On the last snap before it really got hopeless, Denard Robinson squeezed the ball and started running, needing just 3 yards for a first down; instead, he was swarmed by white jerseys, one after another, until he was going in a direction with which he is unfamiliar: backward.
Exposed. The previously undefeated Wolverines were snowed under by the still-undefeated Spartans in a game that said as much about Michigan’s shortcomings as it did about Michigan State’s strengths. The Spartans oozed through the Wolverines like fluid through an IV tube, 34 points, 536 yards, four plays of more than 40 yards, runs that saw the MSU ballcarriers untouched and completions that left the U-M defensive backs out of the photo.
And then there was Robinson, the quarterback, who proved that if you’re gonna be a one-man army, be sure all your guns are firing. Robinson was at times hesitant, out of sync, he overthrew one sure touchdown and whipped three bad interceptions behind his receivers – two in the end zone – to douse the flames of U-M momentum and deny his team points it needed and nearly had.
“Too excited, too excited,” he self-criticized after Saturday’s 34-17 loss.
There is no kind way to say this: If Robinson was most responsible for U-M’s first five victories, he was most responsible for its first defeat. Michigan State dominated the day
Of course, MSU had a lot to do with it. The Spartans may not have a star like Robinson, but they have a breadth of talented players. And they all got in the act.
Here was sophomore running back Edwin Baker, in the second quarter, exploding through the line and bending 61 yards for the Spartans’ first touchdown. Here was Le’Veon Bell, who’s averaging more than a touchdown a game as a freshman, bursting 41 yards for another just 7 minutes later. Here was a tremendous offensive line, especially guard Joel Foreman, opening big holes.
And here was Kirk Cousins, the quiet, unheralded quarterback in this showdown, doing what quiet, unheralded quarterbacks often do in big games: winning.
Cousins was as steady as Robinson was flaky. Cousins had 284 yards on 18 of 25 passes, some as controlled as a spiral over the middle, some as wild as a flea-flicker heave downfield.
Cousins had bigger passing numbers than Robinson, which is impressive enough, but most impressive was the number he didn’t have: turnovers. No interceptions. No fumbles. Robinson said he was “too excited?” Here’s what Cousins said:
“You can’t make emotional decisions, but you can be emotional. I tried to walk that fine line today.”
And that was the story of the game.
Exposed. An uneasy feeling in Ann Arbor
MSU has won three in a row in this passionate series (a first since 1965-67), and did it on enemy turf Saturday, with coach Mark Dantonio in the press box recovering from his heart attack. Let’s face it. This is a one-sided rivalry now. The Spartans (6-0) will rightfully jump in the polls, thanks to two straight victories over ranked Big Ten opponents. And without Ohio State on the schedule, you have to like their chances in the conference race.
Michigan, meanwhile, must feel a queasy sense of dÃ©jÃ vu. It started 4-0 last year, lost a heartbreaker to the Spartans, and won one game the rest of the season.
Today, the Wolverines are 5-1, got undressed at home, and are looking at a tough Iowa team coming in Saturday.
“There is a laundry list of things that we need to get better at,” coach Rich Rodriguez said. And nervous fans will wonder whether another second-half collapse is inevitable.
I’ll tell you this much: It is if that defense doesn’t improve. Despite a few nice stops, the line was mostly pushed around by a superior MSU front four, and the secondary for U-M is simply not good and not likely to get much better. Rodriguez had a chance to bury a lot of critics Saturday. He lost his shovel when Robinson lost his aim. You can bet future opponents will use Saturday’s game tape as a blueprint for keeping Shoelace Superman mortal.
MSU will keep the tape for celebratory reasons. Someone asked Cousins if Dantonio seemed different now. “Coach hasÂ ” he answered, “a lighter side to him.”
He does after this one. Blue exposed. Green rolls on.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). www.freep.com/mitch.