Thursday, October 13, 2011
Between my office and a major freeway interchange, there is a Wal-Mart. I think it’s the “Super” kind, too. Normally I shop at Meijer, but every once in a blue moon I need to get from my office to the freeway and buy something they don’t sell at gas stations; Super Wal-Mart is there for me.
On one of these excursions, I was waiting in line for the U-Scan when I heard noises behind me that sounded like talking but not like words. I turned and found myself face to face with a person staring at me with wide, unblinking eyes.
He was holding a 30-pack of Busch, the kind that comes in the collector camouflage box with blaze orange letters. He had on light-wash blue jeans with epic holes in the knees. On his head was a plain black baseball cap bearing the word “JESUS” in white capital letters. Under his nose was something that might have been alive but was probably a moustache. On his torso was a University of Michigan T-shirt.
I stared at him.
He stared at me.
I stared at him.
He stared at me.
I turned around, paid for my merchandise, and left.
This was the legendary “Wal-Mart Wolverine,” encountered in his natural habitat. I was too close to the beast to pull out a camera and take a picture, but like James Audubon I returned with this detailed accounting of the animal for academic enlightenment.
I am a sports fan at the crest of the Web 2.0 wave. My personal passions and professional skills pitch me right into the wheelhouse of the sports blogging demographic. I am thirty years old, white, male, college-educated, and see all things with a critical eye and a burning desire to know. I have a balanced life with wife, children, and white-collar career—but make time for all of my various hobbies and interests, because I’m just a geek like that and all this crazy has to go somewhere. I will sleep when I am dead.
I am incredibly privileged.
I count amongst my privileges that I was able to attend Michigan State University, as did my mother, and her father before her—not to mention my wife, both her sisters, both her parents, my stepmother . . . we are privileged. We don The Only Colors as symbols of our pride in and loyalty to the school that helped us become the people we are, and to which we paid a hell of a lot of money for the privilege.
We love and cheer for our school and its sports teams. When I was in school, I knew many athletes (I was in Case Hall), and it was incredible to see the people I hung out with all week don the armor and the livery and take the field to battle our “enemies.” It’s what’s incredible about college athletics: it’s our students against your students, and may the best team win.
We take that rivalry from the stands to the streets, and take turns jawing with family, friends, coworkers and strangers over whose lyceum reigns supreme. Sometimes it’s all in good fun. Sometimes it gets heated. Sometimes it turns ugly.
Sometimes you’re sitting in your Wolvie boss’s living room with all of his friends watching Michigan State lose 49-3 on his six-foot projection TV and you’re the only MSU fan there and they’re all giving you the business and even though what you really want to say is “Look, dude, you went to U of M Flint” you can’t so you mutter something about basketball season and know that someday the shoe will be on the other foot.
Sometimes that Wal-Mart Wolverine sees your team colors and starts jawing at you and telling you you “suck” and you want to know where in the hell he gets off telling you you suck when he’s never even been to Ann Arbor and his only connection to the football team that beat your football team is the T-shirt he bought here at Wal-Mart two years ago.
This is where we take a step back and talk about class.
The Wal-Mart Wolverine does not have Michigan’s two-deeps memorized. The Wal-Mart Wolverine does not know which crucial recruits M is vying for. The Wal-Mart Wolverine may only be dimly aware that Rich Rodriguez is no longer the coach. The Wal-Mart Wolverine brands himself a Michigan fan because it’s a cheap and easy way to feel like a winner. He feels like a winner when Michigan wins on Saturday, and he feels like a winner during the week when he talks shit to some ponytailed fag wearing an Spartan polo and Tweeting on an iPhone.
Look, I didn’t graduate from State. I worked in the trades on a per-hour, sometimes-cash-only basis until I figured out who I wanted to be when I grew up. I spent a lot of time working side-by-side with guys who had precious little going for them besides a strong back, a permanent tab at their favorite bar, and a Michigan T-shirt.
