Sunday, October 15, 2017

Spartans escape 30-27

I am doing something I should do more often and posting on my phone right after the game.

Well, the good news: the Spartans won.

The bad news: they damned near blew it.

In a game in which it appeared that MSU was in control and cruising to a relatively dominant victory, the bottom almost fell out in the 4th quarter. With MSU up 23-6, I had actually gone to the kitchen to pour a glass of wine. I couldn't have been gone more than five minutes. I came back to the living room in time to see Minnesota score a touchdown and cut it to 23-13.

MSU answered the Gophers with a touchdown of their own and all looked well again. But Minnesota refused to die. They marched down field and scored yet another TD.

It looked as if MSU would respond with another touchdown, but one of the weaker holding calls I have seen negated a great LJ Scott run. The Spartans then missed a field goal and I had a bad feeling.

Minnesota, naturally, drove down field on some improbable plays (including their backup QB faking out one of our defensive players) and scored yet another TD to cut the score to 30-27 with about 1:13 left. They did this with no timeouts left.

Suddenly I had images of the Nick Saban years when his teams seemed especially adept at blowing leads and losing in improbable ways. (Look up "1997 Michigan State/Purdue" to see what I mean).

Thankfully, MSU recovered Minny's on-side kick and that was that. As stated before, the Gophers were out of timeouts.

The Spartans had escaped with what was suddenly an ugly win.

(Did I mention that I spent the last several minutes of the game loudly cursing my television? Some things never change).

The positives are as follows: the Spartans won and are now 5-1 (3-0 in conference); LJ Scott had a truly great game despite his one turnover. It was one of the best games he has had since the 2015 Big Ten title win over Iowa. Another positive: the defense played well for about 80 percent of the game.

The negatives: too many turnovers (though the weather WAS bad); too many youthful mistakes; and the defense was woeful down the stretch.

I contend, however, that this is a young team still finding its way.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Elevated expectations

I literally have not been able to get to a computer to blog until now, but am taking a few minutes to type a few thoughts now.

So I haven't written anything since before the Notre Dame game. That one didn't go as I thought, with turnovers doing the Spartans in. The following weekend I was in Seattle and followed the Iowa game on my phone while traipsing around the "Emerald City." We returned to our hotel room when the game was in the fourth quarter and I was amazed to discover that the game was actually on television in the Pacific Northwest. It was a sludgy ugly nail biter, but the Spartans hung on for a 17-10 win.

And then there was Michigan this past Saturday. I thought MSU could and should make it a close game, but I didn't necessarily think they'd win. Well, I have to learn to stop doubting Mark Dantonio and company in this game. Dantonio is now 8-3 against Michigan. Even in the games that MSU has lost, the Spartans have been in every one of them, including last year's game in which a struggling team pushed Michigan to the fourth quarter.

So MSU's win Saturday should have come as no surprise. This is what Dantonio does. He gets his teams prepared to compete against Michigan and they never doubt their ability to beat the Wolverines. In fact, I think they assume they will beat Michigan. And with pompous Michigan alumni like Desmond Howard offering bulletin board material every year, Michigan State players don't lack for incentive to beat the Wolverines.

As someone who has followed this rivalry since the mid-'70s, and experienced his share of Michigan losses, it's still hard for me to get used to this new reality, But believe me, I'm enjoying it.

So now expectations for the season are suddenly elevated. Is this a team that can seriously contend for a Big Ten title? Who knows? Maybe they can. It all depends on how the team handles its big win over Michigan and how the young players mature over the course of the season. The next test is tonight on the road against a beat-up but still dangerous Minnesota Gophers team. It could be a struggle, but I will pick the Spartans to win 23-16.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Notre Dame Saturday, and a trip down memory lane

I will spare you any prediction of who will win tonight's Michigan State/Notre Dame game, because I really have no idea. And do you really want my opinion anyway? Probably not. (All I will say is that it should be a close game, maybe not decided until late in the fourth quarter),

Instead, I want to look back on this rivalry, because after tonight's game it will most likely not be renewed for another eight years. For these two schools that have had a long and storied football series, this is an unfortunate state of affairs. However, it's the sad reality of modern college football. Conference realignments (with Notre Dame obligated to play several ACC teams each season) and emphasis on money and recruiting (games in California against the likes of Stanford and USC are more lucrative in these regards than MSU in East Lansing) have pretty much killed one of the game's oldest rivalries.

