Alex’s Liveblog of the 2013 Battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy

*** 1:00

Welcome to The Addison Recorder’s Liveblog of the 2013 Battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy! The #21 Michigan Wolverines (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) and #22 Michigan State Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) will be meeting on the gridiron for the 106th time this afternoon in East Lansing. The winner of this game will put themselves in the driver’s seat to win the Legends (ugh, so glad that name is going away) Division of the Big Ten and play for the Championship next month in Indianapolis.  So, as the Recorder’s resident Michigan(and college football) fanatic I’ll be setting up the game before kickoff and then providing commentary during the action. Except lots of swearing. Possibly a lot of despair as well. Back in a few moments with a rundown of Michigan’s season so far and what to expect from them on offense and defense today.

*** 1:20

I would love to say that I have any idea what kind of team the 2013 iteration of the Michigan Wolverines is. They’re 6-1, ranked in the national Top 25, have the #8 scoring offense in the country at 42.4 points per game, and 27th in total defense at 355.3 yards per game. So…they are pretty clearly a good team with near-elite numbers in most measurable fields, right? If you watched the Notre Dame game back in week two it certainly seemed so. Despite an ugly pick-six thrown by Michigan QB Devin Gardner from his own endzone Michigan beat last year’s National Runners-Up 41-30 and looked great doing so. The evidence mounts even more when you combine that result with games were they just out-muscled Central Michigan and Minnesota to win handily and then went back and forth in a high-scoring victory over the offensive chaos agents from Indiana. Four wins that were all quite convincing over teams with a wide quality range.

But then that ignores the brutally ugly games against Akron and UConn, two of the worst teams in the country with a combined record of 2-14. Michigan won those games by a combined 7 points and were lucky to survive in both cases. They finally lost against Penn State in Happy Valley when the offense conspired to give away 14 points through turnovers, the defense somehow let the Nittany Lions overcome a 10-point deficit late in the 4th quarter to force overtime, and then missed 3 field goals that would have clinched the victory. It was a deeply frustrating night, but not a terribly surprising one.

Michigan is a team that looks good in terms of pure numbers, but makes little sense from week to week. Their offense can score in buckets, but can’t gain rushing yards from under center (which is their most fervent desire), gives the ball away like crazy, and is prone to some severe turtle-ing when they play on the road. The defense is schematically sound for the most part, but lack real stars, and has seen some ridiculous plays made against them. Mgoblog theorizes that freshman cornerback Channing Stribling may phase out from our reality from time to time, due to his penchant to be in perfect position to pick off a pass and then somehow see the receiver catch the ball anyway. He’s sort of the perfect avatar for the defense as a whole in that regard.

So…Michigan will head into East Lansing with data points saying that they can score a bunch, give the ball away nearly as often, stop most drives, and allow mind-melting big plays. They are somehow great and terrible all at once and I have no idea which face they’ll show on any given Saturday.

*** 1:56

Slightly less detail in this update, since I have watched far less of the Spartans than I have the Wolverines, for obvious reasons. In some ways the 2013 Spartans are a pretty close reflection of their opponents from Ann Arbor.  They are offensively schizophrenic, scoring 14 points one week against a historically bad Purdue team before hanging 42 on Illinois 7 days later. After some early-season rotation at the QB position they seem to have settled on Connor Cook, who is…a guy. He’s not as mind-meltingly mediocre as last year’s starter Andrew Maxwell was/is, but he’s certainly not a game-changer. Nothing on that offensive side of the ball is for Sparty, truly. The scores vary from week to week, but on every down they run a boring offense predicated on power running and short passes because they have the luxury of playing across from a terrifying defense.

Coming into the game today Michigan State has the #3 scoring defense (12.3 points per game) and #1 total defense (215.5 yards per game) in the country. They are just bananas on that side of the ball. Led by senior linebackers Max Bullogh and Denicos Allen the players are always in position and probably hitting the other team before they even cross the line of scrimmage. Under Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who cannot get a head coaching job in a different part of the country soon enough, the Spartans run a 4-3 Over defense that plays an extremely aggressive Cover 4 on most every down. They put the safeties 10 yards off the line of scrimmage to defend the run instantly, put their corners in press coverage on the edges so that there are no easy yards given up through quick passes or screens, and blitz up the middle like mad in order to put ceaseless pressure on the quarterback. Playing offense against them is just not fun. Not at all. God. I hate them so much.

