By Heiko Yang (with Bryan Mackenzie channeling MARK DANTONIO)
Mark Dantonio walks into the locker room moments before kickoff. He scans the young men before him as they fall silent. The stadium trembles around them in anticipation of battle.
“We've been here before,” he begins dourly. “Every time these jokers show the slightest hint of a pulse, they declare themselves ‘back.’ Remember 2010, when Michigan came in ranked and feeling all Big Brother-y? How'd that work out for them? Or when they managed to eke out that one 12-10 win? How did that Return to Awesome turn out in the next couple of years?”
Laughter and jeering fills the locker room.
“They've got their khakis and their hype and their national respect. Media outlets spell their coach's name correctly. And that's cool. It's probably always going to be that way. People see Harbaugh doing the stuff that worked a couple of generations ago and get all excited. But at the end of the day, these are the same players we beat the hell out of over the last two years. This defensive line that everyone is drooling over? It's the same line we busted up for 219 yards rushing last year. This ‘new and improved’ offensive line is the same one against which we've racked up 20 tackles for loss over the last two games. Shilique, are you scared?”
“No sir!” Shilique Calhoun puts on a menacing grin.
“So now we've won 30 of our last 33 games,” Dantonio continues matter-of-factly. “We've beaten Ohio State and Baylor and Stanford... and oh, right, Michigan... and now we're supposed to be intimidated by some new guy because they've shut out three crappy offenses in a row? We're supposed to be cowed by 110,000 wine-drinking hipsters? Tom Brady ain't walkin' through that door. Instead, they've got a guy who Iowa - IOWA - thought was too conservative.”
Another round of raucous laughter. Dantonio motions for silence.
“We might not win this game,” he says, his tone measured now. “There's no hiding that we're beat up. Jack's ankle is basically a toppled Jenga tower. There were six guys in the secondary's position group meetings this week, and only three of y'all were old enough to shave.
“But that’s not an excuse. The people in that stadium don’t need any more reason to convince themselves that we're going away. They've thought that before, too. They’ve predicted it every year since we started beating them.”
Dantonio pauses dramatically as the anticipation builds.
“… But they never learn, do they? Today let’s show them that we’re here to stay. And let’s remind them one more time that pride comes before the fall.”
With a forceful “Spartans!” and a flourish of helmets, the Michigan State football team heads for the tunnel.
Michigan State 14, Michigan 13
By Nick RoUMel
The muffled sounds of the band and the crowd could be heard outside the locker room. Inside, not a word was said as Coach Harbaugh surveyed his young men. They sat, winged helmets on their laps, waiting. They wore the maize pants and blue jerseys of Michigan tradition: none of this bumblebee crap. For 88 years Michigan teams had run through that tunnel wearing the same thing. So they would again, in a few minutes. But first Coach had a few things to say.
“I’m going to tell you what we will not do today. We will not be intimated. We will not play scared. We are not the same team that apologized for poking a one inch hole in their precious turf. We are the 2015 Michigan Wolverines.
“We will not embarrass ourselves or lose our cool. If one of their players decides to try and screw off our quarterback’s head like a bottlecap, we will not retaliate and get a stupid penalty. We will respond by winning.
He paused and glared. “We will play with integrity, and we will pay with intensity. We will protect the ball, and protect each other. These are the fundamentals you learned in pee wee football. You will not forget them today. You will block, tackle, and run on every play until the whistle blows and the ball is in the referee’s hand.
“You will FINISH. You will not quit until your opponent is knocked to the ground, cleared out of the way, or left behind. If you block one man to the ground, you will find another. If you are knocked down on defense, you will get up, chase the play and tackle the runner. If you have the ball, you will cradle it to your body and move. You will not go down if one man grabs you, or two, or three. You will churn your legs and propel your body and you WILL NOT QUIT.
“When you run through that tunnel, there will be 110,000 people going crazy for you. So you can go a little crazy for them. Those people in that stadium –”
Coach Harbaugh paused. “I went to high school across the street. I left, then returned for college. I left again, for a long time. People said I would never return. But I was called back.
“Look around at your teammates. Most of you had never set foot in Ann Arbor until you were recruited here, and you may never return to live. But remember this: the University of Michigan will never leave you. So today, give a nod of respect. Show this town, show this University, show those people – who are here for you, and believe in you - why you came here. Why you chose to wear the Maize and Blue. And why Michigan is not only the greatest University in the world, but the best damned football team in the state.
