Tyree Kinnel celebrates during Michigan's win over Michigan State

View from the Sidelines: Over the Hump Comment Count

Ethan Sears October 20th, 2018 at 9:29 PM

Remember the third quarter?


Michigan State scored off a trick play, after a turnover, tying a game in which it had been outplayed and it was like every iteration of this rivalry amalgamated into a five-minute span. It felt like you knew exactly how the rest of this thing was going to go, because we had seen this movie before.


When Michigan went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, Khari Willis dropping a surefire interception, it seemed like a prelude. Instead, it was another break in a game full of them, ending in a narrative-changing 21-7 victory.


If some of those breaks go a little differently — if the Spartans come down with a first quarter tipped ball instead of Nico Collins, if they do the same in the third quarter instead of Zach Gentry, if Willis doesn’t drop that pick — this might be a column about how the Wolverines still can’t get over the hump. Those plays have gone Michigan State’s way of late in this rivalry. And being able to win that weird, intangible element — clearing the “everything always goes against us” hurdle — might say more about Michigan than anything else it has done.


“Our team never blinked the entire time,” Jim Harbaugh told reporters. “They played hard, they played smart. From the pregame shenanigans, there was no backing down today by our guys. From then on.”


[After THE JUMP: A column]


The Wolverines kept the Spartans to 94 yards. Brian Lewerke averaged all of 2.64 yards per attempt. The weather and trick plays and Mark Dantonio juju that was the talk of Schembechler Hall this week — all it did was keep the score close.


This may not have been the best win of the Harbaugh Era, but it was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most important. It stops those stats — no wins against a ranked team on the road since 2006, 1-5 in rivalry games since Harbaugh’s arrival — from circulating, and it proves Michigan can win one of those games that Michigan has gained a reputation for losing just because.


Last year’s game was a textbook example. A deluge of rain, breaks going the wrong way, a loss to a team less talented on paper that celebrated on the Wolverines’ field. This week, Michigan’s coaching staff put pictures of that scene all over the building, a not-so-subtle reminder of what happens when you don’t play up to the moment.


“We were reminded of that every single day this week,” Tyree Kinnel said.


On Saturday, the Wolverines did play up to the moment. Shea Patterson and Donovan Peoples-Jones broke through the slog of turnovers and three-and-outs late in the third quarter, connecting on a 79-yard rainbow, five-star to five-star. And with that, the mental stumbling block on which Michigan had fallen so many times had been cleared.


“When we get that moment to break through, just, we’re not gonna give it back,” Patterson said. “Donovan in 1-on-1 coverage, good luck with that. Just threw it up to him, he made a hell of a play after the catch.”


On fourth-and-2 at the Michigan State 41 the next drive, Harbaugh went to zone read and Patterson kept the ball, fooling even the cameraman, scampering for 11 yards and a crucial first down. After a first half of conservative play-calling on both sides, the Wolverines gaining field position and coming up short, this was a welcome reprieve. And it paid off.


Ben Mason’s ensuing five-yard touchdown all but put the game away. Michigan’s defense finished the job. Cue the celebration, right on the Spartans’ logo.


“That’s what we wanted to do,” Kinnel said. “Coach gave us the clear, if we win this game, with the trophy and make the field our field. That’s what they did to us last year. It felt good doing that.”


A wholesale change in attitude — towards this game and towards its position in the college football zeitgeist — has been apparent with the Wolverines since Chase Winovich declared a revenge tour after beating Wisconsin. This is not Brady Hoke’s team, apologizing for planting a stake at midfield. This is a team that plans its celebration on Michigan State’s logo in advance.


This is not a team trying to get in the discussion for the playoff. It is a team that is in the discussion, and wants you to know that it is in the discussion.


“Every week it seems that people with the playoff rankings and whatever the case may be find a reason to critique us,” Higdon said. “Or talk about why we don’t deserve to be a top-ranked team. Last week it was, we don’t show up in big games. This week it was, Michigan State got the number-one run defense. Blah, blah, blah. We showed up, we did our job. That’s all that matters.”


