ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 09: The defense in a nutshell. Le'Veon Bell #24 of the Michigan State Spartans scores on a 41 yard touchdown in the second quarter during the game against the Michigan Wolverines during the game on October 9, 2010 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines 34-17 (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
[Ed. Note - As you probably noticed, I took Monday off. Travel to and from the game, family time, and having Columbus Day off allowed me to spend some time doing nothing, glorious nothing, on a Monday for the first time in far longer than I can remember. I didn't look at the internet or my email once. It was a liberating experience, and a 24 hours of rest I desperately needed. If you were stuck at work looking for something new to read here, apologies. Regular posting resumes below.]
There was something familiar about Saturday's game. It was something I'd seen before, but it wasn't quite right. The colors were wrong. The players were different. But it was still familiar. Eerily so. Around the third quarter it hit me. I was watching Michigan State do to Michigan what I'd watched the Wolverines do to them for nearly two decades.
Sibling rivalries rarely end well. There is always a winner and a loser. Generally, the older sibling wins. There are added advantages that sheer size and experience have over gumption and enthusiasm. However, time doesn't stand still. If the older sibling is complacent or doesn't grow quite as quickly as the younger one, the tables can quickly turn.
On Saturday it was clear that they had. This time it was Michigan that was hopelessly throwing hay-makers into the air as Michigan State coldly and methodically ground the Wolverines into the field turf. Sadly, it was Michigan State that most resembled the Michigan of old as the Spartans broke off one long touchdown after another. On the flip side, it was Michigan that most resembled the Spartans of the last decade. The John L Smith Spartans, specifically.
Michigan alternated bouts of competence with gigantic episodes of incompetence. Michigan's defense would manage a hard fought third down stop, only to see it's offense turn the ball over. The Offense would march all the way down the field and drop the ball or throw an interception. The Offense would finally manage to punch the ball into the endzone and the defense would summarily give up the home run play.
It was clear on Saturday that Michigan State has grown up. They took advantage of every weakness Michigan displayed. They played to their strengths rather than trying to be something they're not. They played like Michigan has played for so many years, and displayed a competence we haven't seen since Nick Saban patrolled their sidelines.
For Michigan it is time to lick our wounds and move on. If anything is clear from Saturday's loss, it is that this is the exact team we thought we'd have out of the off season. Horrific linebacker play led to easy Spartan scores. A depleted secondary let the MSU wide receivers get behind them for touchdowns. Michigan's offense was at time electric, at others, shocking. For the first time this season Denard Robinson played like the true sophomore, first time starter that he is.
There is little that we can discuss about Michigan's performance that will differ from any prior game wrap-up we've done this season. The story hasn't changed on defense. The mistakes on offense will likely continue next week when Robinson matches up against the Big Ten's best defense. This team remains young and needs time to improve. And it will. It will just take time. And patience.
I've seen a lot of comments about heart, effort, and.. ahem... "stones", and how Michigan lacked them in the loss. I disagree. Saturday's loss was not for lack of effort. It is not as thought had Michigan played harder they would've won. It is also not as though Michigan lacked the "stones" or the heart to win the game. Saturday's game was not determined by either. Saturday's game was won by the better, more mature team. Had Michigan played to the peak of it's potential, it's still a 50-50 proposition as to whether the outcome would be any different. Michigan State is an excellent team, and they forced the mistakes we saw on Saturday. More importantly, they were good enough to turn those mistakes into points.
Michigan's little brother has grown up. And now we have to hope Michigan does the same.