“Put on your helmets. Wear your uniform with pride. Respect its history, and this great Michigan football tradition. Some say Michigan football is back - but I tell you that it never went anywhere. It was always here: right here in this locker room, out there on that field, and in the hearts of those fans who are about to go crazy for you.
“Now follow me through that tunnel. We got some ballin’ to do.”
MICHIGAN 31, MSU 0
|WHAT||Michigan State at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
October 17th, 2015
|THE LINE||Michigan –7|
|PARKING||Sold out(!). Better get on that OSU spot.|
|WEATHER||mostly cloudy, high 40s, 0% chance of rain|
Michigan State entered this season a projected juggernaut with an NFL quarterback and that ol' Spartan defense. While MSU is undefeated, it hasn't really worked out like that. MSU saw their marquee win severely compromised when Utah atomized Oregon at Autzen and then erased when Washington State beat the Ducks in overtime.
Meanwhile MSU has struggled to separate from a collection of teams that are Not Good. CMU was within a touchdown deep into the third quarter. Air Force outgained MSU by about 100 yards but repeatedly fumbled away a chance at the upset. Purdue came storming back from 21-0 to 24-21 and had two cracks at a winning drive. Rutgers led most of the way last week.
None of these teams are sneaky good. Oregon is currently the top-ranked MSU opponent in S&P at 64th. WMU and CMU look like MAC bottom dwellers. Purdue and Rutgers are Purdue and Rutgers. I guess we can give MSU a pass against Air Force because never schedule Air Force. But Michigan State looks vulnerable. Thus an approximately 14-point swing in the line from preseason.
Run Offense vs Michigan State
McDowell gets upfield in a hurry
(This preview ignores the Air Force game for obvious reasons. Never schedule Air Force.)
Michigan State's defense is, as always, highly aggressive. MSU has overwhelmed a number of very bad rush offenses; the last two weeks they have also parted like the Red Sea for long touchdowns. They want to be in your backfield on every play, but this year they don't have the secondary to back that up consistently.
MSU runs a lot of twist blitzes with their linebackers that see DT Malik McDowell roar upfield a gap or even two outside where he is nominally expected to be. This has killed Michigan (and a lot of other teams) for a long time. It'll be interesting to see how Michigan combats that under Jim Harbaugh.
We had a brief period of competitive football last week in which it looked like he wanted to spread a similar defense horizontally and run zone at it. That was only dubiously effective, as two big De'Veon Smith runs came when linebackers missed tackles at or near the line of scrimmage and several others were blown up. But by the time adjustments should have been made, Michigan was up 28-0 and thinking about this game.
Anyway. McDowell, Lawrence Thomas, and Shilique Calhoun are all penetration-or-death types; three-tech Joel Heath is more of an OL occupier. This can lead to some big gaps when someone roars upfield and Heath gets blasted back—to my eye he's not too good. The trick is getting through that gap instead of getting nailed in the backfield.
MSU's linebackers are all okay to good. They miss Ed Davis's playmaking presence but with Yet Another Bullough and Jon Reschke they hold it down just fine.
If Michigan tries to pop outside they are going to meet a version of the fate that Karan Higdon did against Northwestern. MSU will activate the playside safety as soon as Michigan shows run action. The difference here is that Northwestern has a very solid pair of safeties and MSU does… not. The entire MSU secondary struggles to tackle.
Add it up and it's still pretty good. MSU ranks 47th in rush defense on S&P, and while their plain old numbers aren't nearly as good you should remember that we are ignoring the Air Force game, a huge distorting factor.
Michigan's end of this has been solid and uninspiring. They've willingly flung their dudes into stacked boxes for big chunks of games, both to hone their players and run down the clock. An ever-shifting series of fancy plays has helped them keep their head above water, and a penetration-mad MSU seems vulnerable to Harbaugh's wham series plus the various traps Michigan's shown to date. I'm sure MSU coaches are aware of this as well, but there's only so much you can do to revamp what you do in a week.
Michigan's OL has rounded into a B or B+ unit featuring Mason Cole and Graham Glasgow as emerging stars; their blocky/catchy crew has been at about the same level. De'Veon Smith, Michigan's lead back, had a detectable limp after the Northwestern game but will play and will probably carry the load all day. His injury is one that lingers but you can tough it out, and Smith is a tough hombre.