So I thought I'd take a trip down my own personal memory lane and revisit the Spartans' wins (and memorable losses).

Though the Spartans beat Notre Dame in 1975, I have no specific memory of that game. I'm sure it was on television and I'm sure my parents were probably watching it, but at best it's a blur.

The Spartans' 28-23 win in 1983 was the first memorable Notre Dame game for me. In George Perles' first season, and second game as coach, he took what were essentially Muddy Waters' ragtag recruits and quite improbably beat the #4 Irish in South Bend. As it turns out, Notre Dame was highly overrated at the time, and finished '83 with a pedestrian 7-5 record. Still, the 4-6-1 Spartans had no business beating Notre Dame in South Bend. It was George's first big win as coach, but placed some unrealistic expectations on that team and Perles.

The next MSU win came in 1986, my freshman year at MSU. I have previously written in this blog about my 18-year-old idiot self almost provoking a fight before the game with a guy in a Notre Dame t-shirt. I may be lucky that my college career didn't come to a crashing halt before it had even begun. Instead, I made it back to Shaw Hall and watched the game in an upper classman's room with a bunch of other people. It was my first moment of fun in college, watching Dean Altobelli, Todd Krumm and company eek out a 20-15 win at Spartan Stadium.

Then we had a long drought. There was the nightmarish loss in 1987 (one of the few dark clouds in an otherwise bright sunny Rose Bowl season), heartbreaking and freakish losses in 1990 and 1994.

After a two-year break in the series, Nick Saban's 1997 team registered a dominating 23-7 win in South Bend. Thus began an unexpected five-game winning streak over the Bob Davie led Irish.

 I can remember how shocked I was to come home from work late on Saturday night in 1998 and see that the Spartans had built a 42-3 lead over the Irish AT HALFTIME. That schizophrenic Spartan team had been blown out the previous week at Oregon and I had little hope that they'd be competitive with ND, much less win--but they pulled out a stunner. (Befitting that 1998 team's nature, they lost focus in the second half and were outscored 20-3, but had built such a huge lead that it didn't matter).

The Spartans continued the streak with a 23-13 win in 1999 (Gari Scott with sprinting down the sideline for a TD is etched in my brain), 27-21 in 2000 (freshman QB Jeff Smoker connecting on a last ditch 4th down TD reception to Herb Haygood in one of MSU football's most memorable moments), and a 17-10 win in 2001 that I barely remember.

The only Notre Dame game I have ever attended in person was in 2002. It looked for all the world like MSU would extend the streak to six when Charles Rogers made an acrobatic catch in the north end zone to give MSU a 17-14 lead late in the game. But on the ensuing kickoff the Irish ran the ball all the way back for a touchdown. From that point on, the 2002 season went in a tailspin.

In 2005,  the Spartans won a dramatic overtime game with Jason Teague taking the ball in for the decisive score. This was followed by the controversial "flag planting" at the 50-yard-line of Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish claimed revenge in 2006 in the "monsoon game" when the Spartans blew a 16-point lead and saw the '06 season flush itself down the toilet.

There was the "Javon Ringer carries the team" game in 2008 when he rushed for over 200 yards in a 23-7 win. And who can forget Little Giants in 2010, one of the most exciting wins in Spartan history that was also one of Mark Dantonio's defining wins as MSU football coach.

I could go on about the next few games after Little Giants, but the power of my computer is dying, and Little Giants seems like an appropriate place to end. Who knows what excitement 2017 will bring?

It has been an eventful rivalry and one that will be missed.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

First post in forever. Western Michigan game.

It's been a long time since I wrote in this blog. I'm still not sure if I'm entirely feeling it, but here's a shot.

We are already one week into the football season. The Spartans opened up last week with a workmanlike 35-10 win over Bowling Green. At least it was a much better performance than last year's season opener against Furman, a game MSU sleepwalked through (though they did win. But it was a harbinger of the disaster to come).

Today MSU takes on Western Michigan. The Broncos were 13-1 last year and just came off an impressive performance on the road against USC, in which WMU ran for over 250 yards and put up 31 points against a team that is allegedly top five in the nation. This game could be a litmus test for MSU. Are they improved from last year's disaster? Or are they where they left off last season. We shall see.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Catching up with Spartan sports

I haven't been too engaged with MSU sports this winter, certainly not as much as I have in the past. As I wrote in my previous post, events in our country and the world have rendered sports not as important or noteworthy as they once were.

