Sunday, October 29, 2006

I'm back... What did I miss?

Okay, so I took a few weeks off. I was distracted by starting a new job and a little thing called the Major League Baseball playoffs and the World Series.

Who would have thought the World Series would have interfered with paying close attention to Spartan football?

Turns out, it was a good thing this year.

We last left off before the Michigan State/Michigan game in Ann Arbor. Michigan State lost that as expected, then got blown out by Number One Ohio State at home the following week.

Last week, many people thought MSU turned the corner after the amazing comeback against Northwestern. MSU was down 38-3 in the third quarter and rallied for a 41-38 win, evening their record at 4-4 and 1-3 in conference.

They turned the corner right? They had shaken out of the post-Notre Dame funk, right?

Not so much.

The Spartans were crushed by Indiana (Indiana?) this weekend 46-21. They now stand at 4-5, 1-4 in conference.

If only the World Series could have gone on a few weeks longer, we could have avoided the end of the season all together.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Spartan Bob" - Five years later

A villain, at least in the eyes of Michigan fans,
was born in East Lansing five years ago during the Michigan/Michigan State game, but he was not on the field.

He was not a player. He was not a coach. And he was not a referee.
"Spartan Bob," as he was named after the game, was the timekeeper in Spartan Stadium on November 3, 2001 as he had been for games year in and year out - but this game would be talked about for years.

As MSU trailed the Wolverines 24-20 with time running out in the fourth-quarter and no times-out remaining, Spartan quarterback Jeff Smoker scrambled towards the goal line. He didn't make it to the end zone, he was down at the two.

With the clock still running, Smoker rushed everyone back to the line of scrimmage so he could spike the ball.







The clock stopped.

The Wolverines thought the game was over, but the clock still showed :01 remaining.

"That's criminal!" shouted the play-by-play voice of the Wolverines.

The crowed went wild. "The Spartans are still alive!" they thought.

There was one play left.

Smoker got the ball, drifted to his right and floated a pass across his body to the back of the endzone over the outstretched arms of Michigan defenders and into the arms of a wide open T.J. Duckett.

"Touchdown MSU!" And a 26-24 Spartan victory over their rivals from Ann Arbor.

Michigan fans have never forgotten this game and they have never forgiven "Spartan Bob" for stopping the clock with :01 remaining for that final play.

There are some things, however, that Michigan fans have forgotten which really put the Wolverines in position to lose the game aside from what "Spartan Bob" may have done wrong. Such as:

  • A 15-yard penalty against U-M's Jeremy Leseur for pulling Charles Rogers down by his face mask on a fourth-and-16 play with 1:18 remaining. No penalty means a U-M victory.
  • Another penalty for having too many men on the field, giving the Spartans more yardage and keeping them alive.

The worst of all, and this somehow slips the Wolverine fans' minds.

The flag for too many men on the field came out late. Before the flag was thrown, MSU called its last timeout.

But the flag was thrown, the clock was stopped and MSU should have gotten its timeout back. And then Smoker would have been able to use it when he was at the two instead of hurrying to spike the ball and having "Spartan Bob" stop the clock.

No such luck.

As it happened, things still worked out well for MSU in that game, but not the rest of the season.

After the win over Michigan, MSU went on to lose its next three games before downing Missouri to become bowl-eligible. MSU then went on to defeat Fresno State 44-35 in the Silicon Valley Bowl.

Of all the stories and people who have been involved in this rivalry over the years, "Spartan Bob" will be one who is not easily forgotten.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

2006 = 2002?

So here the Spartans are again. Didn't they just go through this four years ago?

An embattled coach, coming off some embarrassing losses including a homecoming loss to an inferior opponent, facing a tremendous amount of heat from the media, alumni and fans and heading into Ann Arbor to face a strong Michigan team.

In 2002, Bobby Williams was 3-5, 1-3 and headed into Michigan with a backup quarterback leading his Spartans due to some off-the-field issues with his star starter. After taking a 3-0 lead to start the game, U-M then went on a 49-0 run to wax the Spartans. It was Bobby Williams' last game as MSU's coach, especially when he responded "I don't know" to a question about whether or not he has "lost" his team. He finished with a 17-18 overall record with MSU.

This season, John L. Smith is heading into Ann Arbor to face undefeated and sixth-ranked Michigan while hearing from the critics after blowing a 16-point lead to Notre Dame in the fourth quarter and losing 23-20 to an Illinois team that had gone 1-25 in its last 26 Big Ten games.

Also, like Williams, Smith had trouble coming up with answers for why his team failed to perform against the Illini. He said he couldn't get them to practice hard all week and didn't have the answer as to how to get them motivated.

Will John L. suffer the same post-Michigan fate as his predecessor?

Smith needs one, if not both, of the next two games. Both will pose a stiff challenge to MSU, heading to Ann Arbor and then bringing in #1-ranked Ohio State the following week.

We'll see if 2006 still has a chance to be a special season.