By Tony Gerdeman
Well, it only took five years and it may only last for this season, but Michigan's football program is officially better than Michigan State's again.
Big Brother finally rose from the ashes and bested Little Brother with a field goal with five seconds left in the game.
Michigan's 12-10 win over the Spartans was never pretty. It never found a decent light, or a better side. It was ugly from the get go, and to me that's why it was just about perfect.
Michigan State and Michigan aren't supposed to take the field and move with each other like dancing partners. There isn't a give and take. They are supposed to brawl. Everything has to be next to impossible, or else it's just not right.
Of my four favorite college football rivalries, Michigan is involved in three of them. I love this rivalry because there is such a level of hate that respect can't permeate.
There is something to be said for the kind of hate that eats out your gut and invades your sleep. I don't know if Brady Hoke has that kind of hate for Michigan State, but I'm pretty sure Mark Dantonio has it for Michigan.
If Dantonio had won this game, he could have cussed out every single Spartan fan for a month, insulted their wives, stink-palmed them, whatever, and they'd all gladly take it and ask for more. Anything to shut up Big Brother.
But he lost, and there is no team that he would less want to lose to. It's that Little Brother Syndrome which has spiked this rivalry since Dantonio's arrival. He hates Michigan, and has done so long before he was ever the Spartans' head coach.
When it came down to it in this game, he had Michigan State playing as well as they could have expected to, and the Wolverines still came away with the win in a game where they never even reached the endzone.
There's beating your rival, and then there's trolling them. On Saturday, Sparty got trolled.
When Michigan Was On Offense
The Michigan offense didn't get much done against a very good Michigan State defense, but they they did enough. They rushed for 163 yards and passed for 163 yards.
Denard Robinson finished 14-29 passing for 163 yards and threw a meaningless interception on a hail mary at the end of the first half.
The Spartans did a tremendous job against him, forcing him into some throws downfield that weren't converted. Where he excelled, however, was in keeping Drew Dileo in his eye line, which I've only been suggesting for most of the season now.
Dileo caught four passes for 92 yards. Two of those receptions were on third down, one was second and eleven, and the fourth was a 35-yarder on first down. He provided a reliable security blanket, and should continue to be looked at.
Only three passes were caught by the other wide receivers, as Jeremy Gallon, Roy Roundtree and Devin Gardner all caught just one pass. Gardner was targeted four times, but could only come down with one reception.
I do like what Dileo and Gallon provide in the slot, as well as what big bodies like Gardner and Devin Funchess can do. Anything they can get from anybody else, including Roundtree, is a complete bonus.
I'll go ahead and ask again why they don't use Gallon more in the passing game. He picked up 22 yards on a throwback screen, which is generally a killer play because the entire defense chases after Robinson as he's rolling out.
It's interesting to watch Gallon and Dileo, two little Rich Rodriguez holdovers that might be the best playmakers in the passing game. Rarely are completions to these two wasted.
Also during the game I finally realized who Funchess reminds me of – Kellen Winslow, Jr., but without the extreme sense of entitlement and the terrible father. He is a tremendous athlete who knows how to use his hands at the high point of his jump better than most veterans, let alone true freshmen.
Robinson did have some issues getting passes batted down at the line of scrimmage when he stayed in the pocket. It's also clear that linebackers are always going to give him trouble in the passing game. He just doesn't see them as well as he should. He threw one right to Max Bullough early in the second quarter that was very reminiscent of the Notre Dame game.
Michigan State never sacked Robinson, but they did tackle the Wolverines in the backfield nine times for a loss of 29 yards.
Robinson carried the ball 20 times for 96 yards, and Toussaint carried it 10 times for 52 yards. He had a 38-yarder, and his other nine carries went for just 14 yards. He also caught three passes for two yards. In total, five of his 13 touches went for negative yards, including two of his three receptions.
He should be ripping off a 38-yarder every single week, but he just isn't doing it.
Vincent Smith was the only other tailback to get a carry, and he picked up twelve yards. Thomas Rawls didn't carry the ball because they obviously don't trust him yet, even though they say that they do.
Overall, the Spartans attacked the Michigan running game, and lived with the consequences. Toussaint had a 38-yard run and Robinson had a 44-yarder. Those two runs accounted for 82 of their 163 rushing yards. Their other 30 carries went for 81 yards. But it was enough.
When Michigan Was On Defense
I'm just going to say this right now and it in no way is meant to take away what the Michigan defense did, but Le'Veon Bell is one of the most tackleable players in the country. The Wolverines certainly played a sound game against him, which is all a defense needs to do.
Besides, Michigan fans can't get upset at me for saying that about Bell since they've been saying it for years. He just takes too long to get going, and the Wolverine defense was already swarming him before he could find a hole. They held him to 68 yards on 26 carries.
