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September 29, 2005 - Image 10

Resource type:
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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-09-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Thursday
September 29, 2005
sports.michigandaily. com
sports@michigandaily. com

PheRiTSigantili
P R rS

4

1OA

. . ..........

0'

.f Spartan
Sparties: Don't count your
chickens, Blue stillfavorite

S howdown
State ready to escape from
shadow of big brother 3M

Ibet that you Spartan fans are licking your chops
right now.
It's not something you have the opportunity to
do very often, after all. So I'm sure you're making the
most of it. A
Yes, it's true. The Wolverines are unranked for the
first time in seven years. And I realize that
Michigan State checks in at No. 11 in the
AP poll. Quite a role reversal, I'll admit.
But you might not want to write this game4
off as a gimme just yet. Because if there's
one thing we've learned in Ann Arbor this
year, it's this: Rankings don't mean a damnR
thing. Not in a game like this.
"The game isn't played on paper," line-
backer David Harris said. "Polls don't
mean anything. You've got to play between
the lines. ... It's Michigan State, one of G
our biggest rivals. If you're not up for this EDE
game, you shouldn't be playing football." Hone
Sure, we know all about Drew Stan-
ton and the "explosive" Spartan spread offense. We
remember how Michigan State bared its teeth, run-
ning up the score against college football powerhous-
es Kent State, Hawaii and Illinois. I'm sorry to break
it to you, but impressive, meaningful wins these are
not.

ready. Add in the possible return of Mike Hart - you
must remember the guy who embarrassed your front
seven with 224 rushing yards last year - and there's
plenty for Sparty to worry about.
Make no mistake. Despite all the criticism aimed at
Lloyd Carr and his players, the pressure and expecta-
tions in this contest rest squarely on the
shoulders of John L. Smith and his green-
helmeted minions. Here's part of the rea-
son why:
The Spartans are undefeated. The Wol-
verines are .500.
Michigan State beat Notre Dame in
South Bend. Michigan lost to the Irish in
Ann Arbor.
Stanton leads an offense that averages
a jaw-dropping 49 points a game. The
BE struggling Chad Henne holds the reins to
SON a team that has topped 20 just twice this
Gabe season.

YA
EL
st

As I write this column, the Spartans
are listed as 5 1/2-point favorites. Indeed, even many
Michigan fans expect State to dominate this game
from start to finish. You certainly must feel some
kind of satisfaction when considering the possibility
of kicking this team while it's down.
Well, I've got news for you: You're in for a rude
awakening. I have a feeling the Wolverines aren't
going to roll over for you. This is more than just
a game for Michigan. It's a chance to humiliate
an intrastate rival in a hostile environment while
simultaneously turning its season around. And
that last bit isn't exactly a typical tool in the Wol-
verines' motivational arsenal.

No doubt
you'll bring
up thex
road
win over
Notre
Dame
while casu-
ally forgetting to
mention how the
Spartans blew
a 21-point lead
in 15 minutes. A .
warning sign if
I've ever seen one.
And I seem to remem-
ber a 17-point cushion evaporate into
the evening air last season. It must
have been somewhere around Oct.
30. Correct me if I'm wrong.
But if you stop your "Go Green!
Go White!" chants long enough to
think rationally - if that's pos-
sible in East Lansing - you might
notice a Maize-and-Blue-colored
threat to your precious squad's
pristine record.
Traditionally the favorite,
now the potential spoiler,
Michigan will enter this
game well aware of what's
on the line. While your
Spartans grow compla-
cent with their newfound
national attention, media
hype and self-inflated
impressions of them-
selves, the Wolverines
grow angry, hungry and 4

.:V:

was talking with my friend who's a student at Mich-
igan (and because of that affiliation, I use the word
"friend" as loosely as possible) about what would
happen if the Wolverines found themselves with a 2-3
record after this weekend.
"Wow," he said, obviously considering the possibility
for the first time. "I have no idea."
Frankly, I don't either.
I mean, would the stock market crash?
Laws of physics be suspended? Earth fly out
of its orbit?
Nobody can be sure. Mighty Michigan
with a losing record? Hide the women and
children.
It's that little bit of arrogance in Michi-
gan fans that we, in Spartan Nation, find f
so irritating. Especially from the hordes of
Michigan fans - you know who they are - Ti
who've never set foot on the campus except KE
maybe to sit in that sardine can of a football The St
stadium. So let me get this straight - you're
not Michigan alumni, but it's your favorite team because
it wins a lot? That's true passion, my friend.
Hey, maybe Michigan State doesn't have the more
prestigious history in this rivalry, but at least it's our
history.
But what use is it trying to hammer sense into a Wol-
verines fan's head? We're just different, you and us.
Our mascot is the Spartan, which is native to Greece.
Your mascot is the Wolverine, which is native to land-
fills.
We had two basketball teams in the Final Four last
year. You had two good-looking girls enrolled last
year.
We're consistently recognized as one of the
best schools to party at.
You, um ... hey, remember how good
Charles Woodson was?
But let's put aside our differences for a
moment and talk about the big game Sat-
urday between No. 11 Michigan State and
unranked Michigan. (Sorry. Just wanted to
see what that looked like in print.)
Michigan Daily Sports Editor Sharad
Mattu wrote a column this week talking >'
about how the buildup to this game is dif-
ferent from previous years: "Usually when
Michigan beats Michigan State they're just
taking care of business - if the Spartans win,
the Wolverines' year is ruined."
Oh, we're sorry. Were we bothering you all
these years by trying to win? Our bad.
We've had to sit and silently take second-class treat-
ment like this from you for years because, to a degree,
we've deserved it. Michigan has won about 70 percent
of the games in this series. You've been the big brother
that we just can't beat.
But now it's time to stop letting the past dictate the
present.
This is not the same Spartans team that self-destruct-
ed in Ann Arbor last year. Knocking off Notre Dame
and St. Weis in South Bend, Ind., proved that they can
hang with the big boys.
And it's definitely not the same Spartans team that
doesn't know how to play as the favorite. I mean, did
you see that 61-14 shellacking of Illinois last weekend?
Those were Tecmo Super Bowl numbers;