So it is with the Juggalo Spartan. I cringed at Brian’s description of the State fans in Ann Arbor last year:
That was Saturday: financial mathematicians screaming at Juggalos, and the Juggalos winning. The State meathead directly behind me literally said "bitch! fuck you!" whenever MSU tackled Denard Robinson for less than five yards. On Friday, Tim came back to his apartment to find a trail of blood leading to a passed-out State meathead who'd broken in. The same guys who clumsily spray-painted a bedsheet in 2008 to declare their glorious victory over the worst Michigan team in 50 years reprised their genius. As I walked home every glassy-eyed Stiffler that passed me upped the amplitude of my anger/depression cocktail. Jesus, they were everywhere. They came to Ann Arbor cocky and stupid and left cocky and stupid. Enduring it was brutal. In their eyes, that was probably the point.
I brand myself with that the same Michigan State fandom that those a-holes do, and it kills me—kills me—to hear that people who call themselves Spartan fans would say and do those terrible things. But Brian hit something else on the head: those probable-Juggalos “almost certainly didn't even go to the game because they couldn't afford it.” They’re poor. They’re definitely ignorant, and probably stupid. They didn’t go to State, or likely any college. They didn’t earn their fandom with tuition and classes like he did his and I did mine.
So first, let’s call a spade a spade: the phenomenon of Wal-Mart Wolverines and Juggalo Spartans is a whole lot more about the struggle of class against class than between Michigan and Michigan State. They didn’t go to the big fancy school in the town where they grew up—but by cheering for the rival they get to lord it over those who did. They don’t represent their fan bases any more than the twisted Alabama fan who poisoned the oaks at Toomer’s Corner knows Violent J from Jay-Z.
Let’s let the common person who just wants a weekend escape have their escape without demanding to see their qualifications, and let’s hate the thugs and vandals on either side for their thuggery and vandalism, not their alignment. I’m not going to spray paint somebody’s car with “STATE” misspelled any more than Brian’s going to kill a 30-pack of Busch during the next UFR.
Second, let’s remember how awesome this rivalry is. My grandfather sat in the Spartan Stadium stands and hated Michigan—just as my mother did and as I do. We have the Internet now; we have computers that fit in our pockets and talk to the Internet everywhere, and we can interact with each other at any time of day or night all year ‘round. We can steep ourselves in the tradition and the vitriol and the misery and the triumph and all day every day for as much as we can stand. That’s a privilege; let’s treat it as such.
I stand with my Wolverine-loving iFriends as fans of Big Ten college football, and I want our annual battle to be played for the highest possible stakes every single year. I want our rivalry to be a marquee contest that draws national attention, and has national implications. I want to hate and taunt and mock and deride and seethe at each other with the respect, dignity, and yes—class—that befits ladies and gentlemen of privilege and higher education.
Also, I hope we kick their ass.
This marks the third year in a row we're going to be playing Michigan's September Heisman Winner. This is the third year in a row we're playing an undefeated Michigan team that's going to beat us until we can't stand. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 Michigan's combined record coming into this game has been 15-0. We have been the Lloyd Carr to the JLS Wolverines the past couple of years and I'm good if we can pull this off a third year in a row.
Michigan's Passing Attack vs MSU's Pass Defense
Last year UM moved the ball on MSU until it got into the redzone and then D-Rob was more likely to complete a pass to us than he was to his own guys. This will be true again. D-Rob was such a good QB last year because Magee got D-Rob's receivers FILTHY open.
Denard is the best running back playing QB since Michael Vick. I seem to recall reading that MSU's defense has given up nine plays over 20 yards this season. Further, Denard has a real propensity for throwing moonballs, not manballs. So you have a strength of MSU's juxtaposed with a strong weakness of UM's. Denard is going to throw some picks, provided he throws at all.
Michigan's Rushing Attack vs MSU's Rush Defense
Denard is the rushing attack too. Frankly, Denard's the whole damned offense. MSU has shown itself prepared to stop a rushing QB in Braxton Miller, but honestly, he's like Diet Caffeine Free Denard. The YPC is up across the board for their running backs, but at the end of the day stop Denard, stop the Wolverines.
MSU has been stingy against the run this year allowing an average of 64 yards per game and 74.5 against OSU and ND. I do not realistically expect us to surrender only 64 rushing yards against Michigan, but I do think we could keep them under 150. We only gave up 35 rushing yards to OSU and I think we're adequately prepared to stop a rushing QB.
