. Drew is quick and has sure hands. Those qualities paid dividends. The Spartans sent everybody and Michigan cashed in a couple of times in the fourth quarter, and the view here is that Denard’s big run and the pass to the vacated middle were no accidents, Michigan finally executed.
The Spartan linebackers and back four played very well, but Michigan made life miserable with some real head scratchers on offense and poor execution. Gallon gave up a first down or more in not fielding the rugby punt, but this may have been for the best, as those kicks look easy to gain control of but are not.
The game was clean, compared to the past. A few penalties became magnified, but no penalty made the difference.
Michigan State got a little fortunate on a couple of fumble recoveries, but that happens. Two legs made the difference: Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile. Gibbon’s maximum range is about 45 yards, but Wile’s leg is much stronger. Wile’s 48 yarder cleared by plenty and Gibbon’s kick was true enough to count for three points.Regardless of the flaws, the questions, and the lack of a glamour factor, Michigan achieved what had to be done, put this game in the win column. That will be what is remembered years from now. Michigan State may not agree, but the Spartans played much better this week, than the last three efforts. The offense, again, came up short, aided by a nice effort from the Michigan defense.
Dileo deserves some kudos, the offensive line also for never quitting, even though the play calls were right into Spartan strength many times, and for my money give Kovacs some well deserved praise for minimizing the damage on the edge.
Nothing will be easy for this team and going to Lincoln at night will be no picnic. Both teams escaped with wins and both have strong motivation to win next week. This game will be a big factor in determining the Legend’s division. Iowa is fading, but still could see a regroup, Michigan State is done, and Northwestern is on the edge. Michigan has gained an edge, but the meat of the Legend’s schedule is in the future. And in this league, this year, forget the idea of a sure thing. Each week is big.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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