Ironically, this season I have tied my personal record for Michigan State men's basketball games attended in person. I've been to eight games this season, and it would have been nine if my younger son's birthday hadn't been on MSU's senior day. (I decided to stay home and hang out with him). The Spartans have won every game I've attended this year, and my overall "in person" win-loss record is 46-3.

However, when I'm not at Breslin, I haven't been watching Spartan hoops that much. I think I've watched about one or two games on television. I just can't sit still long enough to watch a 2+ hour game on TV.

It's been a bumpy, rocky season. There have been key injuries and a young core of players who've had to learn how to play together, but it looks like maybe they are finally doing that. Miles Bridges has been excellent almost all year, but it's taken Nick Ward, Joshua Langford, and Cassius Winston most of the season to come into their own. After all the ups and downs they've been through, the MSU hoops team remarkably sits at 10-6 in the conference with an outside shot of tying for the regular season title. Who really saw that coming? Before we get too excited, though, the Spartans' final two regular season games are tough road contests against Illinois and Maryland. 10-8 is a real possibility.

The other news on the MSU sports landscape hasn't been as uplifting. The Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal has given Michigan State unwanted publicity, and the football program has a dark cloud hanging over it with a sexual abuse investigation of its own. It seems that ever since getting demolished by Alabama on December 31, 2015, the football program has hit the skids both on and off the field.

Oh, and the hockey program is a complete train wreck.

So the only reasonable bright sides this winter have been men's and women's basketball. But even the women's team has had a scare with Coach Suzy Merchant's health problems.

That's where we stand right now. I'll revisit this blog when March Madness begins.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sports don't seem very important right now

I've been away from this blog for quite some time. The truth of the matter is I just am not in the mood.

I don't want to get political here, but current events in our nation have made sports not seem particularly important. At least not important enough to write about.

I am not necessarily putting this blog in mothballs, but I may not write in here nearly as much as before. My impression is I don't have many readers anyway, so it may not matter much to anyone.

But while I'm in here, I may as well acknowledge the MSU basketball game against Michigan tomorrow. It was a game about which I felt fairly comfortable until the Wolverines demolished Indiana by 30 points. I still think that the Spartans should find a way to beat Michigan at home, but it could be a death struggle. I will go out on a limb and predict a 73-67 MSU victory. But if Michigan won, I would not be shocked.

I don't know the next time I'll write in here, maybe I'll surprise myself and write immediately after the MSU/UM game, but I really don't know.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

End of the year wrap-up

There's no way around it, 2016 was a rough year for Michigan State sports. Consequently, it was the least active year I've ever had in this blog. Quite simply, there wasn't much of anything fun to write about, so I didn't write often.

I suppose the tone for 2016 was set on December 31, 2015, when the Spartan football team was completely destroyed by Alabama in the College Football Playoff.

Though the Spartan basketball team had a reasonably decent Big Ten season in 2016, injuries prevented them from achieving everything they could have achieved, though it's hard to get too angry about a second place finish in the conference and a 13-5 Big Ten record. Though winning the Big Ten tournament was a highlight, the first round loss to Middle Tennessee State brought the season to a resounding thud of an end.

Meanwhile, the Michigan State hockey program is a far cry from what it has been in the past. The team muddled its way to a fifth place conference finish (out of six teams) in the 2015-2016 season (6-12-2 in the Big Ten, 10-23-4 overall). I don't follow hockey enough to know what it is going on under Tom Anastos, but based on the results on the ice, it's not good. Hockey at MSU doesn't have near the buzz it had in the '80s and '90s when the late great Ron Mason was coach, and has even fallen far below the standards set by Mason's successor Rick Comley.

And then there's football. 2016 was a disaster. It was so bad, that the high water mark, the pinnacle, the highlight, came in week two when the Spartans hung on to beat Notre Dame in South Bend. It was a game that, at the time, we thought was a big win. As it turned out, the Irish would go on to have a sub-par season, and the Spartans would only win one more game the rest of the year.

Let's just hope 2017 sees a reversal of fortune for MSU sports.