Opponent Recap: Michigan State

Submitted by Heiko on February 2nd, 2012 at 5:23 PM

Michigan State


  • 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


  Offense Defense
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 … 
  3. 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.



February 2nd, 2012 at 5:41 PM ^

"… A running back playing center, and Cousins playing the saddest song on the world's tiniest violin."

This series is extremely enjoyable even by Mgoblog standards. If you're gonna read about a loss like that, this is the way to do it.

As for next season, Michigan has a senior Denard and they've got a new QB. We better give them a real thrashing!



February 2nd, 2012 at 5:41 PM ^

As bas as losing to Sparty was that day I must admit I still smile a shit-eating grin everytime I look at a sour-puss, lemon eating, State grad at the mention of the Wolverines winning the Sugar Bowl.


February 2nd, 2012 at 5:46 PM ^

True, but we've gotta start beating them again. For 2012, I prioritize a win over Sparty higher than wins over Ohio and ND. And it should be a convincing win. We need to get back to the point where we simply don't care about MSU and barely even notice when they have something to say about us. I feel like this losing streak is turning us into Sparty.


February 2nd, 2012 at 5:56 PM ^

Beating MSU matters next year because UM has a chance at winning the Big 10.  I could care less what "streak" MSU enjoys gainst the Wolverines as long as the team keeps winning titles and major bowls.

That said, I do agree that beating MSU is the next hurdle for this squad, and one I expect them to accomplish.


February 2nd, 2012 at 8:43 PM ^

I have no problem with saying that beating MSU is more important than taking down ND, but beating Ohio is always the single greatest goal of a season. We do that repeatedly and every thing else will eventually fall into place. 

We're not Sparty on so many levels that the notion a football game could turn us into them is beyond me. 


February 2nd, 2012 at 10:30 PM ^

Painful as it is, Sparty isn't going anywhere in the near future. Off the field aside, this is the best coaching MSU has had since Saban. They're likely to be our biggest competition for the division unless Nebraska handles the transition better soon. Iowa is up and down, and seems to be sliding more than ascending lately. If Michigan State continue to get killed in-state and Ohio like they did this year, it'll catch up to them, but that's 3-4 years down the road.
<br>There's no reason when Michigan is doing what they should be doing to lose 4 in a row. But the JLS/Bobby Williams era is over. It may come back, but only after Dantonio's head explodes from his constipation. Get ready for some battles. Embrace it.


February 2nd, 2012 at 5:44 PM ^

I really wish I could say with confidence the streak would end next year, but what you said pretty much hits the nail on the head. Their defense should be solid. Denard should perform much better in non-trash-tornado non-staph-infection conditions, so I'm not too concerned there.

The X factor is MSU's QB. If their new QB shows he's ready to run a system he's been practicing for a couple years, this game could be one of the most dangerous games on our schedule.


February 2nd, 2012 at 11:00 PM ^

I agree that their defense should be good again, but I'm not sold on their offense at all. Maxwell is completely unproven, and they have zero experience at receiver. They're still in good shape at RB with Bell and Caper and their OL should be improved, but they might not get much of anything out of that passing attack. Since Dantonio has taken over their defense has usually played better than it looks on paper, but the offense has usually been a little worse.

This still looks like the toughest game on the schedule after Nebraska and maybe Ohio State.


February 2nd, 2012 at 5:54 PM ^

I view the State game as their fans do - a 1-game world in which nothing ever makes sense.  The problem for them next year is that their non-conference schedule features both Boise St.and ND (of course UM's features ND, AF, and some school down south), and they are a couple of games into the B1G schedule when they come to A2.  That means they won't be able to focus as much on that game (unless they want to lose 3-4 games before then), which should change the dynamics a bit.  I do think that defense will be fine next year, but I'm not as bullish on guys like Gholston and Adams as others, though I do think the offensive line and RBs should be good.  Losing Martin will be huge for that team - I remember 3-4 games where Cousins just dumped the ball off to Martin on a crossing pattern and he took it 15-20 yards.  Arnett and Burbridge should be okay, but they don't scare me nearly as much as Martin did.

