The Streak Is Dead, May A New Streak Live.

A win is a win is a win, and the streak is dead.  May the new streak go on for at least 3 more years!  There should be balance in life and I’m not happy to have been on the bottom side of the Wolverine / Spartan rivalry for the past few years.  It’s really interesting how it works.  When the Spartans win, my phone lights up, text messages come in, email comes through, all within seconds after the game ends (never before, sparty having learned that lesson more than once).  On the other hand when we win, I let it go because frankly I expect to win.  It’s no big deal, we should win.  Unfortunately, it can be painful when we don’t.

So there I sat in my seat in Section 9, watching the time click down on the clock and the scoreboard showing a 10-9 deficit.  I had nightmares again of missed field goals, blocked kicks and fumbled snaps.  I kept praying that we would get into field goal range, but hardly dared to hope for a field goal.  I was hoping for a big play, hoping that on that big play the clock wouldn’t run out.  After all, the kicking game hasn’t been to kind to us over the last several years.  I’ve been touting the special teams all year though, so when it came time for the kick, instead of closing my eyes, I took pictures.  Too bad some of the best pictures were spoiled by the silly pompoms.  I mean, really, I love the pompoms except when I spend the entire game trying to take pictures around them, but I digress.  The snap was good, the kick was up and the crowd roared and I snapped pictures trying to watch the ball between the uprights.  All I saw was yellow pompoms, but I knew by the sound that the field goal was good and the streak was dead.

Well, except for the matter of those 5 remaining seconds.  People started to file out but I stood at my seat.  I didn’t dare move until the ball carrier was down.  I didn’t want to jinx the win.  Then there was the razzle-dazzle and laterals and all, but in the end the ball carrier went down and we had finally won.

Let’s start with the positives up the game.  First off, the field goal kicking.  4-4 between the two kickers and they were rock solid.  Without four field goals I’m standing there in shock instead of being elated.  It’s hard to fathom that we couldn’t put the ball in the endzone, but the field goal kickers did it.  Second, Drew Dileo.  He only made just about every crucial reception of the game and was the holder for all 4 field goals.  If we had 3 stars of the game like they have in hockey, I would have just mentioned them all.  Oh wait, don’t forget the defense, mostly.  They mostly kept Le’veon Bell under control, and limited the Spartans to just 10 points plus a missed field goal.  A close game by all accounts.

For most of the season I’ve been touting the special teams, but I had a few frustrations with them on Saturday.  First, we have a kickoff guy who can knock it into the endzone everytime at least it sure looks like he can, but to my eyes it appears we’re daring people to run it back so we can trap them inside the 25.  Give it up, kick it out of the endzone and give them the ball on the 25.  It’s predictable and it’s good.  For what it’s worth, that’s exactly what the Spartans did to us and Norfleet never got to return a ball, nor did Denard (what exactly was he doing out there again?).   Second, if you’re going to fair catch every punt, don’t bother setting up a return.  I mean, seriously, put 10 guys on the line and go after the punt.  Let the guy fair catch it anyways, you might get a blocked or hurried punt and get a better result as part of it.  It seems like we’re fair catching the ball 90+% of the time.  I’m sure someone has that statistic.  Last but not least, when you know that D’Antonio is the master of the fake kick, why would we let the *punter* run for over 20 yards on a fake punt.  That play very well could have been the difference in the game.  It looked like we were asleep at the wheel…well, ok, we were.

I haven’t yet gone back to watch the recording of the game, so maybe I’m way off base.  But it looked to me like either the Spartans were disguising the read on the Zone Read play, or Denard was just making the wrong decision often.  How many times did he give the ball to the back only to see them get plowed into the ground just .2 seconds later.  I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as I remember, but it sure seemed that bad.  The running game is still anemic, and with the exception of the Dileo connection so was most of the passing game.  Oh, there were a few nice catches here and there including one to Kwiatkowski which I think might have confused everyone since he usually blocks while Funchess does the catching.  We’re going to have to be able to put up some points against Nebraska last week.  I think Denard is going to have to have some big runs and the TE’s are going to have to make more catches to force the linebackers to cover if we’re going to mount up enough offense to win.