Amazingly, they never tackled him behind the line of scrimmage. His long gain of the day was eight yards, and he was so well contained he may as well have been quarantined.
Jake Ryan was the only Michigan defender with a tackle for loss, which came on a sack in the second quarter which was quickly negated by a 45-yard completion to Bennie Fowler.
I really liked how Michigan State attacked the Wolverines downfield. There were several open receivers who had beaten the cornerbacks, but Andrew Maxwell just couldn't hit them as often as he needed to.
Maxwell finished 21-34 for 192 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception to Jordan Kovacs on an overthrow.
Freshman receiver Aaron Burbridge beat cornerback J.T. Floyd on a streak down the sideline in the fourth quarter, but Maxwell overthrew him as well. Earlier in the game, Keith Mumphery beat Floyd on a similar play, and was also overthrown. Both would have resulted in touchdowns.
I did like what I saw out of Raymon Taylor. Even though he gives up short catches, he's right there to tackle the ball. He's doing what he's being told to do, which should give his coaches confidence to let him do more each week.
It was good to finally see an offense attack the Wolverines deep, and they struggled against it. Now, they only gave up ten points, so they couldn't have struggled much, but the plays were there to be made.
Eventually, with a quarterback being given as much time as Maxwell was, the Wolverines are going to pay for their lack of a pass rush.
On the season, the Michigan defensive line two-deep has a total of four sacks. Craig Roh leads with 2.0, and one of them was a mistake by a quarterback who ran out of bounds with Roh in the vicinity rather than simply throwing the ball away. Jake Ryan has 3.5 on his own, and he frequently plays a rush end, but they can't just rely on Ryan to make every play.
With Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State still on the schedule, if those quarterbacks can complete over half of their deep balls, the Wolverines will be in trouble. If they can't, then you have to like Michigan's chances to win out.
The Special Teams
The Wolverines fell for a fantastic fake punt run that picked up 26 yards. However, any time a fake punt is the longest run of the day, as a defense, you're probably going to win that game.
Jeremy Gallon returned a punt for 26 yards, which further baffles me why he doesn't touch the ball more.
The kicking game was pretty stellar for the Wolverines. Brendan Gibbons made all three of his field goal attempts, including the game winner from 38 yards out with five seconds to play. Matt Wile came in as the long-range kicker and drilled a 48-yarder at the end of the first half. Some very clutch kicking overall for the Wolverines.
Wile and Will Hagerup combined for seven punts and a 42.1 yard average. The Spartans were only able to return one of those punts.
What Does It All Mean
It means that Michigan finally played a Big Ten team with a pulse, and when things weren't looking all that good, they still found a way to win.
This wasn't Illinois or Purdue, this was a Michigan State team that had no desire to quit. Even if they did want to quit, they weren't going to do it against the Wolverines.
Michigan got the very best that Michigan State could give, and they won without scoring a touchdown. To me, that's a larger statement than not actually being able to score a touchdown.
That doesn't mean it should become habit, nor do I think it will. Michigan's offense isn't going to face another defense like the Spartans the rest of the regular season.
However, most able-bodied defenses can defend a predictable one-dimensional offense. The key for defenses will be to limit Denard Robinson's big plays. If Robinson doesn't grab large chunks of land one way or another, I think scoring is going to become more difficult along the way.
Nobody will attack this offense like Michigan State did, which might really be the only way to keep Robinson from going off. Of course, if you miss him, then he's gone anyway.
Defensively, next week is going to be a very interesting game. In Lincoln, at night, we will find out even more about this defense. Everybody knew they could stop Michigan State's running game, and everybody assumed Sparty would stop their own passing game. At Nebraska, however, there are still a few unknowns about how well they will contain the Huskers' ability to spread the ball out.
This will be the best offense they have faced this season. If they rough the Huskers up like they have everyone else in the Big Ten, then it's time to declare Greg Mattison a witch and have him tried.
Also, if Michigan wins next week, you can go ahead and put them in the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Road to the Big One
Sept 1 Alabama 41 - Michigan 14 (0-1)
Sept 8 Michigan 31 - Air Force 26 (1-1)
Sept 15 Michigan 63 - Massachusetts 13 (2-1)
Sept 22 Notre Dame 13 - Michigan 6 (2-2)
Sept 29 Bye
Oct 6 Michigan 44 - Purdue 13 (3-2, 1-0)
Oct 13 Michigan 45 - Illinois 0 (4-2, 2-0)
Oct 20 Michigan 12 - Michigan State 10 (5-2, 3-0)
Oct 27 at Nebraska
Nov 3 at Minnesota
Nov 10 Northwestern
Nov 17 Iowa
Nov 24 at Ohio State
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