MSU's Passing Attack vs Michigan's Pass Defense
Michigan has the 39th ranked pass defense and has been real solid in the red zone. We've been moving the ball effectively, but kinda crappy in the redzone, 100th in the nation or worse. Mattison seems to run a high risk, high reward type defense with lots and lots of blitzing. So that makes this call a bit difficult. If Michigan can get the blitz home, MSU is in some trouble. If MSU can stop the blitz, Cousins could have a field day. Further complicating matters is that Cousins still has a brain fart when he's pressing. So, the key for MSU will be short, safe throws for 5-7 yards.
Advantage: Push. I think there are too many unknowns for me to call this with any confidence. Either side could massively outperform the other.
MSU's Rushing Attack vs Michigan's Rush Defense
The BBC backfield has struggled this year behind our woeful Offensive Line of Sorrow. I think the Woeful Offensive Line of Sorrow is turning into a Woeful Offensive Line of Patchworked Occasional Success. However, I don't see the OLine coming together enough over the bye week to turn the rushing attack into a scary juggernaut for this week's game.
Michigan's rush defense is ranked 58th, giving up 141.6 yards per game. Our Rushing Offense is ranked 79th. They're good in defending the red zone and we're not good at scoring in it so it'll be important if we're going to be good at rushing that it happens in their redzone. Bell will be a critical piece of this.
Advantage: UM. I think we have too many holes in our rushing game to be improved with a bye week.
So we had a bye week before this, which means we had time to drop some wrinkles in the playbook. With a bye week the week before we might come out a bit rusty. MSU has been outscored 49-20 in the first half of the two post bye week games under Dantonio. Still, we have saved some of our best for Michigan the past few years and with an extra week to cook things up, I expect some very interesting stunts and blitzes. Maybe a Keshawn package?
Michigan on the other hand, is playing with house money at this point. I don't think anyone expected Michigan to be 6-0 and in such resounding fashion at this point. So winning this game would be icing on the cake for them I think. State needs to jump out to a quick lead and keep it because UM is a second half team.
Advantage: UM, but slightly.
Overall: Earlier this week, I was a bit bearish on our chances this weekend, but it goes without saying that UM has not played a defense like ours yet. Further, they struggled in the early goings against every team they've played except Minnesota and SDSU. If MSU is going to win, it needs to come out early, get up big, and not get soft in the third and fourth quarters. If this were an away game, I'd worry about that a bit, but I think we'll be properly prepared and the rust will come off quick.I think the rushing game will surprise this week despite UM's perceived advantage in this arena. MSU's weaknesses seem slightly more likely to be overcome to me with the extra practice than UM's weaknesses.
Predicition: MSU 31 UM 28.
See, it's not the team I worry about with the little brother thing.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
A Couple Qualifications
1.) Playing in the B1G title game doesn't mean winning the B1G title game.
2.) I know that beating Michigan is probably requisite to getting to the B1G title game, but that's not the purpose of this exercise.
3.) Results will be used in a future post.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
It's rivalry week and time to address our friends down the road. Much will be made of what this game means. Was Jesus just a prophet for Denard? Is Brady Hoke the long-awaited successor to Bo? Does Michigan State even have a chance against U of M? If MSU loses are we destined to become a second-rate doormat all over again? If we win is U of M on it's way to Richrodding it's way through the season again? I think this is all a bunch of knee-jerk crap honestly, so let's stick to some facts and maybe some mild opinion and go from there.
Fact: Michigan has outscored it's opponents in the second half 114-21.
If you are not winning at halftime, it's unlikely you will beat these Wolverines. A key to success for the good guys will be being up early and making Denard play from behind. Frankly, this statistic is just stunning. Outscoring your opponent 5-1 in the second half over six games is no fluke.
Fact: Michigan State has outscored it's opponents in the first half 89-27.
While this involves us being up 58-0 on FAU and Central respectively, I do think it points to us being more of a first half team. Interesting to note, at halftime we've blanked three of our opponents at the half. So again, better be up at the half or else.
Fact: Michigan and Michigan State have scoring defenses in the top 10 nationally.
Normally this would be extremely impressive, but the Big Ten has half the top 10 scoring defenses nationally, so it's only kind of impressive. The turnaround is more impressive in the case of Michigan who finished somewhere around 2,000,000th in total scoring defense last year.
Fact: Michigan has the leading rusher in the Big Ten at QB.
