Fans watching Saturday afternoon’s Michigan State Spartans’ game against Ohio State were treated to a different type of Spartan football. Gone were impassioned plays, excitable players and raw excitement. From 2008 until now, the Spartans have thrived on such elements carrying them through, even in contests where pundits gave them little chance of winning or competing.
Each of those positive elements have quickly been replaced by a negative counterpart in 2012. Against the Buckeyes, there were backward plays, dejected players and slumping shoulders. If losing is something that becomes a self fulfilling prophesy, these Spartans are well on their way to a tough year.
Everything is starting to go beyond simple game planning. While Dan Roushar’s offensive plays haven’t been called or run well, Michigan State was very much alive in the third quarter following Keith Mumphery’s extraordinary touchdown reception. The Spartans led 13-10, and had a chance to assume dominance of the game with a stout defensive series. At home, momentum should have switched for good at that point. Instead, they gave up a long pass play immediatly, and Ohio State retook the lead.
After that exchange, this particular group of Spartans never were coming back. There was a look in their eyes that it couldn’t be done, regardless of the time on the clock or the moment in the game. Players were confused. “Woe is me” looks were abound on the sideline. There was more an air of panic than confident perseverance.
Exactly who are these guys? Certainly not the groups which have stared down adversity both early and late against Notre Dame, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Georgia to pull out improbable wins. Definitely not the groups which have beaten the Michigan Wolverines with brute toughness and focus the last four seasons. Nobody would even confuse them with the 2007 team, who found a way to win with heart. It’s early, but in gut check time, these Spartans seem to double over instead of absorb the hits and endure like champions.
That’s got to change in a hurry if some important goals are to be accomplished. The Big Ten is always unpredictable, so anyone counting Michigan State out early should be careful. This team has enough talent to turn the season around, but that talent must now be matched with the proper mindset. After two similar losses against talented teams, it’s clear the Spartans aren’t bringing the same passion they’ve been accustomed to in big games.
If there’s no motivation to come back in a rivalry game at night versus Notre Dame or in the Big Ten opener in front of College GameDay against Ohio State, how will you perform against the Minnesota’s and Indiana’s of the world? That’s the most pressing question to be answered this weekend. The Spartans need a confident bounce back performance on the road against a team they should beat to get things back on the right track this fall. If not, forget beating the likes of Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
Now, Michigan State’s biggest problems seem to translate past the field, through their uniforms and into their chests and heads. The time for this team to dig deep mentally is now.
Laugh Of The Week: Another thing Michigan and Michigan State fans can agree on? It’s always fun to mock Ohio, and more specifically, Ohio State University. When College GameDay came to East Lansing last Saturday, there were plenty of hilarious examples of this in the crowd. Perhaps the best? A sign which read “Meyer, lower standards, higher prices.” The dig made clever use of Meijer’s slogan, and also ripped Urban Meyer. Now that’s a winning combination.
Local Big Ten This Week:
Michigan at Purdue
Michigan State at Indiana
Players To Watch:
Michigan State: Ethan Ruhland and Blake Treadwell, C. The Spartans lost a key member of the offensive line on Saturday, as Travis Jackson sustained a knee and leg injury on the same play. Now, it will be up to Ruhland (or perhaps Blake Treadwell) to fill in for Jackson, who was one of the top linemen on the team last season. How the center of the line holds up will be key, especially considering the struggles of Michigan State’s running game and difficulties with protecting Andrew Maxwell. Another injury could prove to be a hurtful dagger to a position which has already had problems.
Michigan: Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB. As was mentioned last week, Toussaint had a career day against the Boilermakers last fall, rumbling for 170 yards and two touchdowns. That’s solid production. If Toussaint is able to duplicate that feat again and get going, Michigan’s offense will feel much better on the road and Denard Robinson will be able to get the entire offense going.
Michigan State 3-2 (0-1 Big Ten Legends)
Michigan 2-2 (0-0 Big Ten Legends)