Monday, October 27, 2008

Little Brother has his day

No fluke this time, Michigan State was clearly the better team on Saturday. They moved the ball up and down the field by simply out executing Michigan.
-This is a huge win for State. First, I think they exorcised the ghost of Spartan Bob. Since that infamous game in 2001, they have suffered some the most heart wrenching games to their arch-rival: A 49-3 pasting where their coach admits he is clueless; a loss to the worst (at that time) Michigan team in 40 years; an all time collapse at the hands of perhaps the best WR to ever play at Michigan; and another 4th quarter collapse after which the coach got into a verbal sparing match with an opposing player. In this game, the horrendous bad call went against State, but didn't affect the outcome of the game.
-Secondly, the way they won the game was important. Instead of collapsing, they actually came from behind in the 4th quarter. A big part of success in college football is attitude. Winning teams expect to win, historically losing teams expect to lose on some level. As Bo so famously put it, "What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve" For a long time, Spartan football has been synonymous with choking and mind-boggling collapses. Slowly, but surely, Dantonio is changing that perception, both with his players, and with the fans.
-Dantonio is turning into Lloyd Carr. From the offensive style, to the emotion that occasionally spills out in press conferences, he is picking up where Carr left off. Funny that many Spartan fans who used to rip Carr for everything under the sun are more than willing to embrace Dantonio.
-The single most impressive thing to me about the State team was their execution on third down. They were something like 7 for 12 in the first half on third down. Michigan did a halfway decent job on first and second down, but just couldn't get State off the field.

So where does this game leave Michigan? About where they were before the game: in the middle of a disaster of a year, the worst in almost half a century. This season is lost, they are all but eliminated from a bowl game. Only a miracle turnaround can salvage anything for this year.
These next four games are important more for next year than this. For the players, and the coaches, the outlook for next year will be a lot better with a 3-1 or 2-2 start than if they keep losing games. Put another way, if they finish 2-10, they won't be going to a bowl game next year. With some positive momentum, a successful season next year is still possible.
-There are two ways this thing can go. Either this is the bad season almost all good coaches had in their first year, which is followed in year two or three by a breakout year (Tressel, Meyer, Carroll, Saban all followed this pattern). Or this could be the beginning of our walk in the wilderness, with no clear sign how long it will last. Nebraska is in year five of their walk, Notre Dame is in year 12. USC went a decade in the 90s between Rose Bowls, Oklahoma languished with Howard Schnellenberger or John Blake for 8 years.
-Once again the most concerning aspect of the game was our defense. Although we clearly had out moments and a few players looked really good (Brandon Graham), a combination of horrible play calling (the 3-3-5 has to go), lousy tackling, and awful pursuit angles just killed us. I can't shake the feeling that there is little improvement happening here.
-The offense also had its moments, but just seems to be a few players short (two or three O lineman, another good receiver, and perhaps a healthy QB who is very accurate).
-If there is good teaching happening here, we haven't witnessed it. The problems that were there in the Utah game are stil there now.

A note about the "Little Brother" label. I know a lot of Michigan fans use this as a derrogative term, but I choose to look at the positive connotations of the term. The State / UM rivalry is different than the OSU or ND rivalries. To me the State rivalry is friendlier, because we all work together and live together. Every one who lives in Michigan knows a Spartan or Wolverine fan. Despite the teasing, and the occasional verbal altercations, we are family. The fanbases of the two schools have more in common than either would like to admit. The OSU and ND fanbases seem more foreign to me. I would never root for either of those teams, as I often do for State. Furthermore, I wouldn't send my son to either of those two schools. The best evidence for this came at halftime of the game on saturday. At the end of the halftime show, the State and Michigan bands joined together on the field to play a couple of songs, with the two bands intermingled, side-by-side. Can you imagine that happening when Michigan visits Columbus?
As for the "little" part, State is the younger school and the younger football program. The little doesn't have to mean anything else other than "younger". My little brother is bigger, and probably smarter than I am. He's still my little brother.