Sparty sin­gin’ in the rain, not Wolvy

‘Ri­valry’ game over, MSU looks to prove it’s for real as UM aims to weather storm

The Detroit News - - Front Page - Bob.wojnowski@de­troit­ twit­­wo­jnowski

Well, that didn’t take long. By all in­di­ca­tions, the Spar­tans al­ready are back, again fully de­ter­mined to swipe their ri­val’s most­prized posses­sions.

The Paul Bun­yan Tro­phy? Last seen be­ing hus­tled up the Michi­gan Sta­dium tun­nel wear­ing a Michi­gan State hel­met and a goofy grin.

Jim Har­baugh’s com­plex play­book in­volv­ing mul­ti­ple for­ma­tions, wasted fade routes and a re­duced em­pha­sis on block­ing? Stomped in the damp dark­ness.

Michi­gan’s plans to dom­i­nate the state and the Big Ten as it did for many, many years, some even oc­cur­ring af­ter 1948? Placed on hold.

Ap­par­ently, Mark “Call Me Big D” Dan­to­nio, isn’t stop­ping any­time soon. The Spar­tans are headed to Min­nesota, and af­ter they beat the Go­phers on Satur­day night, I heard they’re plan­ning to march straight to Ann Ar­bor to grab the fa­bled Lit­tle Brown Jug. I also heard the Spar­tans con­tem­plated adopt­ing the Buck­eyes’ prac­tice of award­ing gold-pants trin­kets to their play­ers ev­ery time they beat the Wolver­ines, but the cost was way too pro­hib­i­tive.

See, this is what hap­pens when one side takes a ri­valry deathly, ob­ses­sively se­ri­ously, and the other side pre­tends to take it se­ri­ously but spends too much time watch­ing high­light videos and read­ing worn, yel­lowed clip­pings. You gotta ad­mit, the Spar­tans’ game plan in their

14-10 vic­tory was bril­liant. They de­clined to waste time get­ting first downs in the rain and opted to keep punt­ing the ball, es­pe­cially when they re­al­ized Michi­gan would just keep throw­ing the ball back to them.

By the time the Wolver­ines fig­ured out what was hap­pen­ing, they had five turnovers and ol’ Paul was cloaked in a green poncho be­ing whisked to East Lans­ing for the eighth time in 10 years. Nat­u­rally, this has cre­ated quite the wild re­ac­tion on both cam­puses, as you can tell by this fab­ri­cated con­ver­sa­tion between two fans that I se­cretly recorded late last Satur­day night.

Sparty: “Hahaha! You lost to us again and we’re not even sup­posed to be your big ri­val! You should be so em­bar­rassed!” Wolvy: “I am.” Sparty: “You should be! You and your crazy khaki man! Hahaha!”

Wolvy: “I know. We un­der­stand los­ing to a power like Ohio State. But los­ing to a pro­gram like yours? Yes. You’re right. Very em­bar­rass­ing.”

Sparty: “I know! … Wait, wh­h­h­h­haaattt?”

OK, it’s not com­pletely log­i­cal at times. Michi­gan is rightly roasted for fall­ing again and for in­ex­pli­ca­ble play-call­ing — “Rain? Yay! Time to start throw­ing with a quar­ter­back mak­ing his first start of the sea­son!” But the more you den­i­grate the Wolver­ines, the more you un­wit­tingly min­i­mize what Big D has done. Last year’s 3-9 is shift­ing from “omi­nous trend” to “mild blip,” and he clearly knows how to grasp the Wolver­ines’ tat­tered shards of ar­ro­gance and beat them over the head with it.

So here’s my sug­ges­tion to the Blue folks: Go prac­tice your ri­valry eti­quette against a lesser foe for a while. Some­one like, say, In­di­ana. The Wolver­ines have won 21 straight in the se­ries, so if they make the Hoosiers their adop­tive lit­tle broth­ers and treat Satur­day in Bloom­ing­ton as if it’s the fi­nal Satur­day in Novem­ber, per­haps they can start fix­ing Har­baugh’s 0-2 record in ri­valry games (1-4 if you bother to count Michi­gan State).

