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October 15, 2011

'We're setting history around here'

Trenton Robinson channeled the average MSU fan at halftime today and begged the MSU offense to start putting more points on the board.

    "'Hey, we need you guys! We need you!'" was Keith Nichol's recollection of Robinson's brief speech. "And it was true."

    The MSU offense came right out in the second half and drove for a touchdown to go ahead.

    “It almost put tears in my eyes," Robinson said of the offense apparently responding to him. "It was the best feeling I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

    That drive was capped by a third-down pass from Kirk Cousins to Keshawn Martin. So was MSU's next touchdown drive, at the end of the quarter. Of all the big -- and wild, and wacky, and violent -- plays in this game, those two third-down conversions against the best red-zone defense in the Big Ten loom large. If those drives end in field goals, the end of the game is perhaps very different.

    That's not to say this wasn't a commanding win. It was. MSU's defense allowed the first TD drive and then the 34-yard pass to Roy Roundtree for the touchdown -- and that was it. And it scored. U-M was 3 of 15 on third down and had 250 total yards. Denard Robinson had the fewest rushing yards (42) and worst passing accuracy (9 of 24) of his career as a starter. The Spartans had seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss against a team that had allowed one sack all year. MSU ran for 213 yards and went 7 of 14 on third down. This despite two full quarters of working from deep in its own end while also facing the wind.

    Drops, fumbles, penalties helped keep Michigan in the game. Michigan's defense stepped up and got some stops. And Robinson squirted free and made some plays. But that Heisman campaign is pretty much over, just as it was a year ago when these teams met. The Spartans have an effective formula for him.

    “We just wanted to contain him, and that’s what we did," Trenton Robinson said of the other Robinson. "We’re not gonna let one guy beat us.”

    So it's four straight, a stretch the MSU seniors won't ever want to forget and the U-M seniors won't ever want to discuss again. It's also a 2-0 start in the Gauntlet of Doom for MSU -- with a split needed in the next two weeks, in my mind, to make the Spartans the favorites in the Legends. I don't expect U-M to plummet as it did after this loss the past two seasons, this is a solid eight- and maybe even nine-win team. It's decent enough on defense and still explosive on offense. I think it's fair to go ahead and credit MSU's defense for how that offense struggled today.

    And now we get to see if that defense can deal with Wisconsin.

    Also tonight:

    * Edwin Baker circa 2010 showed up. I'm thinking that week off really helped him. He would have had 200-plus yards and another touchdown, I think, but he fumbled it away on a play that could have gone 80. Only bad moment for him. And if we're mentioning Baker, we have to mention the offensive line. It has improved in each of the past two games. I don't know how things will go between the MSU defense and Wisconsin offense, but MSU's offense can score on Wisconsin if it can limit the mistakes.

    * I didn't hate the Michigan fourth-and-1 call, play-action instead of just running it. It didn't work because MSU sent Johnny Adams on a blitz, but without that it might have been a big play.

    * Cousins played a good game (though I imagine the mere 120 yards passing could serve as easy Kirkmudgeon fodder) and had more people praising him afterward.

    “I think he does a phenomenal job," Dan Roushar said. "I thought he made some big-time throws today. He wins for us. He’s our leader. … We feel very, very fortunate to have the quarterback we do.”

    * Brady Hoke and Mark Dantonio had the warmest post-game greeting between an MSU and U-M coach that I can recall. It's not fake. This rivalry won't lose any steam -- you won't let it -- but there's mutual respect going on right now.

    “As far as Brady, Brady’s a good man, I think he’s a very good coach," Dantonio said. "They’re a well-coached football team and they’re just starting. So it takes time.”

    Said Hoke: “He outcoached us and outplayed us, and we have to do a much better job in a lot of different ways.”

    * Several players, including Will Gholston, went into the stands for a wild post-game celebration.

    “I don’t know, man," Gholston said when asked why he jumped up there. "They showed us so much love, I felt I had to jump in the stands and show them love, too.”

    * MSU's defensive aggression was the key to the win even though it went too far at times. The Marcus Rush hit that hurt Robinson was a definite late hit. I've seen some speculate (thanks, Twitter) that Will Gholston could face suspension for the jab he landed on Taylor Lewan. Lewan did have a grip on Gholston's facemask before that, but it was a bad move by Gholston. It will be interesting to see if the Big Ten takes action. Both sides after the game downplayed the personal foul talk. Jordan Kovacs said, "No, I do not," when asked if he thought MSU played dirty.

    Pat Narduzzi said MSU was going for consistent "unnecessary roughness" in a manner of speaking, and he was asked if all the hard hits may have had a mental effect on U-M's quarterbacks.

    “I think so. If I’m a quarterback I’m going, ‘Wait a minute, what’s coming at me,’ especially after last week. … You know, we don’t want to hurt anybody. I feel bad (Robinson) was laying on the ground. I didn’t see it, I was looking downfield, I don’t know if it was late, but we don’t need those 15-yarders. And that’s probably the most disappointing thing. We’re a classy, disciplined football team and we haven’t done that all year.”

    Said Dantonio on the penalties: “Some of them, I don’t know, you guys can make that call. But I do think it was a cleanly played football game, a hard-played football game. There was toughness out there, on both sides. I respect Michigan in all respects.  ... This is football. You have to play this game a little bit angry, regardless of who you’re playing.”

    * One thing Dantonio talks about every year when this game arrives is the impact it has on fans and former players and coaches. He had much to say on that tonight.

    “This game is about uniting our entire fan base," he said. "Our fans were tremendous out there, outstanding. Anybody who’s ever put on a green shirt with a Spartan on it is gonna feel personal about this game. Now you take that and (take) a guy who has played on this football team at some point or another and gone through the trials and tribulations that go with playing football in general, there’s a lot of emotion. And it links us up. It links myself with every coach that’s ever coached here, it links our players with every single player who’s ever played here. And that’s strong. That’s something that lasts a lifetime.

    "So I can’t tell you how many texts I get and things I get before a game from former players, and the guys who have been here since I’ve come back and the guys who were here before when I was here, they’re special people to me in my life. The guys who have sweated since I’ve come back here as a head coach, this is very, very special to them because they are the program. They are the program. This is not just our current people, this is all the ones who have come before us, they are the program. I’m happy for coach Perles. Coach Perles comes to my house when we beat Michigan. So I’m very happy and I look forward to seeing him tonight. Happy for all former Spartans out there.”

    * More from the cutting room:

    Worthy on MSU's confidence in winning: “We had no doubts in our minds. We just wanted to go out there and show our dominance and prove that Michigan is a good team but at the same time Michigan State is an even better team.”

    Worthy on the U-M uniform switcheroo (editorial comment: Can we get back to regular unis next year, fellas?): “They tried to match ours, but I still think ours is better. Maize and blue doesn’t really go together in my book.”

    Nichol on the four-game streak: "We're setting history around here."

    Nichol on U-M: "I don't think they can ever underestimate us again."

    Trenton Robinson on the crowd's effect on U-M: “They didn’t know what to do. Our fans were amazing today.”

    Gholston, explaining why he thanked Hoke after the game: “He has turned Michigan around, like he’s turned every other program around, Ball State and San Diego State. And I just appreciate it. I like competition. And I know he’s gonna have everybody ready for next year and the years to come.”

    * Amazing season, Detroit Tigers.




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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter

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