The Day of Judgment arrived on Saturday—and in the white-hot fires of holy war, a new Spartan team was forged.
After taking care of business against the lesser foes, winning miraculously against Notre Dame, and handling Wisconsin, the Spartans were burdened with the heavy weight of expectations. At 5-0, they had reached a tipping point: beat Michigan, and they would ascend to the ranks of the legitimately undefeated. Beat Michigan, and they could start down the gilded, downhill slope that is the Spartans’ back half of the schedule. Beat Michigan, and they would write Chapter Six of what might be the most epic tale of Spartan football ever told.
The armor of expectations is a telling test of strength: if the body is too weak to wear it, it’s a burden, an anchor that clunks and slows and drags. Many times I have seen the team win early, be girded with the breastplate and gauntlets, and collapse. But Saturday, the Spartans wore the expectations like the armor they are. The Spartans were protected by the knowledge they were good enough to win, and strengthened by the confidence that knowledge gave them. They did not panic when the opponent made early advances, but held firm and took over the game. They did not stumble and trip like a teenager—they strode calmly and confidently, like men, into Michigan Stadium. They walked out having defeated “The Victors.”
Let me be clear about this: Michigan is a very good team. Their offense is legitimately potent; they definitely had chances to score more points than they did. Further, their defense bottled up the Spartans’ running game for far longer than I thought they would. Before the season, I thought Michigan was a seven-win team; today I expect them to win eight, or possibly nine games. They are a very good football team, and it is a fine feather in MSU’s helmet to have beaten them in Ann Arbor.
Second: Denard Robinson is a very good player. I don’t believe that he’s a great quarterback, nor that he is the most outstanding player in the nation. But he is very good—and despite myself, I’m geniunely rooting for the kid. He seems to be humble, classy, a great teammate—and he is undeniably very talented. If what you, Dear Reader, are trying to take away from this game is that “Denard sucks,” or “Denard choked,” you’re wrong. Against Michigan State, Denard was exactly what he is and has been: extremely fast, extraordinarily difficult to contain, lethal on a zone read, always a danger to break one long, an inconsistent decision-maker and an inaccurate downfield thrower.
Against Indiana, that gets you 10 of 16 for 277, 3 TDs, no INTs, and 217 yards rushing. Against Michigan State, that gets you 17 of 29 for 215, 1 TD and 3 INTs, and 86 yards rushing.
The missed wide-open touchdown pass to Stonum is exactly what I’m talking about. Forget Sammy Baugh’s legendary “swinging tire” he threw through for practice, Robinson had a stationary side-of-a-barn he needed to throw that ball through to score a significant early touchdown, and he couldn’t do it. Another example? In the third quarter, the Wolverines were down by two scores, and had 2nd-and-9 from the Spartan 13-yard-line. Denard rolled to his right, no rush, and saw his outside receiver squat in a hole in the zone, just past the sticks. With a ten-yard pitch-and-catch, the Wolverines convert, and possibly score. Instead, Denard fires it into the turf, several feet shy of his target—he one-hopped a critical ten-yard pass. The next attempt was intercepted in the end zone; instead of bringing it to within one score, the game slipped away.
This is what drives me crazy about Denard, Culpepper, Vick, Tebow, or any of the quarterbacks who’ve worked fans and media up into a blithering lather with athletic highlights. In order to beat good defenses, quarterbacks have to consistently make good reads, good decisions, and good throws at great speed. Denard Robinson isn’t currently capable of that—and the jury’s still out on whether he ever will be.
However, he won’t need to beat good defenses very often! There simply aren’t many of them around—and the schedule is gerry-rigged so that he’ll face as few of them as possible. Ergo, even if Denard’s never any more than what he is, the Wolverines will win eight or so games every year he’s under center. That was why I decried the hype surrounding Denard—not because I thought he was a bad player, but that I thought he was a good one. Denard deserves to be celebrated as a good player—not propped up as a great one, then denigrated when he falls short! His frame can’t bear the weight of championship expectations just yet.
No, that weight—and that armor—rests on Sparty’s broad shoulders now. The battle-hardened, flame-forged Spartans march on to meet their destiny, knowing their mettle is a match for anyone’s.