November 2, 2013

Borton's Blog: This truth hurts

Of all the sobering realities - and there were plenty - seeping out of Michigan's gaping wound of a 29-6 loss to Michigan State, one undeniably hurt worst of all.

The better team won.

That truth will go down like a razor blade sandwich for Michigan fans across the country, but it's truth nonetheless. The Spartans beat the Wolverines up, beat them down, and put them away.

MSU fans have forever waxed apoplectic following what used to be rare victories over the Wolverines, knowing the wounded protestations to come. Not this time, at least not by any observers with sanity this side of a straightjacket.

Nobody got tripped, with cries of uncalled interference. No nine-yard chains with the home team needing a first down. If Spartan Bob put an early finger on the clock this time, it would have been considered merciful.

And as sure as a Devin Gardner headache on Sunday morning, the beating he and his teammates took in Spartan Stadium occurred before the whistle. The Spartans just kept coming, a relentless swarm that didn't need to get down and dirty to clean clocks.

"We've had a lot of respect for their defense all week going into this game," U-M coach Brady Hoke said. "I grabbed [MSU linebacker] Max Bullough afterwards because he's one of the guys I like to watch playing football. I have a lot of respect for him."

In all likelihood, Hoke didn't enjoy watching Bullough and his buddies playing football on Saturday. They pummeled Hoke's quarterback all game long, as if outgoing equipment man Jon Falk had issued the nimble Gardner cement shoes prior to the game.

MSU slammed him to the turf seven times for 49 lost yards. Toss in a shotgun snap that Gardner couldn't have snagged while sitting on Manute Bol's shoulders, resulting in 20 more lost yards, and the Wolverines wound up with negative 48 yards rushing - the worst effort in 134 years of Michigan football.

Gardner fired off a few passing shots, when he wasn't pinned down. But he spent most of his afternoon running for his life, and the final moments of the game on the sidelines, likely wondering what year it was.

"I feel bad for him," noted fifth-year senior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, dried blood leaving a telltale trail down his nose. "That's on us. That's on the offensive line and the running back, protecting our guy. We had a lot of full protections they just got through, a lot of seven-man protections."

Michigan's offense knew it would have its hands full, against an elite MSU defense, and absorbed even more than expected. Whenever the Wolverines did set themselves up to score, the Spartans sent them careening backwards like they'd run into a giant rubber band.

This one required Michigan's defense to rise above all to give the Wolverines a chance. It didn't appear too tall an order going in, against an MSU offense that couldn't cross the Red Cedar River earlier in the season.

That scenario held true for 27 rain-soaked minutes, the two antagonists slugging their way to a 6-6 tie. In the end, they couldn't contain an MSU offense that scored a measly seven points against the Big Ten's worst team just two weeks earlier.

The Wolverines sacked MSU quarterback Connor Cook just once, allowing him 252 yards passing and a touchdown, while tailback Jeremy Langford rambled away for 120 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.

"It's a lack of execution, on both sides of the ball," U-M linebacker Desmond Morgan insisted. "There were opportunities we had, and we just didn't capitalize on them. When you don't capitalize in a game like this in a championship run, things aren't going to turn out the way you like."

Some observers might have they thought they were watching an execution. Most recognized this as Michigan's last, best chance to stay in the Big Ten race. Not so, Hoke defiantly assured.

"It's not in our hands, but you don't know unless you're forecasting for us, now," Hoke challenged a scribe afterwards. "Who knows?"

Nobody knows, regarding the future. But for the present, there's a nagging, gnawing, jolting reality firmly in place, following Michigan's most lopsided loss to Michigan State since the 1960s.

No excuses. No finger-pointing. No funny business, from trips to timekeeping to treacherous twists of the facemask. Just a good, old-fashioned beating, by a team convinced Michigan's days of dominance in the series are over.

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