Monday, September 28, 2015

My post-Central Michigan game blather and anxiety

For the 23rd consecutive season, I have attended at least one MSU football game. It was a streak that began, coincidentally, with the 1993 game against Central Michigan.

It's a relatively modest streak, but I've grown somewhat proud of it and feel a little pressure each season to keep it going. Thankfully, between living only a few miles from the Michigan State campus and having a family member with season tickets, I am generally able--without much difficulty--to keep the streak going.

Since I'm nerdy and obsessive enough to keep track of such trivia, yesterday's game was my 49th MSU football game. That certainly pales compared to people who have had season tickets for decades, but perhaps better than many more casual fans, or fans who live far enough away from East Lansing that they can't make it to the stadium for games.

It was a gloriously warm and sunny afternoon on campus. One of those early autumn days that you need to cherish because we just don't get enough of them in Michigan. I enjoyed food and a couple of beers at an elaborate tailgate.

As far as the game itself goes, it was frustrating and nerve-wracking. MSU's offense sputtered and backfired and the Spartan defense had a difficult time getting off the field, seemingly giving up big plays on every 3rd and long situation that CMU faced. In the third quarter, when the Chips had narrowed the score to 17-10 and seemingly nothing was going MSU's way, I had serious 2009 flashbacks. I audibly declared that if MSU lost the CMU, I would never again attend a Spartan/Chippewa football game.

Thankfully, the Spartans turned up the intensity and focus in the fourth quarter, putting together a couple sustained touchdown drives that put the game away. But it sure wasn't pretty.

This may be the most criticized and over-analyzed undefeated team in MSU history, but it comes with the territory when the stakes for this program have become so high--easily the loftiest in my lifetime. And, truth be told, the Spartans have yet to play to what most consider their full capability.

The injuries are mounting, though--and that's greatly concerning. It started before the season even started when Ed Davis was lost for the year, then Vayante Copeland suffered a season-ending injury in the Oregon game and the defensive backfield is still trying to overcome his loss. Offensive tackles Kodi Kieler and Jack Conklin are now out for who knows how long. In short, the injury situation is worse than it has been since Dantonio became coach in 2007 (I certainly can't remember such a rash of injuries to key players). Let's face it, this team absolutely cannot afford any more injuries or it can kiss any hope for the college playoff goodbye.

We can also no longer only view Ohio State and perhaps Nebraska as the biggest remaining games on the schedule. Harbaugh already has Michigan playing much better than they have in several years, and the October 17 tilt in Ann Arbor is shaping into a potential landmine.

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