|Strike a Pose: 2018 Edition (Dustin Johnson / DJPhotoVideo)|
Yeah, but we got different reasons for that
Believe in me
'Cause I don't believe in anything
And I wanna be someone to believe, to believe, to believe
"Mr. Jones", Counting Crows, August and Everything After, 1993
We can safely say that this was by no means as pretty or as fun as last week's outing. It was far too close for comfort, even when the numbers said Michigan was comfortably in control, well, we all know what those ESPN numbers can actually mean in the real world, but especially in this game.
It was moments after the feeling that Michigan State's legendary luck, it's perma-horseshoe, was going to help them pull off another miracle was settling in when Shea Patterson got a super clean pocket, waited for a beat, then launched a beautiful arcing throw to a racing Donovan Peoples-Jones, who beat his man, slipped a last-gasp tackle attempt, and found paydirt for a 79 yard TD. DPJ then proceeded to pose like the Paul Bunyan Trophy and while the game was not over by a longshot, it felt much better for the remainder of the day, because Michigan's defense was not going to allow a weather-induced slopfest stop them from making Michigan State if not regret, then at least question several of their life choices on the offensive side of the ball. While a flag festival on MSU's final drive was enough to make a vexillologist convention happy, Michigan's relentless defense held Michigan State under 100 yards of total offense and won back Paul Bunyan and continued its revenge tour.
There will be people frustrated that Michigan has "lowered" itself to Michigan State's level, cries of "We're better than this!" and "Act like you've been there before!" In the past, I might have even agreed with this, but I realize now, Michigan needs to loathe Michigan State as much as Michigan State loathes them. They need to feel it deeply and completely, allowing it to permeate every membrane of their collective selves, seeping into every crack, and filling them with the same devotion to getting the job done. Michigan State has made a living off trick plays and luck that defies math for the last decade (seriously, Mark Dantonio may actually have assembled all of the pieces of the Weather Dominator, having successfully stolen them from GI Joe), Michigan could not afford to say "Ohio State is the only rival that matters" any longer. They understood it. They heard the narratives, 1-5 against rivals, haven't beat a ranked team on the road since 2006, they knew the world needed to erase those narratives and the only way that you can do that is to win this game.
It was not a given. Even after taking the 7-0 lead on the longest TD drive in Michigan history (because of the weather delay, it took forever. Yes, this is a lame joke, we don't care.) and just as Michigan's defense forced Lewerke into bad pass after bad pass, the inescapable feeling that Michigan had left points on the field, gifted with great field position and failing to cash in each and every time, including a disturbingly bad looking kick by Quinn Nordin, and headed into the locker room sitting on the 7-0 lead. Grumblings about conservative play calling, burning downs, and Shea's indecision swirled like the hot dog wrappers that tornadoed around Spartan Stadium during the weather delay. The rain returned, the strip fumble of Chris Evans inside the Michigan 10, and a trick play later, the 7-7 tie made it seem like all of those premonitions and predictions of doom were about to come true. So when the shot that people had been begging for all game paid off, when the running that had looked to be going nowhere had finally worn down the Spartan defense and was rewarded with a Ben Mason touchdown, it was a reminder of one indelible truth of football: Defense Travels.
So Michigan enjoyed the win, their second in three years over the Spartans, Michigan Twitter maybe enjoyed it even more (OK, not as much as Chase Winovich) and Paul returned to his rightful home in Ann Arbor, and the joy of an open date coming off two straight big wins laid out ahead of the team and of us fans. Order has not yet been restored, but you can't start a winning streak without winning one.