A Breath Before Diving
This was it. The third game in a miserable five game run for Michigan. Wisconsin, Minnesota (away), Michigan State, Penn State (away), and Iowa. When I first saw the schedule I knew this span would make or break our season. Now, here we were, in the middle of the storm. Settling in for the ultimate trap game. Though Michigan had easily handled its previous five foes, I was still unable to relax.
Then Saturday rolled by. As it turned out, the Michigan v. Michigan State game gave me a chance to do something I hadn't done all season.
Catch my breath.
For the first time this year I was able to breathe easily during a game. I was finally able to allow my overtaxed capillaries a few glowing minutes of relaxation while Michigan was still on the field. It was glorious.
The reason for this was Michigan's almost casual dismatling of Michigan State on Saturday. One of the great pleasures of this Michigan team compared to years past is the same team seems to show up every week. Win or lose they will out work, out hustle, and out hit their opponents. It was the the kind of performance we've come to expect from Michigan this year. Though the teams were separated by "only" 17 points at the sound of the final gun, in reality the gulf between the teams was far wider than that.
It was Yankees v. Devil rays. Bobcats v. Spurs. Globetrotters v. Generals. Lions v. well...Anybody. Though you paid for admittance, you knew what the outcome would be from the opening pitch, tipoff or kick.
Michigan State simply did not have the talent or coaching to compete on Saturday. With Jevon Ringer out, the burden of the offense fell on FB Jehuu Caulcrick, a Volkswagen bus sized tailback with the same two stroke lawnmower engine. Despite a gaudy 5.4 ypc average coming into the game, and MSU being ranked 8th nationally in rushing offense, Caulcrick left Ann Arbor with only 29 rushing yards.
Drew Stanton, MSU's talented quarterback with a penchant for clever school naming, was likewise ineffective. While he threw for 252 yards, the majority of those yards came after Michigan was up 24-0 halfway through the third quarter. Stanton barely registered on the stat sheet during the First Half as he was only able to sustain a single drive into Michigan territory. Further, Michigan refused to give him the ball back. Michigan held the ball for almost 18 minutes in the first half.
Admirably playing with a couple of badly bruised ribs, MSU kept Stanton on a steady diet of 3 step drops to keep him out of Woodley or Branch's grasp. Stanton rarely ventured outside the pocket. Though he was only planted once (by Burgess), he was under constant pressure. Stanton spent the day doing everything he could to get the ball out of his hands and into someone else's. In the end, Stanton's statement game turned into a final comma in sentence that defines his Michigan v. Michigan State career. He lost in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.
It was a strange feeling on Saturday. There wasn't the anxiety normally associated with a Michigan v. Michigan State game. Michigan State had only 24 yards in the first quarter on three possessions. Michigan had the ball twice, scoring on its first possession on a Henne to Arrington TD pass. Before Michigan State even saw the other side of the field it was 14-0 on a 41 yard TD pass from Henne to Manningham.
Nothing went right for MSU. Everything seemed worked normally for Michigan. No one around me, save for the MSU soccer mom and her 14 year kid seated next to me, was even the remotest bit worried or upset. As the second half started Henne and Manningham hooked up again for 6 and the game was essentially over.
My only true moment of trepidation occurred when Mike Hart rolled his ankle late in the third. Watching him limp off the field my stomach repositioned istefl in my throat. I would later find out that he only rolled it a little bit and was walking normally after the game. But when he limped off it was the only time during the game I was scared. But the game went on. Grady rushed for positive yardage on three straight carries before Brandon Minor broke loose on a 40 yard TD run. While none of the other Michigan tailbacks possess the elusiveness of Mike Hart and none possess the speed of Carlos Brown, it appears the best combination of the two exists in Brandon Minor. He will be a game changer some day. I was just lucky enough to be there for the first glimpse.
When the final seconds ticked off the clock I marveled at how relaxed I was. My shoulders weren't tense. My voice wasn't hoarse. It was as if I had watched a leisurely afternoon game at Wrigley in the middle of summer. I could breath.
Knowing that I took a moment to fill my lungs with the calm autumn air.
One last deep breath before we dive into the most trecherous part of the Michigan Season.