It’s per­fectly sym­met­ri­cal, ac­tu­ally. The Hoosiers’ of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor is Mike DeBord, who was Michi­gan’s co­or­di­na­tor when it won 50.1 per­cent of a na­tional ti­tle in 1997. The Hoosiers’ quar­ter­backs coach is Nick Sheri­dan, who once was an ill-fated Michi­gan quar­ter­back. And the Hoosiers’ run­ning backs coach is Mike Hart, who el­e­vated the Lil Brother de­bate to a state ref­er­en­dum with his com­ments a decade ago.

Michi­gan needs some sort of emo­tional boost, be­cause nar­ra­tives have dra­mat­i­cally shifted, whether it makes com­plete sense or not. Sud­denly, Michi­gan fans are scur­ry­ing to find tick­ets for the TaxSlayer Bowl, while Michi­gan State fans are plan­ning their semi-an­nual trek to In­di­anapo­lis for the Big Ten Cham­pi­onship Game.

The Har­baugh Aura Era def­i­nitely has taken a hit. Paul Finebaum, one of col­lege foot­ball’s most-re­spected blither­ing buf­foons, mocked Har­baugh and said “Ur­ban Meyer owns this guy,” and like al­most ev­ery­one else, ne­glected to men­tion Big D. There’s a grow­ing wail for ac­count­abil­ity in Ann Ar­bor, to the point the school pres­i­dent re­port­edly might or­der Har­baugh to wear tra­di­tional sweat pants in­stead of his beloved khakis.

Af­ter one his­tor­i­cally sloppy game, Har­baugh some­how has gone from a Quar­ter­back Whis­perer to a Quar­ter­back Mum­bler. He doesn’t have rea­son to lis­ten to me, but here’s my ad­vice: Si­lence the crit­ics and solve all sorts of is­sues by adding Colin Kaeper­nick to the ros­ter be­fore Satur­day’s game.

What­ever the Wolver­ines do, they’re ad­vised to do it quickly, be­fore too many peo­ple no­tice Har­baugh and Brady Hoke have the same 24-7 record af­ter 31 games (#FakeNews).

Maybe, just maybe, the Wolver­ines can learn some­thing from the Spar­tans’ lat­est clever game plan — when ev­ery­one doubts you, just reach back and punt them in the mouth.

The picks

Michi­gan State at Min­nesota: This is kind of awk­ward. The Go­phers have their own cel­e­brated Har­baugh type in P.J. Fleck, whom some con­sid­ered a nice fit for the Spar­tans. Ex­cept that Dan­to­nio has no in­ten­tion of va­cat­ing the big green seat any­time soon. We’ll see if Fleck has any in­ten­tion of win­ning a Big Ten game any­time soon. Pick: Michi­gan State 27-19 Michi­gan at In­di­ana: Har­baugh has a cou­ple mil­lion­dol­lar of­fen­sive as­sis­tants in Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton, and they have some ex­plain­ing to do. Michi­gan’s de­fense might be good enough to win most games 3-2, but I’m not sure that’s the right ap­proach. Be care­ful, be­cause if the Wolver­ines don’t get their of­fense cranked up, Har­baugh might have to write a big fat check to bring DeBord back to Ann Ar­bor. Pick: Michi­gan 23-13 Ohio State at Ne­braska: Since los­ing to Ok­la­homa and caus­ing a few de­ranged Buckeye fans (re­dun­dancy) to ques­tion whether Ur­ban Meyer knows what he’s do­ing, Ohio State has won by 31, 33, 56 and 48 points. The poor Corn­huskers are 3-3 and must draw hope from last year’s spir­ited bat­tle, when they were very com­pet­i­tive for the first 26 sec­onds be­fore fall­ing to the Buck­eyes 3-62. Pick: Ohio State 38-17 Pur­due at Wis­con­sin: The Bad­gers are still try­ing to con­vince peo­ple they’re good enough to be in the play­off dis­cus­sion. The Boil­er­mak­ers are still try­ing to con­vince peo­ple they’re good enough to not be con­sid­ered com­pletely ter­ri­ble. This game will con­firm nei­ther.

Pick: Wis­con­sin 30-17


John T. Greil­ick/Detroit News

UM pass­ing game co­or­di­na­tor Pep Hamilton has lost a lit­tle “pep” in his step, with this flail­ing of­fense.

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