ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 09: Edwin Baker #4 of the Michigan State Spartans scores a touchdown in the first quarter during the game aginst the Michigan Wolverines during the game on October 9, 2010 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Stop me if you've heard this one before: an electrifying win over an overrated Notre Dame team, struggling with non-conference patsies, eking out a win against Indiana, and then folding against our instate rivals. The deja vu is all-too-apparent for Michigan fans.
The risky formula for victory thus far in 2010 was flying by the seat our pants: 10th ranked offense in the nation and the 119th in pass defense in the nation (out of 120 teams, friends), nonexistant special teams. But when Michigan's sophomore quarterback (he's only had six starts, keep in mind) finally looked like a sophomore, and the Wolverines sustained a critical injury to the paper-thin secondary, the team imploded in disastrous fashion at home against our instate rivals with America watching. After dropping $200 on a flight to Ann Arbor and $100 on a student ticket to get a front row seat for this good old-fashioned beat down, I was not a happy camper.
Is Michigan really a better team than a year ago? Poor execution, lack of discipline and folding with the slightest change in momentum are eerily similar to the hallmark qualities of RR-coached Meech football in 2008 and 2009. How good are we?
Now don't get me wrong: the Spartans are indeed a very good team this year. With the schedule ahead for Sparty (vs. Illinois, @ Northwestern, @ Iowa, vs. Minnesota, vs. Purdue, @ Penn State), and not playing OSU this year, MSU has the opportunity to run the table and go to the Rose Bowl if they can get past Iowa. Also, when Michigan scored in the fourth to make it a two-score game, many in the audience were thinking "just let Sparty do its thing and we may actually win this game." But when MSU held tough, it was clear that these are not the snatching defeat from the jaws of victory John L. Smith Spartans, these are the Dantonio Spartans.
But I am firmly convinced that the Wolverines could have beaten this Spartan team. In the first half, we were dominant on offense, moving the ball at will. And by the middle of the second quarter, the porous Wolverines D had held the run-heavy MSU team to -6 rushing yards. But two red-zone interceptions and one arm punt from Denard Robinson (-3 turnovers... ugh), and a defense that surrendered big play after big play, we shot ourselves in the foot against this talented Spartan team. Even when given several opportunities to cut the lead and get right back into the game late, the Wolverines simply could not capitalize on them and made too many mistakes.
The decision to punt on fourth and 9 in the fourth quarter down three scores with 6 minutes left was, to be blunt, simply appalling, deeply concerning and infuriating. What message does that send to the players? The fans? By conceding defeat instead of fighting to the bitter end, the coaches made it all too apparent that they had stopped trying to win. They had given up and rolled over to our instate rival at home. In his post-game presser, RR claimed that the punt was the "wrong call" and that he was trying to change the play, but I find this explanation highly dubious considering RR's history of sketchy decision-making. As if having a horrendous D at Michigan wasn't painful enough, after this decision by the coaches I was disgusted and embarrassed to be a Michigan fan.
Looking ahead. Despite the hot start, it is all-too-apparent that Rich Rodriguez's job is back on the line after this game. Purdue is the only game that can foreseeably be chalked up as an auto-win this year, but knowing Rich Rod any team can beat Michigan (paging Toledo, Purdue 09, Illinois) any time. A homecoming win over Iowa next week would certainly help right the ship, but based upon our performance in the Big Ten last year (1-7), the fans are bracing to expect the worst.