MSU's talent is clearly erroding, and it will be interesting to see how they restock.  Ohio and parts of Michigan are going to be far less open than in years past, and I don't think that they have the type of presence nationally to draw top-notch kids in.  They'll have to become a Wisconsin or Illinois in terms of recruiting, trying to make due with lower-rated kids who stick with the program.  My guess is that it won't happen, at least not consistently, and if NW and Purdue continue to recruit reasonably well it will be even harder for MSU to compete for these kids.

I could definitely see MSU running a 5-game win streak against UM next year - they have a good defense and you never know with rivalries.  But this little streak is going to end sooner rather than later, and when it does I don't foresee an uptick in MSU's fortunes for years.  Heck, it took immense instability at UM for MSU to enjoy even a modicum of success against the Wolverines; that won't happen again.

oriental andrew

February 2nd, 2012 at 5:58 PM ^

Awesome write-up, Heiko.  Although I keep pronouncing it "HIGH-koh" in my head.  Because I knew a guy...

Anyway, It'll be really interesting to see how Maxwell does next season.  They've done a great job on D and that looks like it'll continue.  Their biggest questions on O will be about the effectiveness of Maxwell, the OL, and how quickly the new batch of WR's can make an impact.  I get the feeling they'll be pretty comfortable come gametime in AA. 

Should be a good game next year.  Did I mention that I absolutely hate msu?  and osu?  and nd?  Ok, just checking. 



February 2nd, 2012 at 6:18 PM ^

"Toussaint hadn’t found his groove yet." Kind of hard to do when you get a grand total of two carries against STAEE, but I get your point.


February 2nd, 2012 at 6:56 PM ^

If Michigan can win the division while losing that game, I could care less what happens against them.  I think they'll stand in the way though, so it's one that needs to be handled. Next year is a great opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl. The preseason schedule will toughen Michigan up, then a conference where you get your two of your main competitors in your division at home, no Wisconsin, and no Ohio in the title game.  


February 2nd, 2012 at 7:05 PM ^

I don't really think it's a tie for best win. If you talk to any Spartan fan the biggest thing they'll talk about (besides "being screwed out of a BCS Bowl") is how they beat us for the 4th year in a row

NOLA Wolverine

February 2nd, 2012 at 8:37 PM ^

Losing Trenton Robinson is a much bigger deal than you're making it out to be. That defense is dead in the water without him in the game. Go back and watch the first two plays of the Outback Bowl, and you'll see why his suspension only lasted two plays. It wasn't so much that Dantonio doesn't punish anyone as it was that MSU gets slaughtered without him taking away the alley. They're going to need Mylan Hicks to live up to his star rating if they hope to play defense again like they did this year. 

Outside of Cousin's robotic personality that allowed him to play calm under pressure, the transition to Maxwell probably won't be as dramatic as we're hoping it will be. How well Michigan State's secondary plays will determine how good of a team they are next year (but really, when has that not been the case?). 


February 2nd, 2012 at 9:11 PM ^

Good post. Pretty sure Treadwell is at Miami of Ohio now, though. They have a great group of young and inexp receivers. As long as we have a good group of players in our secondary, we can offset that.

We'll beat them at home in 2012- no doubt. 

Edward Khil

February 3rd, 2012 at 2:06 AM ^

It's at home.  It's Hoke, Borges, and Mattison.

It'll be tough in '13.  Their new QB will have more experience; and the WRs will, too.  Defense will remain tough.

After that, the effects of their dried-up recruiting start to show.  Home win in '14, and Little Bro status quo reinstated going forward.


February 4th, 2012 at 7:53 PM ^

But I do believe the team will try to win this one for the seniors. No way Denard goes 0-4 against m.s.u. I just need, vey badly, to listen to Dantanios presser after we beat them in their house. The evil little worm needs to squirm.