Saturday, October 15, 2011

Michigan State's Perseverance Allows for Continued Dominance Over Michigan


They can try, dare I say it, to hype the Michigan and Michigan State game as one of the most heated rivalries in college football. But there are better rivalries on football Saturdays — even though the Michigan and Michigan State clash is a rebirth, a bitter skirmish to embrace in Big 10 country.

If we grew accustomed to rivalries as fascinating as USC vs. Notre Dame, Alabama vs. Auburn, Florida State vs. Miami, Texas vs. Texas A&M and lastly Michigan vs. Ohio State, we now can deeply involve ourselves in a game where there is much antagonism between two interstate football programs.

It’s annually a hated rivalry few others care about, sensing that it will be irrelevant whenever Michigan and MSU are scheduled to meet, but the competition is merciless and it’s the equivalent of two men stealing each other’s women or even a few men fighting at bars for the hottest bimbo.

As one of the fiercest rivalries in the state, these schools don’t even like each other and probably the animosity is what sets Michigan and MSU apart. It may have been the most ballyhooed event in college football. But then again, as one of the heavenly inter-conference battles, it’s now meaningful if Michigan and State meets on a collision course as they did on Saturday, and releases anger with their powerful, hard-hitting defenses to turn it into a game of sloppy ball.

The public is familiar with the Spartans’ fight song that includes a line of “smash through that line of blue.” Again, like last season, the Spartans smashed through that line of blue, literally thrashing the enemies of the state and still own bragging rights until next season. The folks in East Lansing are familiar with the line from the fight song that includes “Michigan is weakening.”

Some would call this motivation, while some would call this a sense of passion and commitment to having a successful season by beating the Wolverines. It ended with the Spartans having the last word in an unbelievable battle against Michigan, and it would so happen that Michigan State beats its interstate rivals each season. It all ended so nicely when the Spartans PREPARED FOR BATTLE on a play where safety Isaiah Lewis returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown to give Michigan State a 28-14 lead with less than six minutes to play.

It was the one errant throw by Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson that could have dictated the Wolverines’ fate of qualifying for a bowl game, a dreadful ending to silence all debates and politics about Michigan’s storybook season. The painful loss was as if the Wolverines had been beaten in the national title game and it felt like January for Michigan, leaving the field limping so badly with bruised arms, fatigued legs and debilitated bodies.

It’s not the end of the world, but the Spartans have won four straight against Michigan for the first time since 1959-62, matching Michigan State’s longest streak in the series. Given all that, and even greater, another win against the hated rivals, Jerel Worthy was the first Spartan to charge across the field, gesturing four fingers skyward while celebrating the nicest victory. “A clean sweep!” Worthy yelled.

Mark Dantonio, although his coaching job was squarely called into question at one point after the Spartans had avoidable losses, is saving his job each season because he knows he can prepare his team to beat the Wolverines.

He’s not intimidated standing on the sideline and directing his Spartans enough that MSU is overly dominating Michigan each season, readily prepared to beat the far more salient football program in the state. He wore a green sweatshirt, emblazoned with the Spartan logo on it, and the headset over his right ear. In the last four years now, there has been a big brother and a little brother on Michigan’s family tree — a MSU program that’s a bit more deeper and determined to defeat its instate foes.

It was a meaningful game for Michigan, and losing to the Spartans wasn’t helpful or good for a well-known school in pursuit of national spotlight. On the gorgeous afternoon of a nice day for an epic clash on the field in East Lansing, Jared McGaha and Joel Foreman hoisted the Paul Bunyan trophy after the Spartans came away victorious, leaving a hostile territory with widened smiles and confidence.

If Michigan has much more parity and cohesiveness under new head coach Brady Hoke, who has revitalized the program and given the brand-name university back its identity, it would be incredible to think that the Spartans were the stronger ones to survive on a bloody, fierce Saturday afternoon.

“For the rest of our life, we can walk the streets of Michigan,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said.

It’s hard to walk the streets of Michigan as an MSU athlete when a school is not highly regarded, simply because Michigan is a relevant program, if not one of the schools in conversation for a major BCS bowl game. We can really grasp a sense of Cousin’s perspective, a fifth-year senior who has become the first Michigan State starting quarterback to win three straight over Michigan.

He is, however, slightly cocky but is relaxed and doesn’t mind walking in the public’s view, beating the Wolverines enough times in his college career. The Wolverines, virtually losing optimism quicker than Robinson’s agility, had their first real test. This was the type of grueling matchup Michigan couldn’t handle, unable to past the stiffest test on the road this season.

Because of the Wolverines’ failures to dart past the stingiest, hard-hitting Michigan State defense, the Spartans stifled and harassed Michigan and Robinson. If not for Hoke, a coach who has given the Michigan faithful every reason to believe in the improbable after a 6-0 start, the Wolverines wouldn’t have established a new culture of prosperity.

That’s not nearly good enough for a program outplayed and bullied by Michigan State’s stout defenders. The most dazzling highlights of this game came in the third quarter when Keshawn Martin, an all-purpose wide receiver, practically showcasing his speed and quickness, galloped to the end zone twice.

“I think our defense played tremendous,” Dantonio said.

So then let’s credit the Spartans defense, particularly when the Wolverines had a chance to tie it. But Robinson was hurried, sacked and stopped on fourth-and-1 from the MSU 9-yard line with under less than six minutes left. For much of the night, he was held tightly and walked to the sideline like a lost child denied of his youth — deprived of his abilities to race through the MSU defense.

After an afternoon of being pounded hard to the turf, being abused badly and being limited to 42 yards rushing on 18 carries with one touchdown and 123 yards passing, Robinson watched from the sideline significantly banged up. This all happened when he was slammed so hard in the backfield having to leave the game. This all happened when he misfired over the middle and had been picked off for a game-deciding score.

In all, the Spartans are more dominant than most people think — a very good team with a powerful and monstrous defense. It was Edwin Baker, Michigan State star running back who had his best game of the season, rushing for 148 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. In this game alone, the Spartans were true warriors playing with attitude, perseverance and heart — and on the top of things — they taunted and brought down the Michigan Men. Most of the time, Cousins threw touchdowns while emotionally fired up to face his rivals.

Remember when no one expected the Spartans to hold Ohio State to one late touchdown? If you can’t recall, you certainly remember it now after MSU just defeated the unbeaten rivals from Michigan.