So coming into today you can expect the defense to play like their hair is on fire, the offense to play conventionally except for some weird wrinkle introduced just to mess with Michigan (MSU head coach Mark Dantonio loves that shit almost as much as he hates Michigan), and that they will run a fake punt or field goal at some point. I know this, MSU knows this, and the Michigan coaches and players know this. We’ll just see if the Wolverines can stop what’s coming.

*** 2:15

One last update before kickoff.

First thing to mention: I just put socks on. When I get nervous about a football game my feet get cold and I have to put my socks on. Normally this happens well after the game has started. Today it is 15 minutes before kickoff. Egads.

Second: I mentioned earlier that the winner of this game would be in the driver’s seat in the Legends division. That’s true, but it’s worth mentioning that even if Mcihigan wins their path to Indianpolis is still much tougher than Sparty’s. Due to the wonders of the Big Ten’s stupid, stupid, almost dead and still so stupid, divisional split Michigan got a much tougher draw from the Leaders division than their rivals. Michigan played Penn State, a decent if undermanned team which they lost to in quadruple overtime, and Ohio State, their arch-rival who has won 20 straight games. State drew Purdue, which might be the worst Big Ten team in a half-century (they’re currently down 56-0 to OSU), and Illinois, which has not won a Big Ten game since 2011 (they are in OT against Penn State as I type this). I hate shit like that. Michigan should have been able to beat PSU and control their own destiny, so some of this is on the cowardly coaching decision in that game, but I’m still miffed at this unequal scheduling.

Finally: I guess I have to make a prediction? I feel like I know what MSU will do today, but Michigan could play like a world-beater (like the ND game) or like a laughingstock (the UConn game). That uncertainty has made both the Las Vegas line and most prognosticators predict a Spartan win. If this game is played 100 times then MSU probably would win most of them, but it’s not a dead certainty. So…I think MSU probably has the advantage, but Michigan could win and not surprise me at all. If they do it will surely be on the shoulders of the most dynamic player on the field, Michigan’s Junior QB Devin Gardner. So, I’ll predict that, if only for my own happiness. Gardner throws for 200+, runs for 75, and accounts for 3 touchdowns. Just for good measure, he also throws a brutal interception under pressure. The Micihgan defense holds down the Spartan defense convincingly, gives up one long drive, but produces a clinching turnover in the 4th.

Michigan: 28 – Michigan State: 20

*** 2:43 Michigan’s first drive starts off very strong with a bomb to Jeremy Gallon, but then gets bogged down when Sparty starts applying oodles of pressure on 2nd and 3rd downs in the red zone. Sack and short loss on a Gardner scramble on those downs means Michigan has to try a long field goal. Hey, they made it! 3-0 Michigan, so my score prediction is already dust. haha Doubt we’ll be able to settle for just field goals all day like we did last year. Time for the Wolverine D to head out and try to shut down the Spartan’s power running ambitions.

*** 2:51

Sparty starts off the game with a 49-yard pass to a fullback. Thank god it was a busted play or I would be much more worried. MSU QB Connor Cook got spooked by pressure, rolled to his right, and to avoid a sack he flung it back to his FB on the left. Said player was all alone, because the play wasn’t designed to go near him and rumbles down the field while M’s defense screams after him to catch up. Three short, stifled plays later and MSU has to kick a field goal. 3-3 after two drives.

*** 2:57

Another long play-action pass opens up the drive for Michigan’s offense, this time hitting all 6’5″ inches of Devin Funchess to get into Spartan territory. But a blown-up inverted veer and a swing pass held for 2 yards leads to 3rd and 10 for M. They tried a throwback screen to HB Fitz Touissant, but MSU was ready and had it utterly covered. Sack and punt later and MSU hold the ball on their own 15. Maybe they’ll look for more ridiculous FB play?

*** 3:03

Three and out. Enough said. Michigan’s ball again in just a moment. Also, I have downed half a bottle of Guiness in half a quarter. This game….Travis or Andrew should bring me more to drink.

*** 3:08

And now Michigan goes three and out in response. Their series had 2 sacks and a holding call. Brutal possession.

*** 3:10

Sparty goes three and out again. #BigTennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

Gallon fields a fair catch inside his own 10. Can’t give up sacks down there, boys.

*** 3:15

These teams are in a competition to see who can go three and out more. Michigan has -19 rushing yards after 4 drives. Yikes.

