Where do you even begin to describe the circumstances of Michigan State’s victory over Michigan on Saturday?
What do you call it?
The Walk-Off Fumble?
Michigan Stadium is certainly no stranger to wild, dramatic finishes. There was this:
Now, initially, this column was to be an examination of which team got exposed amidst a return to the hype of the annual Michigan-Michigan State game. It was the first time in ages that the two teams came in ranked in the top 15, although at least in Ann Arbor the Harbaugh Effect alone might have been enough to send fans of the game into a tizzy.
Funny thing happened along the way to see who got exposed, though. Neither team did.
In fact, both are for real.
Start with Michigan State. The simple fact of the matter is, while victories by Colorado and Appalachian State were made on last-second plays flush with skill – How far did that Kordell Stewart pass travel in the air? How did that App State player shake his blocker to get a hand on the kick? – this win by the Spartans were pure luck. This was ‘North Dallas Forty’ fumbled snap kind of stuff.
Yet, this never happens unless MSU puts itself in that kind of position, in large part thanks to quarterback Connor Cook. It wasn’t Cook’s greatest performance from a numbers standpoint, but when Michigan State fell behind by nine points in the game, and again by 10, Cook was the one who brought the Spartans back and never let Michigan truly seize momentum by adding to its lead. Both times he rallied MSU on drives to answer and prevent the game getting away from the Spartans. It certainly is time for Cook to start being considered among the best college quarterbacks in the country. He is 30-3 as a starter for Michigan State; maybe he doesn’t have Heisman Trophy numbers but there are few, if any, QBs I’d want under center in a big game.
Moreover, these are the kinds of victories that happen in magical, championship seasons. All teams need a little luck; Michigan State just got a big dose of it for the season.
As for Michigan, the aforementioned Harbaugh Effect cannot be understated any longer. There is no magic bullet theory, no stud freshman, no breakout player. Michigan’s success this season has largely been a combination of maturation, experience and Harbaugh.
If there’s anybody who can be considered on the cusp of stardom, it’s Jabril Peppers. The defensive back is being used as the second coming of Charles Woodson, or so it seems, as Harbaugh has him on kickoff return (a 49-yarder against MSU), punt return (one for 34 yards) and on offense (a reception for 28 yards). There is no question Peppers is a dynamic, game-changing option.
And Michigan’s defense is still fairly solid, at least against the run. The Wolverines gave up just 58 yards rushing to MSU, and although Cook threw for 328 yards, he completed less than 50 percent of his passes (18-for-39).
Where the two teams go from here remains to be seen. Both still have to play the No. 1 team in the country in Ohio State. Michigan State appears to be in far better position than Michigan to pull the upset against the Buckeyes, although the Wolverines have ruined several Ohio State seasons with an end-of-year upset.
One thing remains clear, however – both Michigan and Michigan State are for real.