We haven't yet played a QB in this mold in 2011. We of course played Robinson last year and shut him down very nicely, but until he is stopped we cannot write him off as a threat. A key to the game will be limiting him to taking only a few yards here or there and making him throw the ball.
Fact: Michigan State Football has improved under Mark Dantonio.
I bring this one up in case we lose and fans start jumping off ledges. MSU is better than they've been since Biggie Munn and aren't you lucky because they've been pretty so-so for a long time? Mark Dantonio's current record is 37-20 and 21-12 in the Big Ten. In order for Mark Dantonio to have a winning percentage equivalent to Duffy Daughtery he'd need to lose his next three games. He'd have to lose five to be as good as St. Nick Saban. On Saturday, win or lose Michigan State football is improving under Dantonio.
Opinion(But Strongly Supported): The Winner of This Game will have the inside track on winning the Legends Division
Neither program rises or falls based off of this game, but I think the winner has the inside track on playing in the inaugural B1G title game. Nebraska is already down a game in the Big Ten season and is unlikely to beat both MSU and Michigan. Iowa looks to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this year. So it is my opinion that the loser does not become a second-tier program, but instead this might become a rivalry of who plays in the division title game.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
There a few things I've wanted to address while I've been gone, consistent themes in the general MSU fan pulse. The first is William Gholston while I bet Saturday will be the day Gholston stopped being little Willie Gholston and became William Gholston, Slayer of Slow, Inattentive or Sometimes Fast Quarterbacks, we still have a way to go. Gholston's bread and butter is to bull rush everyone to death so if you have a tackle who is good at dealing with the bull rush, he will also be successful at slowing down Gholston. So buy stock now, he'll be better later, but he took advantage of some folks who were not ready for his raw speed.
Second, I will agree to a few things. 1.) Kirk Cousins struggles at key times in road games. 2.) Cousins throws some pretty boneheaded interceptions at times. 3.) He crawls inside his own head resulting in a manic crapfest. However, Cousins has still got us in second place in total Big Ten passing statistics. Since we're currently ranked tenth in the Big Ten in total rushing, we NEED Kirk Cousins to take us places this season. For us to close on our dream of playing in December in the Big 10 title game, Cousins has got to shore it up a bit, but make no mistake if we get there, he'll be a large piece of the reason why.
Third, is Baker a better running back than Bell? I guess I'd start with this, I'm not sure it's important. We have and need both. Next, I think it depends on who you ask. A pro scout would say Baker. A college coach might say Baker or Bell. Baker has the complete physical package but in a year where the O-Line is down(btw GOOD JOB O-LINE on Saturday!) I think it's natural that he struggles. What Le'Veon's gift is that he has the best vision of any back in recent MSU memory. He's patient about using his blockers. If the hole for him is supposed to be between the LG and C and it's not there, he'll look other places. He reminds me a lot of what you loved about Caulcrick, great vision and difficult to tackle. On a side note, I thought Caulcrick ran just fine at 235 his freshman year, getting him up to 255 was a mistake IMO. Baker just doesn't seem to have this vision, he runs to where his hole is supposed to be and if it isn't there doesn't tend to look for another hole. So is Baker better than Bell? Baker is more physically gifted, but I think Bell will have more success in a year like this. Bonus: I think Baker will be back next year. Bonus 2: I'd rather have this debate than why do all of our Running Back's suck like going to the dentist.
Finally, The Incredible Disappearing Act of Keshawn Martin. This one seems pretty simple to me. Keshawn Martin is a slot receiver being asked to basically play as our second most reliable receiver. Martin's natural position is the slot and more importantly he needs to be our third most reliable receiver. He is as talented as any member of our offense, but he needs to be the guy they bring in for end arounds, QB passes, you know, Keshawn Martin circus stuff. Nichol caught a couple or three passes on Saturday, but I don't think he's gonna be the guy. We need Bennie Fowler back and then on top of that, we need him to be a reliable second receiver. Part two of that is that if they could work something out with Nichol and Sims where they share the role of Y receiver, somehow. Anyway, the environment that would help Martin thrive is the one where he's the icing on the cake instead of part of the cake. Hopefully we can get someone else to be the cake in the next week or two.
Anyway, that's it for now. Be back next week for the gnashing of teeth over the Skunkbears.