|To be clear, several players had excellent days. It just wasn't enough. (Patrick Barron)
Everything's so easy for PaulineEverything's so easy for PaulineAncient strings set feet alightTo speed to her such mild graceNo monument of tacky goldThey smoothed her hair with cinnamon wavesAnd they placed an ingot in her breastTo burn cool and collectedFate holds her firm in its cradleAnd then rolls her for a tender pause to savorEverything's so easy for Pauline
--"Margaret vs. Pauline" by Neko Case from her 2008 album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
When I committed to the bit of naming every column about for a Neko Case song this year, friend of the blog HockeyBear called the shot on Michigan/Michigan State. Inspired by the 1968 post-apocalyptic novel In Watermelon Sugar, Case builds a story of two women, one of who looks upon the other with great envy because of the ease and advantages that life has handed to Pauline while Margaret has had to scrap and claw for everything and she's still not any better off. From a broad reading, one could see this as a metaphor for the entire Michigan/Michigan State rivalry.
Then again, Margaret had all seven replays reviews go her way today, so maybe there's more to this.
OK, let's be clear. Michigan made a lot of mistakes. A tremendous number of them. Poor substitution patterns even after it became clear that Michigan State wanted to tempo. If they get you on a couple of those, tip your cap. When it keeps happening in the fourth quarter, that's on the coaches. The safeties were not in a position to provide support on run plays, leading to massive runs for Kenneth Walker III. There were three occasions where Michigan settled for red zone field goals when touchdowns would have put the game out of reach. There were plenty of mistakes to point to as to what brought about this result.
There were excellent performances by individual players. Andrel Anthony had a huge breakout game in his hometown, Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo both overcame significant holding, by and large uncalled, to get into the Michigan State backfield. Cade McNamara had the game of his career and looked mostly on point and mostly made the right read and good throws after a week of discussion about whether playing JJ instead was the right call.
Like 1999 Michigan State where the five-star had a critical turnover late to give Michigan State the winning score, JJ was sent in because McNamara was in the injury tent. This was after a near disaster in the red zone that only gets overlooked because a Spartan defender kicked the ball out of bounds.
You can overcome mistakes with reasonable officiating on the argument that both sides will make their share of mistakes in a game. You can overcome...interpretive...officiating if you play relatively clean, mistake-free football. Rare is the day when you can win a game overcoming both. Especially against a top ten team on the road.
That's what I needed to keep reminding myself of in this. Michigan State was undefeated coming in. Michigan State had legitimate weapons and had made good use of them. There was a great deal of doubt to the outcome coming into today. But when Michigan raced out to a 10-0 lead and later a 23-14 halftime lead, hope crept in and all of those rational notions disappeared until it was too late.
Walker's first touchdown might have been a fumble out of the back of the end zone. Reviewed, no change. Peyton Thorne was strip-sacked and Aidan Hutchinson recovered the ball in the end zone. Reviewed, no, somehow Thorne's shin was down, a delta 4 loss of points on that possession. Michigan State keeps a drive alive with two reviews that go their way and then scores. Every small thing that could go Michigan State's way today seemed to do so. JJ fumbles on an exchange because Cade is in the tent and Michigan State recovers deep in Michigan territory.
It turns out that, sometimes, everything's so easy for Margaret. It just depends on who's singing.
Post-Script: This is still an exceedingly fun and engaging team. This is still a team that does a lot of things really well and has a lot of players who are playing hard and playing well. I don't want to lose sight of that in the disappointment that comes from today's result. It doesn't make it better, but it's not fair to presume that this team is only fun because they kept winning. As several of the players themselves said they know it's about how they come back from this. I believe in them because I think they have earned the right to be believed.