No matter what excuses the Michigan bandwagon
comes up with (Mike Hart's been hurt! Chad Henne's
been replaced by a robot clone of Joey Harrington! We
only got to play Eastern Michigan once!), it's still high-
ly likely that Michigan State is the better team in this
game, which scares Spartans fans a little and Wolver-
ines fans a lot.
It's a small indicator of something else
that should scare the Michigan faithful a lot
- these are two programs headed in differ-
ent directions.
A Michigan State win this weekend
would mean a 5-0 record, a top-10 rank-
ing and two whole weeks to salivate over a
showdown with Ohio State. It's almost too
scary to consider.
Meanwhile, a Michigan loss would
)M result in Lloyd Carr's head on a barbecue
LER spit and the Michigan athletic department
te News MapQuesting directions to the Motor City
Bowl.
It's like we're living in a parallel universe.
Even John L. Smith acknowledged as much this week,
saying that "it's a different position for our program."
It's an intriguing matchup - a team that supposedly
can't deal with success against a team that definitely
can't deal with failure.
Michigan's the monster that's been living under our
bed the last few decades. Now everything is making us
feel like we don't need to be afraid of it
anymore. But the only way to make
sure is to get down there and
see it for ourselves.

0I

FC
L
fa

q4

4-

In fact, I was so curious about how
often this situation comes around that I
did some research. Can you remember
the last time Michigan and Michi-
gan State met when the Spartans
were the lone ranked team? Didn't
think so. That's because it was
well before our time, back in

.

1968. It's even more interesting
because, 37 years ago, Michigan
State was No. 12, a ranking eerily
similar to its current position. So the result
might give us a rough idea of how things
will shake out at Spartan Stadium.
What happened, you ask? Michigan won,

" "' ,

28-14.
If you're still not sold on the idea that
Michigan has more to play for on Satur-
day, if you're still fixated on the numbers,
if you still believe that State will
cruise to victory, I've got another
useful stat for you:
Since I came to Michigan in
2002, the Wolverines are 3-0
against the Spartans.
Let's not get ahead of our-
selves.

- Gabe Edelson
can be reached at
gedelson@umich.edu

JASON COOPER/Daily

Struggles inside the red zone
contribute to Michia's woes

By Stephanie Wright
Daily Sports Editor
At the end of the 2003 season,
Michigan ranked first among Big Ten
teams in red zone offense. The Wol-
verines scored on 44 of their 47 trips
inside the 20 that year, including 31
touchdowns.
But Michigan has seen little of that
same success so far this season.
After four games, the Wolverines'
offense has made 20 trips inside its
opponents' red zone, but it has put
points on the board just 14 times. Ten
of those scores have been touchdowns,
while place kicker Garrett Rivas has
connected on four field-goal attempts.
In its two losses combined, Michi-
gan has scored from inside the 20 just
twice in six tries.
"We've had ample opportunities in
the red zone that would have impacted
all those games, and we have just not
been able to execute," coach Lloyd
Carr said.
In o r iI ncc to nte Dame.

"Obviously we're having a hard
time finishing right now, and that is
something we need to fix," tight end
Tyler Ecker said. "We have been given
plenty of opportunities to score, and
we haven't finished."
Against Wisconsin last Saturday,
Michigan's offense capitalized on two
of its three trips inside the Badgers'
20-yard line. In addition to Rivas's 28-
yard field goal at the end of the first
half, the Wolverines scored from the
red zone when Henne connected with
senior co-captain Jason Avant in the
end zone for a four-yard touchdown
with 4:27 left in the second quarter.
But on Michigan's first possession
of the game, tailback Kevin Grady
couldn't punch his way into the end
zone on a fourth-and-goal play from
the one-yard line.
"I think we left too many points on
the board in the first half," Carr said.
"We missed two passes to Avant that
were big plays. We dropped a touch-
down pass in the end zone, and we
came un shnrt on fourth-and-one. We

all 23 Wisconsin points. In addition
to three field goals from place kick-
er Taylor Mehlhaff, Badgers tailback
Brian Calhoun scored on a six-yard
run early in the fourth quarter, and
quarterback John Stocco notched the
game-winning touchdown on a four-
yard draw with 24 seconds left in the
game.
Reflective of the Wolverines' late-
game collapse, four of Wisconsin's
five red-zone scores came in the sec-
ond half.
Michigan's trouble defending in the
red zone stands out this week in light
of the ease with which No. 11 Michi-
gan State has scored touchdowns this
season. In four games, the Spartans
have notched 196 points - an average
of 49 per contest - and have yet to
put up fewer than 42 points in a single
outing.
But Michigan State has been less
than perfect in the red zone. The Spar-
tans have capitalized on 21 of 26 trips
inside their opponents' 20-yard line
- including 19 touchdowns - which

t

I

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