- Youngstown State, 28-6 (W)
- Florida Atlantic, 44-0 (W)
- @ Notre Dame, 13-31 (L)
- Central Michigan, 45-7 (W)
- @ Ohio State, 10-7 (W)
- No. 11 Michigan, 28-14 (W)
- No. 6 Wisconsin, 37-31 (W)
- @ No. 14 Nebraska, 3-24 (L)
- Minnesota, 31-24 (W)
- @ Iowa, 37-21 (W)
- Indiana, 55-3 (W)
- @ Northwestern, 31-17 (W)
- No. 15 Wisconsin, 39-42 (L), B1G Championship Game
- No. 16 Georgia, 33-30 Triple-OT (W), Outback Bowl
Record: 11-3 overall, 7-1(7-2) B1G, 1st place Bro Division
|Rush:||137.9 ypg, 78th||100.5 ypg, 9th|
|Pass:||252.5 ypg, 41st||176.9 ypg, 11th|
|Total:||390.4 ypg, 56th||277.4 ypg, 6th|
|Scoring:||31.0 ppg, 37th||18.4 ppg, 11th|
|T/O margin:||+7, 25th|
Recap: Michigan State wandered through their first two games unremarkably before heading down to South Bend, where they got dismantled by Notre Dame. They rebounded to blow out Central Michigan but struggled in their win over Ohio State in one of the worst games of the season.
(more after the jump)
By this point a few major themes had emerged about the 2011 Spartans squad:
- The defense was really, really good. The linebackers hadn’t taken a step back despite losing superstar Greg Jones, and a skilled secondary plus a defensive line anchored by snap-jumping extraordinaire Jerel Worthy made the whole operation a don’t-bend-don’t-break sort of deal. Notre Dame scored a majority of their points off turnovers and other kinds of Michigan State offense ineptitude.
- The offense was kind of inept. If you looked just at their skill players, you would have said, “Wow, they should be pretty good if not awesome.” I mean, they had veteran fifth year QB Kirk Cousins, deep threat WR B. J. Cunningham, speedy mcspeederson Keshawn Martin, jukey mcjukerson Edwin Baker, shifty presnap-mcshifterson TE Brian Linthicum …
- But then you looked at their offensive line, and then you said, “Haha, nevermind.” I think at one point they were starting a freshman, a walk-on, a juco transfer, a converted defensive lineman playing tackle, an injured dude playing guard, a wide receiver playing tight end, a tight end playing tackle, a running back playing center, and Cousins playing the saddest song on the world’s tiniest violin.
Theme No. 1 never really changed throughout the course of the season. There were a couple hiccups, namely against Nebraska and Wisconsin, but they still finished top 10-ish in just about every defensive category.
Theme No. 2, however, suddenly got better when the Michigan game rolled around because theme No. 3 got a bye week. But I’m not bitter.
Haha yes I am!
After the Spartans had two weeks to figure out their offensive line issues, they rolled through the rest of their schedule atop the division standings, although after they trolled both the Wolverines and the Badgers, they mysteriously dropped a game to the Huskers. They didn’t blow anyone out of the water except for Indiana, but at the same time they never really seemed in danger of losing to anyone other than Nebraska. Michigan fans were hoping for Iowa or Northwestern or even Minnesota (I know, right!?) to pull off an upset to put the Wolverines back in the race for the division title, but none of them came close (except Minnesota (sort of (I know, right!?))).
They landed in the Outback bowl after dropping the B1G title game, and they won the defensive slugfest against SEC title game loser Georgia after Georgia’s kicker missed a crucial field goal at the end of regulation. Which was fine and dandy. They gave the B1G its lone Jan. 2 victory and gave their seniors a fitting sendoff.
When the Spartans look back on this past season, they should be happy with back-to-back 11-win seasons, but they should also disappointed that they couldn’t beat the Irish or the Huskers as a win against either one would have solidified their case for a BCS bowl berth regardless of the outcome in Indianapolis. Given the end-of-season evaluations for all three teams, Michigan State should have beaten at least one of them.
