Michigan State's offense has gone from 'awful' to good enough to beat anyone in the country as long as it's Michigan. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
Life is like football, without all the padding and cheerleader attention. You get knocked down, you get back up, you get knocked down, you get back up, you get knocked down, you get back up. And then you punt on fourth-and-30.
But enough about Michigan’s offense. The point is, getting knocked down is part of the deal, and so is getting back up. As evidence, I present Michigan State and Nebraska, who meet Saturday to essentially settle the Legends Division and earn the chance to knock the smirk off Urban Meyer’s face.
Just a few weeks ago, the Spartans had no offense and the Cornhuskers had no defense, and neither knew if they were good enough to lose to the Buckeyes, 38-10 or only 31-10. Then both got a little visit from Dr. Blue, spent quality time shoving Wolverines “blockers” backward, and now churn into the showdown reeking of confidence, as well as stale beer and cigar smoke.
I’m not saying the Spartans wildly celebrated the two greatest victories in school history — their beating of the Wolverines and the Cornhuskers‘ beating of the Wolverines. I’m just saying, according to ill-informed sources, Mark Dantonio was forced to stop team video sessions because players were doing shots of tequila every time Devin Gardner hit the ground.
These are strange days indeed around here. I mean, see if you can follow this. Michigan State is favored on the road against a Nebraska team it never has beaten. Northwestern, winless in the Big Ten, is favored over Michigan for the first time ever. The Lions are favored on the road over the Steelers. Either the wise guys in Vegas are pouring gin on their Frosted Flakes or there’s a new normal forming.
Football teaches all sorts of lessons, such as how to handle the adversity of running the same $#%&* plays for negative yardage over and over and over again. But it also teaches how to handle prosperity. That’s the challenge for the Spartans (and Lions), to make sure they charge onto the field this weekend wearing actual helmets, not lampshades decorated with undergarments.
Listen, we know how the Spartans used to be, before they put together the fiercest defense in America and plowed through the meek Big Ten with an 8-1 record. They spent one unfortunate afternoon pawing Notre Dame’s receivers, otherwise they’d be 9-0 and virtually guaranteed a spot in the Outback Bowl.
This Michigan State team is different, built more in the mold of Tom Izzo’s top-ranked basketball squad. You play defense, you rebound, you hit hard and you hope Ted Valentine doesn’t call too many personal fouls. Instead of Izzo putting pads on his players at practice, I fully expect Dantonio to put basketball shorts and sneakers on his players at football practice, although I have no idea why.
Perspective is important here. Remember, while Michigan State was busy toasting its minus-48 yard defensive effort against Michigan, Nebraska was performing virtually the same act of brutality — minus-21 yards. So what, exactly, does that say? It says the Wolverines Betty White blocking scheme isn’t working, and the famed Block M has been downgraded to a plaintive “block ’em?”
We’ll find out more Saturday when Michigan State is expected to unveil the program’s updated motto: “Those who stay will be (Legends Division) champions.” This is quite a test for Dantonio, taking a hung-over bunch of players to Nebraska, where fans can’t believe their team is 7-2 and Bo Pelini is still their coach, technically.
You’ll recall after a lopsided home loss to UCLA a couple of months ago, an old tape magically surfaced on which Pelini is heard ranting profanely. I’m sure he learned a valuable lesson about today’s society — assume there’s a recording device everywhere, even in random potted plants.
Ron English learned it last week, when he used interesting variations of, ahem, English in a nasty little diatribe at his Eastern Michigan team. Apparently, English was upset his 1-8 Eagles weren’t following specific orders to play better, and when The Detroit News obtained the leaked recording, English was fired, mercifully.
Now, let me be clear here. That English tape is real. It’s on The News website. It’s not a fake, secretly recorded conversation. But if you want fabrication, I’m still your guy! So listen in as Brady Hoke addressed his team following the loss to Nebraska. Due to the explicit nature, minor editing was necessary.
Hoke: “Men, you’re playing as soft as (redacted) (redacted) (redacted) raspberry jelly doughnuts. Or (redacted) (redacted) (redacted) Bavarian cream!”
Hoke: “And as flat as buttermilk pancakes smothered in (redacted)!”
More challenges await, so Michigan and Michigan State need to be careful. For instance, Northwestern will wear patriotic stars-and-stripes uniforms Saturday, an honorable gesture. But how, in good conscience, can Michigan players knock red-white-and-blue uniforms to the ground? I’m guessing that won’t be a problem.
Meanwhile, Michigan State must deal with the very real possibility Nebraska will attempt to block, although I’m not sure I’d bother.
Michigan State 19-13
■ Ohio State at Illinois: The Buckeyes have won 21 straight overall and the Illini has lost 19 consecutive in the Big Ten. To you and me, this looks like a horrific mismatch. To Meyer, it’s a wonderful opportunity to impress the pollsters without personally calling and cooing in their ears. Ohio State 52-13
■ Central Michigan at Western Michigan: Remember when our state’s fine directional schools used to be good? (Me neither). It’s time Gov. Snyder steps in and demands to know why Mid-American teams in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois win all the games, and Central-Western-Eastern Michigans are a combined 6-23. Central Michigan 34-27