Maybe the scariest thing I saw all day was the deep ball.  Maxwell couldn’t hit it, but we were beaten at least 4 times over the top and there was no safety help to be found.  The safeties were all up supporting the run defense.  We could get hit for the big play next week unless the coverage is a lot more sound than it was against the MSU receivers.

Still, in the end, a win is a win is a win, and it puts us in a good position.   We can’t afford to lose any games, but getting this monkey off of our back was important.  With Alabama atop the rankings and Notre Dame moving up every week, our losses look less damaging than they did earlier.  I’m starting to dream of a Michigan / Oregon State Rose Bowl.  Wouldn’t that be a fun matchup!

Now on to the photos.  They were a challenge to get this week with all the pompoms, but I like how they turned out, hopefully you will too!  Let me know what you think!

This game is played for the Paul Bunyan Trophy!

The pass to Kwiatkowski. He’s wide open (wait, he never goes out into the pattern)

Jake Ryan was a monster again! I love the way this guy plays!

The front 5. I think these guys are playing better together every week.

The new Sparty helmet. The greens don’t match, I think they make them Oregon Duck wannabees. Best description? They look like a Christmas Ornament. :)

You can’t describe this game without a picture of Dileo. He’s just so hard to spot! The White Receiver rocked!

Norfleet didn’t get to return a kick. I’m still waiting for the big runback. By the way, I love those gloves, I’m going to have to find a pair.

The Kick!

5 seconds left… still glued to my spot!

The final kickoff, the stands are still pretty full!

A highlight from the 900th win video presentation.

Another highlight from the 900th win video presentation.

The Aftermath.

Was the Big Win over Illinois Deceiving?

Well, this ticket stub isn’t me this time.  I had to work, so my granddaughter got to go to the game in my place.  Thank goodness however for TiVo, because with the game recorded I was able to watch the game and replay several plays to watch what happened.  It’s a very different way to watch the game as compared to viewing the game from Section 9.  Even with the expected rain today for the Michigan State game, I’m still going to be excited to be in the stadium again.

On offense, after the first few runs, I saw Toussaint again just not hitting the line with any authority.  Thomas Rawls was much better.  In our running game, you can’t stop and try to pick a hole.  You need to head to that crease and then drive through it.  If you stop and dance, you’re going to get tackled for a loss whether the play is going up the middle or wide to the outside.  I know Toussaint has this in him.  I just want to look the guy in the eye and say hit the hole, and if someone is there, at least run them over and gain a yard.

It’s hard to be unhappy in a game where you run up so many points though.  We executed fairly well, I just think Illinois is that bad.  Bellomy had the opportunity to get in the game and run the offense, and though I thought his performance wasn’t anything exciting, the experience of getting in and running at game speed is good and will pay dividends for him down the road.

On defense, I’m very concerned about our run defense.  Lost in shutting down the Illinois offense, particularly in the first half is that we regularly seemed to give up 5-7 yards on first down.  Now against Illinois maybe we can turn those downs around and not give up 3-5 more yards on 2nd and 3rd for a first down, but I don’t think we can afford to do that against Michigan State.  If we let the Spartans run downhill against us, it is going to be a long day, and I don’t know that we can contain Le’Veon Bell this way.  We need to make stops on 1st down and force Maxwell to go to the air against us.

Now that I’ve expressed my concern, we did look very good on defense overall, coming up with defensive stops when we need them.  Maybe the biggest improvement seems to be that our tackling is getting much better.  The biggest improvement from last year to this year and even through this year has been our tackling.  I love the number of guys who are getting to the ball, but more than that, I like that the first guy to the ball usually doesn’t miss.

Today, this team needs to make it’s mark.  As they take on the Spartans, who no one on this team has ever beaten, they need to pull it all together and perform.   Mr. Kovacs, Mr. Robinson, I’ll be there cheering you on.  I’m tired of all the green on my facebook wall.  Let’s do this!

For the new follower who liked the ticket stub on the page last week, We’ll start and end this week with ticket stubs.  Watch for more pictures in next weeks post.