First off, great showing by the Michigan fans. On some of the long runs by the Wolverines, the crowd roar was palpable and dramatic and really added to the atmosphere. It was a cathartic way to put last year’s game in Ann Arbor to bed. In fact, taking away home-field advantage is a nice advantage Michigan has over a lot of other fan bases. So, a hat tip: fans, you da real MVP.
I talked last week about Michigan State getting its offensive line in functioning shape as this game approached, and how important that would be. Sure, this is a group that played badly all season long, and Mark Dantonio needing to move maybe their best O-lineman, Brandon Clemons, over to defense about a month ago definitely didn’t help.
But this was also an offensive line with good physical tools and coaching, so I wasn’t that surprised to see them punching above their weight in a game like this - a game where they needed to play well for the team to even have a chance. And, they did - though, unfortunately for Sparty, that wasn’t enough.
Looking back, I think some of the concern over Michigan State’s success on the ground is slightly overblown. MSU was able to lean on a terrific running back in L.J. Scott and mixed in those runs with some outside looks to R.J. Shelton that they hadn’t shown on tape up to this point. Michigan only got outmatched when they were noticeably outnumbered at the line of scrimmage. Like this:
Yeah, that’s not good. This happened twice on the opening drive; individually, Michigan won their battles up front, but UM’s defense does need those linemen in there to protect and hide deficiencies in the linebacking corps. When MSU got to the second level, L.J. Scott was able to get a big gain.
It seems like Mark Dantonio learned a couple things from that domination his team suffered against Alabama last year. Against the Tide, the Spartans sold out everything to defend Derrick Henry, but Nick Saban had a nice curve ball ready by using a lot of Calvin Ridley, who finished with 138 yards.
In this one, everyone knew that MSU’s best weapon was going to be L.J. Scott, but they also tried to sprinkle in some stuff early on to R.J. Shelton on the perimeter that seemed to surprise Michigan’s defense. Later on, they went to Brian Lewerke and more of a zone-read offense that also paid off. Hats off to them for getting creative offensively and mixing up different looks pretty well; something tells me they’ll be a tough out again next year.
But the big difference between that defensive performance against the Tide and Michigan’s defense yesterday? Michigan didn’t flinch or sell out to stop any one thing. Harbaugh and Don Brown let Scott get his yards (186) and mostly shut down everything else (215 for everybody else, combined).
I know that yesterday’s game caused a lot of consternation among the fans, but I actually think it was a solid stress test for this defense. For the most part they did alright. The safeties are looking better, too.
Though, on the flip side, it is tempting to look at this game as a tune-up game for Alabama if the two meet in the playoff (obligatory knock on wood) - and it is easy to find some reasons for concern there.
Bama can certainly give Michigan the same looks that State did and execute them more effectively. Damien Harris is a more explosive back than L.J. Scott, and Scott was mostly able to work around Ben Gedeon in the middle. Calvin Ridley is much more athletic than R.J. Shelton, and Shelton was still able to rip off a couple of big gains when he got outside.
As much as a hypothetical game two months away can be concerning, this game was concerning in that respect. But we’ll see how this team grows, and then tackle that if and when we get there. That’s a long way away.
Yes, this was also a good prep game for Ohio State. But again, we’ll worry about this when we get there. Michigan got some good in-game experience and survived with a road win, and I’ll take that any day of the week. Next up is Maryland.
Chris Wormley’s only stat on Saturday: a penalty, personal foul call with 21 seconds in the fourth. But he was maybe the most underrated player on defense with how much he pressured throws and impacted both the ground game and the pass game.
Wilton Speight does throw a pretty deep ball. His mechanics look consistent; he just needs to connect more often with some of his targets. It’s strange that “arm strength” was a concern at any point.
Also, hats off to Amara Darboh, who’s got the market cornered on one-handed grabs among college receivers. We’re coming after you, Odell Beckham, Jr.
This was exactly the kind of game Jabrill Peppers needed to keep his Heisman candidacy afloat. He was the headliner of the game and put up a highlight reel’s worth of plays. At this point I think the odds are good he makes it to New York.
To dwell on this for just a second: Michigan State still hasn’t won a Big Ten game yet, which is simply mind-boggling. Indiana, Northwestern, and Maryland were all losses. Only the Indiana game was within single digits.
Sure, they put up a good fight against Michigan (the ol’ moral victory for the locker room), and just in time for the two worst teams in the conference: Illinois and Rutgers are the next two opponents. But yeesh. This has been like watching someone tumble down a really long hill without being able to get up.
And, just like that person on the hill, it has been lots of fun to watch.