Sunday, November 3, 2013
"Letting the lion out of the cage." Michigan State 29, Michigan 6
I took the above quote from Mark Dantonio, who used it to describe how he expected his players to perform when the ball was kicked off at 3:30 yesterday afternoon. It was a great performance by the team as a whole, and the defense resembled lions on the hunt: constantly, relentlessly circling, stalking and eventually pouncing on their prey.
I'm still in awe of what I witnessed yesterday at Spartan Stadium. It was the greatest spectacle I've ever seen there, and the most dominating defensive performance from an MSU team in my lifetime, and that includes the 1987 Big Ten championship/Rose Bowl team.
As I told a few people yesterday, it was the game I'd waited my entire life to see. It was a thorough, methodical, and relentless annihilation of the Wolverines. Michigan's offensive line was completely over-matched, and as I hoped would happen, Devin Gardner's football life on that wet, sloppy field was made a living hell. To borrow the "Wild Kingdom" analogy once more, Gardner looked like a gazelle being relentlessly pursued by lions. He had absolutely no place to run before being pounced on by the predators in green.
As I mentioned in a previous post, this was the very first time I had ever attended an MSU/UM game in person, and it couldn't have been a more perfect one in terms of the result. The weather, on the other hand, was nothing short of horrendous: cold, rainy, wet. I told my wife that if MSU lost the game, I'd be pretty angry that I'd sat in such terrible weather for 3 1/2 hours. But the Spartans' dominating performance, and the almost Mardi Gras-like "Sparty Party" atmosphere in the waning moments of the game and the immediate aftermath, made the entire experience worthwhile. I have to admit I was practically in tears (or joy and happiness) in the final few minutes of the game. It was the resounding football victory over Michigan that I've been waiting for and longing for my entire life. I didn't feel the wetness or chill after the game ended, I was warm, giddy, bouncing up and down, and completely impervious to inclement weather.
There was also no worry of me ending up in a holding cell Saturday evening. I was on my best behavior, but there was little reason to get angry with anyone anyway. The game was such total domination by MSU, that one barely heard a boo from the smattering of Michigan fans in Section 19, where our seats were located. The only drawback was having to stand the entire game to see anything. I don't necessarily mind standing, since I'm used to the experience at rock concerts, but I felt bad for the folks behind me who wanted to sit. We had a couple sitting behind us, folks probably in their fifties, who didn't want to stand. At one point in the game, I apologized to them for standing but explained that I HAD to stand in order to see anything on the field. They didn't seem to mind. (I don't know if they lasted the entire game. They may have left early). But, for cripe sakes, it's the MICHIGAN GAME!! If you get angry about people standing through the whole game, go home and watch the game on TV!
Halftime was the only time I remember being actively annoyed by any Michigan fans. I ventured down to the concession stands in the concourse to buy some coffee in order to fight off the chill a bit. Two Michigan fans stood behind me in line, and spent the entire time complaining: "They didn't lay this [the concourse] out very well." "They don't even have TVs down here?!" I guess Michigan fans expect the Ritz-Carlton when they go to a college football game. I was a good boy and bit my tongue.
I just watched the replay of the game on the Big Ten Network, and MSU's complete defensive domination is even more profound watching the TV broadcast. I also had no idea how much Michigan's Taylor Lewan completely lost his mind during the game. I suppose getting destroyed by Shilique Calhoun all afternoon caused Lewan to completely lose his composure. Let's just say my already rather low opinion of Lewan just approached basement level. I hate to throw a college athlete under the proverbial bus, but there it is. I'm not a big fan of that kid. He has some growing up to do.
I'm impressed with how far this MSU team has come since the Notre Dame game. I don't remember ever seeing a Spartan defense this ferocious. (How appropriate, by the way, that the great Percy Snow, lynchpin of the 1987 "Gang Green" defense, was honored at halftime in a game in which MSU's defense dominated so completely). The offense is making strides, too. Sure, they had some difficulty in this game: Connor Cook and his receivers seemed to have some communication issues, some passes were bobbled, some receivers were both over and under-thrown. Overall, though, the MSU offense moved the ball and scored when it needed to. The touchdown drive to close the first half was beautiful, and Bennie Fowler made an incredible catch in the corner of the end zone, and Cook's pump fake was a thing of beauty. Connor Cook also had a brilliant completion to Fowler in the fourth quarter, when he was eluding Michigan's pass rush and connected with Fowler, who then dragged a few Wolverine defenders to the nine yard line. This set up a Spartan touchdown that made the score 22-6 and essentially iced the game.
So in conclusion, Michigan State's offense isn't great, but it's efficient...and it's slowly improving. Jeremy Langford and Delton Williams are a formidable running tandem. R.J. Shelton is making big contributions as a freshman, and MSU's kicker Michael Geiger displays incredible poise for a freshman. Josiah Price, though he bobbled a few passes on Saturday, is becoming a good tight end. Trevon Pendleton has also come on strong in the last few weeks and is becoming a multi-dimensional threat from the fullback position. I have to give major props to Dantonio and his staff for developing these players. They know their roles and play them perfectly.
And what more can be said about the defense? This has to be, if not the best defense in the country, definitely in the top two or three.
Now comes what I consider a perfectly scheduled bye week. The Spartans will have some time to absorb this win, get some players healed, and prepare for what I think should be a payback game against Nebraska.
The Spartans have three tough but certainly winnable games coming up, and this 2013 season is shaping up as one that could be special.