Michigan is going to want to get reasonable gains when they are put under pressure and hit a few big plays. Like Northwestern, down-to-down consistency is going to be tough to come by.
KEY MATCHUP: MCDOWELL and CALHOUN versus WHAM and ASSORTED OTHER HARBAUGH GOTCHA PLAYS. The prospect of a coaching matchup that is even or even slants a bit towards Michigan is on the table. Wouldn't it be nice?
[Hit THE JUMP for NOT YOUR OLDER BROTHER'S MICHIGAN STATE SECONDARY and THE GUY ACTUALLY LIVING UP TO EXPECTATIONS]
MSU Visitors: Biggest Recruiting Weekend Of The Fall
Well, I hadn't even started this post before Michigan got a commitment this weekend. Three-star GA RB Kurt Taylor is the newest member of the 2017 class; here's a short post on him for now, and he'll get the full Hello treatment on Sunday.
As for the rest of this weekend's visitors, 247's Steve Lorenz has the full list posted for free. Some highlights follow.
- Five-star GA TE Isaac Nauta is arguably the most important recruit left on Michigan's board—yes, perhaps even including Rashan Gary—and this weekend's visit will give the Wolverines a chance to push past home squad Georgia.
- Four-star CA WR Dylan Crawford hasn't let on much about his recruitment, but 247 national analyst Steve Wiltfong recently put in a Crystal Ball pick to Michigan.
- Four-star CA ATH Lamar Jackson was ticketed for USC by most; with that program in a state of disarray, the door is open for another school to make a move.
- Four-star CA CB David Long is a Stanford commit but Michigan appears to have a real shot regardless.
- Penn State commits Lavert Hill (four-star Detroit King CB) and Quinn Nordin (top-ranked Rockford kicker) will be two to keep an close eye on this weekend, especially Nordin. Hill's teammate Donnie Corley (four-star WR) is also expected to be in attendance.
- Four-star 2017 CO QB Dylan McCaffrey, Michigan's top target at the position in the class, will be on campus. With Stanford, where his father Ed went and brother Christian currently stars, coming off a blowout of UCLA, Michigan might need to make a statement.
- Several members of the Pipeline 9, including five-star Cass Tech WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, are expected to be there.
- Three-star 2017 Ann Arbor Pioneer OLB Antjuan Simmons could be in line for an offer; his recruitment has blown up lately.
There are plenty more at the link above. This is a huge recruiting weekend for Michigan. That probably didn't need to be said.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
Apologies for the audio quality this week, as we were at Suburban Chevrolet and there was significant ambient noise.
On the roundtable this week:
- I'm late!
- Craig takes the opportunity to call me a shiftless drunk!
- I feel this is slightly harsh, Craig!
- But not as harsh as what Michigan did to Northwestern!
- Sam guarantees we see De'Veon Smith and M rides him.
- Michigan State chatter.
THE USUAL LINKS
If you're looking for the MSU preview, scroll down or click here.
Huh? We are bringing back the MGoPumpkin carving contest, this time with a DO-WANT prize for the victor. You, you, know, carve a pumpkin.
How do I enter? When you carve your masterpiece, take a photo and put it either in this thread, or on Twitter with a #MGoPumpkin hashtag. I'll judge the winner based on originality, concept, execution, and Michiganness. I'll see if I can rustle up some more prizes—I want to see ALL the pumpkins.
A prize you say? Winner gets $200 toward a stay at the brand spankin' new Residence Inn Ann Arbor Downtown. That's the hotel they just built on West Huron, next door to the Ann Arbor News building.
Why would this fabulous new hotel who seems like a sponsor…wait is this an ad? Kinda? The hotel is owned by the Martin family and friend of the blog Mike Martin. No not THAT Mike Martin, though this Mike's ties to the Michigan community are just a biiiit closer. Anyway this Mike Martin (NTMM) just got the go-ahead-and-open notice a few hours ago, so he's letting our readers be among the first to know. He's also running ads here for it.
Okay tell me of this hotel. Other than being brand spankin' new, it is a block from Main Street, which is pretty meaningful if you're the type who prefers dinner and a pub crawl to sitting in State Street traffic after a game. It's priced competitively, and has a free hot breakfast, free Wi-Fi, fully equipped kitchens in every suite, and an indoor pool.