The Spartans have an interesting outlook for the future. Their defense should be solid for quite some time -- next season they return playmakers DE Will Gholston and DE Marcus Rush on the defensive line, their entire linebacking corps and their entire secondary minus S Trenton Robinson. A lot of those players were sophomores this season, so they’ll have plenty of eligibility left. Their only significant departure is Worthy.
Their offense loses a lot of important pieces, but all signs indicate that they’ll be able to reload quickly. RBs LeVeon Bell and Larry Caper (you didn't see him a whole lot this year, but he’s the guy Troy Woolfolk bounced off of during that OT touchdown in 2009) make Martin’s departure less of a blow; QB Andrew Maxwell hasn’t played much but he’s was a four-star recruit who’s been in offensive coordinator Don Treadwell’s system for two years already; and they topped off in the WR department with this year’s batch of recruits and Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett.
If Hoke’s 2012 instate recruiting dominance continues, Michigan State will become less and less of a threat for the division as their level of talent shrivels up. How soon that translates to the field depends on whether their current players sense that the days of Paul Bunyan living in East Lansing are drawing to an end and decide to leave Middle Earth in large numbers and with haste.*
Best win: Tie among Michigan (mlm** big brother!), Wisconsin I (mlm Bret Bielema and your merc QB!), and Georgia (mlm SEC!).
Worst loss: Wisconsin II. The Notre Dame and Nebraska losses were worse team performances, but losing on a roughing-the-kicker penalty in the title game cost them the Rose Bowl as well as the remaining ounces of their dignity as Michigan leapfrogged them into a BCS bowl. The significance of the loss also provoked some funny postgame reactions from both Mork and Kork.
You know what, at least they were honest.
At the time, we thought they were as frightening as: Jerel Worthy’s tattoo, which was a 6.
But now we know they are as frightening as: Nick Hill’s tattoo, which is a 7.5.
What the loss meant for Michigan: You know how people talk about this rivalry game and say, “Whoever gets more yards on the ground will win this game,” and then this year Michigan State had a pretty crappy rush offense compared with Michigan’s offense so we were all like, sweet Michigan’s totally going to win … and then Michigan STILL lost?
That’s pretty annoying.
The Spartans took advantage of their totally coincidental bye week to rest their surviving veteran offensive linemen and focus on coaching their backups in an effort repair the major problems there. As a result they did fine -- not great -- against the Wolverines’ defensive line, but Michigan State they got most of their yards by getting Baker to the edge and Martin in space, where Michigan’s shoddy perimeter defense was still reeling from getting bubble screened to death the week before. The success of Michigan State’s ground game threw massive red flags on the linebacker position, where Demens looked hesitant and Hawthorne looked lost.
Though the Wolverines defense didn’t perform as well as many expected they would, they still gave up just 21 points (the other TD was from the INT) and made the Spartans earn every one of them. For the first time in a long time, a Michigan loss couldn’t really be blamed primarily on the defense.
The Wolverines’ offensive struggles against the Spartans were equal parts weather, game plan, and ruthless blitzing by Michigan State. I won’t expand on this as we’ve discussed this issue to death, but keywords include “trash tornado,” “argh Borges/argh Denard,” and “fourth down and inches.” Granted, now we know that at this point in the season Denard wasn’t healthy (he missed parts of the Northwestern game due to a hand injury and was in the middle of an epic battle with a staph infection), and Toussaint hadn’t found his groove yet. The Spartans were stacking the box and blitzing every down. What would you do other than throw the ball?
In the grand scheme of things Michigan didn’t play like the better team, and for the first time all season -- all year, really -- Hoke’s poop would turn out to be just poop.
It would be nice if I could say that this loss is what ultimately lit the fire beneath the Wolverines and drove them to a strong late season performance by beating Nebraska and Ohio State, but I don’t think it’s true. That was Iowa. According to someone who was at practice the week after Michigan State, most of the team seemed lighthearted. For some reason few players took the loss as an urgent wake up call.
Oh yeah, another thing ...
Nie wieder, bitte.
And it totally felt as awesome as: When you had a malfunctioning video game cartridge back in the day and the only thing you knew to do was to take it out and blow on it repeatedly until you eventually realized it was dead and gave up and went outside.
* aka to the NFL.
** This is my approximation of a middle finger.