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Dedicated to the leader and best of the leaders and best, Brady Hoke!

Michigan Homecoming Clean-up: Illini Feathers Everywhere, Preparing For The End Of Sparta

It was homecoming. It was raining. Still there were over 110,000 fans in the Big House. You have to love that.

You also have to love the fact the Wolverines won 45-0. Big Blue is 2-0 in the B1G Ten and on target with their goal to win the conference. Despite the resounding victory, it was against unranked Illinois, and it was at home, and their quarterback did get knocked out of the game, etc. etc. etc.

So even though all aspects of the team seemed to be working, how well, remains to be seen—and seen real soon—like Saturday.

Denard is a running machine—but historically, Michigan State has found a way to contain him. That was then, this is now. Brady Hoke and Al Borges seem to be putting together game plans that are more Denard-friendly, and Shoelace seems to be more comfortable every time he steps on the field.

The game plan against Illinois was the same as it was against Purdue, and again, they got the same outcome. Denard’s also throwing better—but we all know that can change in one pass and has—many times. So it is foolish to presume, based on the numbers he put up against Purdue and Illinois, that MSU should also be a cakewalk into town. Sparty’s not the barely fighting Illini, or Purdon’t.

Like Toussaint’s lack of productivity, the Michigan offensive line has been a major a concern all year, and arguably a contributing factor to the lack of productivity from the running backs. However, the Michigan’s Offensive-line blocked well, but again, it was Illinois, and the Illini defensive line is just another word for mediocrity. Toussaint, who Hoke still touts as the No. 1 back, put up the 3rd most yards, behind Thomas Rawls who put up 90 and Justice Hayes who chipped in 66.

Hoke said, earlier this year, “we are a work in progress,” and each week I am witnessing more and more progress, evidencing lots and lots of hard work. This is Michigan and this is expected and as well as respected. One game at time—we seem to be peeking when we need to. Hopefully, that’s not just wishful thinking.

The Wolverine running game attacked the Illini from multiple angles, opening up the passing game. Similar to the running game, the aerial attack came at the Illini like a flock of drunken crows—from every which way. Nine different players caught passes, with a couple of those tosses by Russell Bellamy. Robinson threw 7 completions out of 11 attempts, two for touchdowns. But that’s not the good news. He threw NO interceptions. That’s right NO interceptions—although again, it was against the Illini.

Now for the good news, it was the second game in a row where Denard hasn’t turned the ball over. Clearly, his decision-making continues to improve. He also smartly avoided taking hits by getting out of bounds—thinking more and more like an NFL QB. Considering those future felons in East Lansing deliberately tried to break his neck last year—being mindful is essential—especially come Saturday. We know MSU. We know their coach. So we know what we’re dealing with.

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson

Denard Robinson runs for a first down in the game against Illinois on Saturday (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Hoke believes the offense’s ability to perform more comprehensively is directly related to Robinson being more complete. The coach believes, as do I, that this stems from both Robinson’s maturity and acclimation to the Wolverines’ game plans.“I think he obviously reassessed after Notre Dame a little bit. I think we all did, [with] where we were,” Hoke said. “And then I think some game plan-wise. We were bound and determined that we were going to run the football and the passing game, the play-action part of it, the part of the passing part of our offense that he felt more comfortable with.”

“I just go with whatever we get,” Robinson said. “I just go out there and play football, whatever I see, I just play with it.” All good Denard—and the Wolverine nation loves you. However, this is what I see—an elephant in the room that nobody is talking about. That having been said, let’s look at that elephant, which in some ways could turn out to be worse than that elephant from Tuscaloosa.

We have lost to Michigan State 4 years in a row. Losing to them, at home, for the 5th straight year—would kill me. Worse yet, it could conceivably land a lethal blow to the team’s psyche, which has managed to survive the “bama beat down” and that horribly embarrassing loss at Notre Dame. But in reality how resilient can a team’s psyche be? Additionally, we have lost both of our big games. So this game is crucial on multiple levels.

We’re being ignored in the polls, which have nothing to do with getting us to Pasadena, but has everything to do with team esteem. If we lose this game, the remaining shards of respect garnered by Team 132 will completely vanish—so it matters.

Additionally, last week, MSU lost their homecoming game to Iowa. Granted, it was in a double overtime—but it was homecoming, and Iowa, and Sparty’s 3rd spanking in his house. So now, MSU is 1-2 in the B1G Ten and any B1G 10 title hopes are virtually non-existent. They got bitch-slapped by arch-rival Notre Dame—in their house. They were nipped by Ohio State—in their house. They are lower in the polls than the price of pork in Tel-Aviv. Bottom line MSU’s season is a bust.

There is only ONE THING that could save this season—beating Michigan 5 years in a row—in OUR house. So you better believe, Sparty will bring it on Saturday.

There lies the elephant in the room. They’re not afraid of Denard—they never have been—and it shows. Mindset—football is as mental as it is physical. Ask any coach, who will win a tough game—and they will tell you—the team that has the most to lose will win every time. Also, factor in tradition, rivalry, the Paul Bunyan trophy and local bragging rights, and it becomes painfully clear that this match-up is much more challenging for the Wolverines than it appears on paper.

Saturday is going to be a serious test, on multiple levels. What’s my take on it? “Welcome To The End of Sparta!”


NOTICE: The views expressed by Wilbert the Wolverine are not necessarily those of anyone on the staff or reasonable facsimile thereof. Please consider the source. He’s a Wolverine for god sakes! - May the Hoke be with you! © January 11th, 2011
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