Instant Analysis - Oct. 3
Michigan State 26 ... Michigan 20 OT
I admit it. I had the story written already,
complete with stats and analysis to back it up, that
Michigan State had gone back to being its old, flaky
self that couldn't handle adversity and cowered to
the Big Brother when pushed around a little bit.
Make no mistake about it, Tate Forcier played and
all-timer of a gut-check game up until his final bad
interception. but once again, MSU showed that this
is a different era under Mark Dantonio. Do John L.
Smith or Bobby Williams-coached teams win this game?
No, and three years into the Dantonio era I should know
better. The even keel approach is working, and it
starts from the top down. Dantonio is always
preaching a very business-like way of doing things,
and it showed when the emotion of the game had made
it Michigan's for the taking.
That the Spartans could get his in the store with
the touchdowns that Michigan came up with in the
final four minutes, and in the final seconds, and
still come up with the win defines what the team can
do. This was a supposed to be a challenger for the
Big Ten title with a tough defense, good enough
offense, and the maturity to win the tight games.
That all came through this week, and now it'll be
interesting to see if this is the spark that can
liberate the team and make it the power it should
be. If MSU can keep dominating games for the first
54 minutes like it did this week, the wins will
quickly start piling up.
There are only a handful of defensive players in the country I specifically make it a point to watch each Saturday. Michigan State LB Greg Jones is one of them.
Jones doesn't get nearly enough attention outside of the Big Ten. Maybe it's because he doesn't play for a ranked team or because the Spartan D was having problems before today's visit from Michigan. In either case, that's too bad. He's one of the premier linebackers in the country, and one of the key reasons Michigan State has won back-to-back games in this series for the first time in four decades.
Lots of defenders compile tackles. Jones, however, makes most of his stops going forward and at or behind the line of scrimmage. His instincts and ability to diagnose are second to none, which only begins to explain why a green No. 53 jersey is never far from the ball. Larry Caper scored the game-winner in overtime in East Lansing, but Jones was once again one of the unsung heroes of the Spartans' best defensive effort of the season. It's about time for the junior to start getting more pub on a national level.
1) Kudos to Michigan State for a very quick and hugely significant psychological rebound after the stomach-punch events of the fourth quarter. Plenty of ink will be spilled to praise the Spartans in that regard. Let's then focus on something that will escape notice for many: field goal kicking (and recruiting).
This came up in last night's Pittsburgh-Louisville game, and it resurfaced today in East Lansing: In a situation where a field goal is clearly the best option, a big-time FBS program has to have a kicker who can hit a high-40s field goal (47-49 yards). Even if the percentages aren't great, one has to simply ATTEMPT to hit a long kick for reasons that transcend the scoreboard calculus. When Michigan State led, 20-6, and had a 4th and 3 at the Michigan 31 midway through the fourth quarter, the Spartans needed to turn to the person on their roster who is supposed to boot the ball through the uprights. Perhaps MSU's kicker isn't great, but that's the role he's assigned to perform. If you can't even ATTEMPT a field goal under such circumstances, how can you EVER feel comfortable trying a pressure kick under similar circumstances? Moreover, can the coach—Mark D'Antonio—ever look his kicker in the eye and tell him, with a straight face, that he's a trusted member of the team? What happens when MSU needs a 47-yard kick when trailing by two with five seconds left in regulation in a few weeks?
Coaches don't like field goals. They shouldn't. But when you have to kick one, you have to kick one. And if you can't find a kid who can kick a ball 50 yards at the FBS level of competition (same for Louisville last night against Pitt), what are you doing on the recruiting trail (or in the halls of your school's companion soccer program)?
2) Some national commentators have compared Tate Forcier to Fran Tarkenton. As far as football comparisons go, that's pretty good. Know who else Forcier reminds me of? Rafael Nadal—no, he doesn't hit left-handed, but he's always competing at full force, even when the odds are stacked against him. Forcier has that Rafa-like ability to play through pain and beyond normal physical limits as he surmounts numerous obstacles at crunch time. This isn't just a really good story of a player making good on the big stage of Big Ten football; this is a phenomenal exemplar of world-class mental toughness. Simply breathtaking.
How big was this win for Michigan State? Well, consider if the Spartans had fallen to 1-4 on the year by coughing up a 14-point lead at home to a team it had dominated for three quarters, the screams of Same Old Spartans! would have resounded throughout the college football world and the Big Ten. MSU needed to close this one out, and it did so with the weapon that had served it well – or better than it did U-M – throughout the day: the ground game. By forcing a turnover and closing it out on the ground, Michigan State returned some normalcy to a game that had been rendered completely ridiculous by Michigan QB Tate Forcier. Let's fact it; this is a highly imperfect Wolverine team. Its defense is awful. Its ground game is shaky, and its leadership can now be questioned, thanks to coach Rich Rodriguez's absolutely asinine decision in the third quarter to call a fake punt with Zoltan "Don't call me Usain" Mesko at the trigger. But with Forcier, nothing is out of the question. His play on the game-tying, 92-yard drive was amazing, freshman or not. Yes, he did throw the crushing interception in overtime, but he owed the Wolverines nothing at that point. MSU got the win, but Michigan continued to enjoy the growing legend of Forcier.