They said Big Ten. They thought Rose Bowl. They dreamt National Title. And then there came the reality check. It came camouflaged as an irish b-movie. A cheap copy of something terribly nice. It came as a sequel.
And – as anyone in Hollywood knows – there is a golden rule: Sequels are never as good as the original. But obviously East Lansing is pretty darn far away from Hollywood. Or Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio thought “Caddyshack II” (“lamer than a duck with bunions, and dumber than grubs”) was actually better than the hilarious original. Well, maybe not. He seems to be a man with a better sense of humor. So maybe he was trying some sort of reverse psychology. In terms of: Everybody in South Bend is still suffering from this stunt we pulled last year, so they can’t possibly think we’ll do the same thing again this time. Well, they did. And it wasn’t a pretty sequel.
47 Seconds to go in the first half. Fourth and goal at the Notre Dame two-yard line. The Spartans trailing by eight, but they would get the ball back after the break. So what do you do? Trying to regain some of the “Little Giants” magic – or playing it safe with a field goal? Dantonio called for magic, part II – and got a mess. Instead of delivering another slap in the face of the Irish, he received laughs from the grandstand. Don’t get me wrong. My intention is not to criticize the Michigan States play-calling. They took the gamble – and lost. That’s part of the game. It could just as well have been one of the greatest plays ever, the start of a furious comeback and a season of destiny. That’s football. You gotta take those risks in order to be great. And you will lose from time to time.
The question at hand is: How does the team cope with that mishap? They should not let this one play define their entire season, because there is still room for a great season. Despite plummeting down the rankings from 15 to… nowhere (AP) and 25 (USA Today) respectively, they can still win the division. But they have to remind themselves that they can.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to remind the Spartans that they won the Big Ten last year. They beat Wisconsin. They beat Michigan. And they beat Notre Dame. I bring that up because the team we watched on Saturday looked a lot more like a team that was trying to pull a massive upset than a team that had won 13 of its last 15 games”, wrote Jamie Samuelsen, the sports director for the morning show on WCSX-FM (94.7) in Detroit, in his recent blog for the “Detroit Free Press”. “Losing at Notre Dame is never shameful. This isn’t some backbreaking loss. But how they lost is so baffling. They looked passive. They looked confused.”
And they better stop doing so, since the upcoming games are not getting easier. After Saturday’s matchup with in-state rival Central Michigan, the Spartans will play at Ohio State before hosting rival #22 Michigan and #9 Wisconsin and then drive all the way up to #9 Nebraska. That’s tough.
And it get’s even tougher with a scattered offensive line. Redshirt freshman right tackle Skyler Burkland (fracture and dislocation of his left ankle) is out for the season, senior right tackle Jared McGaha suffered a medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury on the practice field last week and junior center Blake Treadwell has a sprained MCL. “We’re going to miss those two guys and obviously (Burkland), so we’ve got a young offensive line,” Dantonio said during his press conference on Tuesday. Indeed: Redshirt freshman Travis Jackson will start at center against Central Michigan, while Fou Fonoti will fill in for Burkland. But: “You can look at it … and say, ‘We’re going to get stronger through adverse times,’ which is the way that we’ll look at it”, said Dantonio.
Hopefully, because not only does Quarterback Kirk Cousins – who got pressured quite some time against the Irish – suffer from a fragile o-line. The running game does to. Against Notre Dame, it was nonexistent. Harrowing 29 Yards on 23 carries. Thats bad. Really, really bad. Especially since “we have to run the football to be successful”, as Dantonio pointed out. “If you look at our 13-3 mark over the last 16 games, the three games that we were unable to run the football on a consistent basis were the three games we lost.”
So how does the team respond: “Run the football,” Junior running back Edwin Baker said. “That’s on our mind (24/7) right now. We have to establish ourselves as a run team. Last week was a downfall for us, and we have to pick that back up.”
What: Central Michigan vs. Michigan State
Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing (and ESPN U)
When: Saturday, September 24th, 12:00 PM, ET