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November 2, 2013With 9:49 left in a tight fourth quarter, Denard Robinson hit Roy Roundtree on a seam route, and the receiver slipped past a tackle to race 34 yards for a touchdown.
That was 2011. In the 129 minutes and 49 seconds the Wolverines have spent battling the Spartans since then, no player in maize and blue has felt the joy and excitement of hanging six points on their intrastate rival. Michigan has run 135 consecutive offensive snaps in the Battle For The Paul Bunyan Trophy without reaching the end zone.
Michigan followed that 28-14 loss in 2011 with a 12-10 squeaker of a win in Ann Arbor last year, with every point coming from the legs of field goal kickers Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile.
In Saturday's 29-6 beatdown at the hands of the Spartans, the offense started somewhat fast but quickly nose-dived, thanks to seven Michigan State sacks and negative-48 rushing yards, which set a new program record in rushing futility (negative-46 rushing yards vs. Minnesota in 1962).
Michigan's 12 offensive drives Saturday (not counting the final 22 seconds of the first half, which the Wolverines killed with a kneel down) finished up like this: Field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, turnover on downs.
That is certainly not a recipe for success.
The Wolverines drove 51 yards with relative ease, settling for a field goal, on the game's opening drive.
Over the next three and a half quarters, though, Michigan gained just 117 yards and nine first downs, averaging a dismal 2.3 yards per snap.
"I don't know if they changed anything. I don't know if we changed anything [after the first drive]," fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "We've just got to compete, on every single down. It's that extra half-second. There were a couple of runs that Fitz really could have broken out. We have to straighten out just that much more on runs."
In the second half, the Wolverines gained just 58 total offensive yards, posting nearly as many three-and-out drives (four) as first downs (five).
"We've just got to compete better," Lewan said. "That's really what it comes down to. We've got to compete and understand that every block could be the block, every run could be the run, every pass, every catch - what are you going to do that one play?
"There are six or seven plays during a game that can win or lose you a championship."
There have been a few too many recent games in which the Michigan offense has not made those key plays.
In the last two years, Michigan has failed to score a touchdown in four contests: Saturday's 29-6 loss at Michigan State; the 12-10 win vs. the Spartans; a 23-9 loss at Nebraska in 2012; and a 13-6 loss at Notre Dame last year.
The Michigan statistical archives go back to the 1949 season. Since then, there have been just three other instances in which the Wolverines posted four or more games without a touchdown in a two-year stretch: five games between 1962-63; five games between 1961-62; six games between 1950-51.
Comparatively, the Wolverines failed to score a touchdown in just five total games from 1986-2011 and just once between 1970-1980.
This is not new territory of the Spartans. Since beating Indiana 42-28 Oct. 12, Michigan State has not surrendered a touchdown in 12 consecutive quarters, beating Purdue 14-0, Illinois 42-3 and Michigan 29-6. The Spartans also held South Florida out of the end zone in a 21-6 victory on the second weekend of the season.