*** 3:17

DAMN. MSU holds on their first play and then fumbles, but Michigan is out of bounds when they recover. DAMNDAMNDAMN. End of 1st quarter after another stuffed run by MSU. Shaping up to be a classic field-position battle at this point.

*** 3:27

That fumble broke the three and out curse. Sparty converted two long 3rd downs, but couldn’t do it again as the ball popped out of Bennie Fowler’s hand in the endzone. MSU drove far enough, though, and makes their second field goal attempt of the game. 6-3 lead for MSU in the 2nd. This game is feeling very similar to last year’s so far. An all-field goal slugfest beckons.

*** 3:37

Somehow a drive where Michigan gained two first downs fairly quickly ended in a punt from M’s endzone on 4th and 48. That’s all I have to say about that.

*** 3:46

Connor Cook got called for Intentional Grounding. I responded by vacuuming the living room rug at my wife’s behest. Then Jehu Chesson makes a circus catch on 2nd and 12 to flip field position. Michigan knocking at the door.

*** 3:49

So close to more, but lucky to have 3 points there. Michigan tried an inverted veer with a loaded box on 3rd and 2 from the 14. Stuffed for a big damn loss. Would have liked to see a packaged play there. Run the IV with an option for Gardner to pull and throw a pop pass. Oh well. Gibbons’ field goal is good after clanging off the upright. It fell the right way and I heaved a sigh of relief.

Also, Becky is saying we need to cancel our HD service. I have conflicted feelings about this.

*** 4:00

Well, piss. Michigan nearly picked off Connor Cook twice on this past drive, but both chances slipped out of their fingertips. So, of course, Sparty responds by scoring the first touchdown this series has seen in over two years. Bennie Fowler caught a beautiful pass in the back corner of the endzone after toasting freshman CB Jourdan Lewis with his route. 13-6 MSU at the half.

Also, to the State player who dove through the line to try and hit Devin Gardner when Michigan kneeled it down to end the half: Fuck you. Go fuck yourself. Eat a fuck burger and then get fucking food poisoning from it. Same goes to the coaches that told him to do that.

*** 4:32

And we’re back. MSU drove for a field goal on their first drive, with some help from the refs. A bad spot and at least one missed holding call against the Spartan O-Line means that State not holds a 16-6 lead early in the 3rd. Let’s hope for Michigan to start stringing together some drive so that we can make up this deficit.

#NotAtAllBiased

*** 4:39

GODDAMMIT Michigan had a receiver open on 3rd and 8, only to have a Spartan defender undercut the route and perform a leaping tip worthy of the EA Sports NCAA Football franchise. Fucking hell. So much punting.

*** 4:49

Sparty is forced to punt and it is downed at the 5. Of course. SO HAPPY WE ARE PLAYING IN SPARTAN STADIUM AGAIN NEXT YEAR.

*** 4:52

Another three and out, this time with two dropped passes. Another punt that puts MSU at midfield. This day is slipping away by inches.

*** 5:00

Sigh. Let’s hope for a big turnover or some other kind of fluky play, hey? The offense just can’t put anything together at this point. No effective rushing game is letting the Sparty D tee off and…YES INTERCEPTION BY RAYMON TAYLOR. Gotta capitalize here.

*** 5:06

THAT WAS THE OPPOSITE OF CAPITALIZING. OPPOSITE OPPOSITE OPPOSITE. GODDAMMIT FUCKING GODDAMMIT PIECE OF SHIT DO I HATE THIS SPARTAN PROGRAM AND ROCH RODRIGUEZ’S UTTER INABILITY TO RECRUIT AN OFFENSE LINEMAN. FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK

*** 5:17

My apologies to all my friends and families that are Spartans or Spartan fans: Fuck all you bitches.

*** 5:35

I went and ate dinner. In the meantime Gardner and company drove the field before getting intercepted after some signature Defensive Holding by the Spartans. Gardner is now on the sideline getting medical attention. Shane Morris will enter the game at some point. He will know pain on the field at Spartan Stadium.

*** 5:43

We have a Shakespeare reading party in about 15 minutes. This shit is over. Liveblog out. Enjoy the cursing!

Alex Bean

Alex Bean

A life-long Midwesterner, currently living and working in Chicago. Primarily writes here about television and film (which is what he accrued crushing debt to study in school), but will write about books, sports, video games, or whatever else strikes his fancy. He's the one who thinks baseball is really boring.

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