Later, he added: “We knew they didn’t want to play us.”


Neither should anyone else.



October 21st, 2018 at 4:31 PM ^

Oh look, there's a picnic!  I'll bring the ants.  Hey, a parade!  I'll make sure it rains.  By all means, make sure that no one is happy!  We can't have happiness!


Geez.  When Harbaugh brings his first National Championship home to Ann Arbor (when, not if), I'll look for your post complaining that we're about to lose all our starters to the first round of the NFL draft, so just wait until we go 4-8 next year.  Go away.


October 21st, 2018 at 7:44 PM ^

There's always room for improvement but any game will have its ups and downs.  As for penalties, that was a strength until that last drive. And at least some of those penalties were not legit, specifically roughing the passer.

Overall, it was a dominating disciplined performance.  With breaks evening out, it's 24-0 at the end.


October 22nd, 2018 at 5:19 AM ^

Sure there’s always room for improvement, but there’s also always room for concern trolling according to some around here.   No matter how obvious, there are those that think we need to hear their stupid takes on why no celebration is in order.   The previous incarnation was, “nothing to celebrate until we win the ‘big’ games.”   Now that it’s been done, the lecture is, “nothing to celebrate until we win the ‘big’ games in perfect fashion.”


October 21st, 2018 at 2:21 PM ^

On a scale of 1-to-cameraman, how badly were all of you faked out on Patterson's keeper?  I bought the fake hook, line, and sinker, which would apparently qualify me for MSU's defense but for my lack of a rap sheet.


October 21st, 2018 at 2:35 PM ^

I threw my hat to the ground for another Higdon up the gut play that won't work. Then immediately screamed as if I knew it was a keeper the entire time. I feel shame for the attempt to cover up that I was fooled. Everyone knew I was fooled. But knowing that my despair is less than Spartys, I'm ok


October 21st, 2018 at 3:11 PM ^

I made the call, yelling at the TV screen before the play, "Fake to Higdon, Patterson keep it!"  And it still fooled me watching it, I thought Higdon had the ball.  It was a great fake.

If you don't believe me, just ask me, I'll tell you it really happened that way. 

I also called Higdon running away from the 4 wide receivers on the other side of the field against Wisconsin for a TD.

Now if I could just get most of those lottery numbers right, I don't need a billion, a million is fine.


October 21st, 2018 at 8:51 PM ^

The last two weeks I've flat out laughed and said, "How dumb does a defense have to be to get faked out the second and third times?" (or in the case of MSU, after watching the film where it happened three times the previous week)


Then I realized that I've been faked out four times now as well.


Suddenly, not so funny.


October 23rd, 2018 at 3:44 PM ^

Having watched M football for quite a few decades now, what we are seeing in Higdon is something special.  He has done things the right way, working hard and earning the status he now has.  He has always surprised with his sneaky ability to get to the edge and turn the corner when it doesn't look like he can; but now he is also toughing out runs for a few extra yards here and there.  Sometimes that means just getting to the line of scrimmage instead of getting thrown for a four yard loss.  He also gets the job done blocking; and I LOVE how he deflects every bit of praise that comes his way to his line.

OK, he doesn't have breakaway speed once he is free.  But I have seen few backs over the years that are as effective as he is right now.  Running back is not a weakness of this team despite the notable lack of recruiting stars they have between them.  If I am an NFL GM, I'd hope to snag him with a mid to late round pick for sure.



October 21st, 2018 at 3:48 PM ^

Also loved what I saw with the team chemistry around Milton.  Bush looked comfortable with him.  Milton felt confident enough to speak up/joke in a room full of his peers (and his coach!).  He got a laugh out of everyone.  He seems well liked and that bodes well for his future.


October 21st, 2018 at 3:04 PM ^

I loved the toughness and swagger the team showed. Reminds me of Harbaugh’s Ohio State prediction back in the day.

Yeah, there’ll be eons worth of material for Sparty’s bulletin board, and so what.