Putting Penn State On Hold To Spoil The Sparty Party
I’m interrupting or perhaps delaying our deep dive in to Penn State for Homecoming (welcome back SNL’s Seth Myers!) this week to plop down some commentary on Michigan State. I’m intentionally doing this now so it is not perceived to be some “week of the game” type bias. Also, let me get this caveat out of the way now, as I feel every Northwestern fan’s perspective must be caveated as it relates to the misperception that we have a “holier than thou” attitude because our coach and administration run one of the cleanest and above the board programs out there. Northwestern is far from perfect and not every player is a Kirk Cousins-like saint. However, after watching the Spartans-Michigan game on Saturday, a game in which I had no horse in the race, I was incensed watching the Spartans revert back to the downright unacceptable behavior in their rivalry. With Wisconsin on tap for Sparty, the dirty play will quickly become yesterday’s news outside of the Wolverine Alumni Association so I thought it was important to hit the pause button and call out a few things.
In case you missed the game, Sparty came out sporting their Nike pro combat special uniforms which were unveiled at the start of the season and specifically unveiled to let the big brother know, Sparty was going to bring it once again for a four year sweep. No problem with that. I also have been carrying the Kirk Cousins banner on this blog after seeing his moving speech in person at the Big Ten Luncheon in August. I adopted Sparty as my second favorite team this year as a result. Again, this post isn’t directed at the ENTIRE Michigan State team, just head coach Mark Dantonio, DC Pat Narduzzi and the players who played on defense for Michigan State.
Right out of the box you could tell something was awry. Michigan State picked up a personal foul for a late hit on their first defensive series. Then another flag came. And another. At first, I thought it was just Michigan State being so overhyped that they had lost their focus. These things happen in rivalry games. But, as the game wore on it became clear this wasn’t a lack of focus and that there was a specific gameplan to throw 15-yard penalties in to the wind (literally) and do what it takes to take out Denard Robinson and inflict injury on the Wolverines. The Spartans picked up six – SIX – personal fouls for late hits (3), a punch in the face and an attempted twisting of Denard Robinson’s head off which was downright dangerous and what MGoBlog dubbed a “judo chop”. Three of the deeds were done by the same player – William Gholston – who will be getting suspended today - 3 DAYS AFTER THE GAME! For some context on Gholston even Illinois, whom we love to chide for being villainous, took extremely quick action to suspend LB Jonathan Brown for kneeing Northwestern OL Patrick Ward in the family jewels after the play. If that had happened in this game I’m not sure it would’ve even received a flag.
Michigan State partisans will point to Gholston as the lone wolf scapegoat and likely admit this is way out of bounds. Yet, why the hell wasn’t Gholston either ejected by the officials or more pertinent to my point, sidelined by DC Pat Narduzzi and/or head coach Mark Dantonio. The culprit, instead, was right back on the field. I was incensed at this point. Surely this would be corrected after the game and be admonished, right? Buzzzzzzzzzz. Think again. Pat Narduzzi’s postgame quotes made my stomach turn.
That’s what we try to do. Sixty minutes of unnecessary roughness. I’m just glad it didn’t called on every snap. – Pat Narduzzi, 10/15/11
Classy Pat, classy. Now, in his defense he AT LEAST acknowledged that there is a distinction between late hits and what Gholston did and unabated aggression. Somehow, I wasn’t buying the distinction. Can you imagine an NU player punching a guy after a play or worse, doing what Gholston did to Denard’s head? Fitz would’ve gone Woody Hayes on the guy. I was marveling at Brady Hoke’s restraint. Remember when Brian Musso got clocked by a blatant physical attempt to take him out by an Ohio Bobcat in 1996? Gary Barnett was at midfield and thanfully tethered by the headset or he would’ve wrestled then Ohio head coach Jim Grobe to the ground. I was actually getting pissed at Hoke – “do something!”. Take your team off the field, get in the ref’s face. There is YouTube video to further support the Karate Kid evil John Kreese theory ( the merciless sinsai of the Cobra Kai). This memo came from the top - “sweep the leg”. Any one of these plays isolated, with the exception of Gholston, aka Karate Kid Johnny, is not a big deal. The confluence of plays in the same game are indeed a big issue in my book.
Chris Spielman, one of the ESPN analysts on the game found himself conflicted during this development throughout the game. He went from giving Sparty the benefit of the doubt and the on-air thought bubble of “I’m an Ohio State guy and don’t want to be seen as too anti-Michigan for obvious reasons” to the “I better speak my mind here because even as a Michigan hater this is downright ridiculous”. Spielman started calling out Michigan State’s coaching staff, which never happens from an announcer and my “am I seeing what I think I’m seeing” was backed-up by Spielman. When you’ve got Chris Spielman backing you up it is amazing how confident you get.
This blog all too often cites one bad example with a fan base’s fan and then paints the entire fan base in that color. Let’s face it, we’ve all seen our fair share of young NU jackass fans that if they were wearing a different color jersey we’d be ripped. With this in mind, I have a few Michigan State good friends and co-workers. I thought if there was anyone who could give me a biased perspective of Sparty on this it would be them. The sample group of three was surprisingly consistent in their assessment that it was “embarassing”.
What’s more embarassing is the way the Michigan State staff has (not) dealt with it. When Jonathan Brown’s incident happened, the suspension came from Ron Zook and Illinois in concert with the Big Ten. The Big Ten put out a press release underscoring the point that this type of behavior is not to be tolerated. The conference is on tour with an Honoring Legends Building Leaders tour (rolling in to Evanston this week -more on this tomorrow). The entire theme of the brand campaign is honoring those legends from the best while building the leaders of tomorrow. Mark Dantonio perhaps missed the memo. It’s Tuesday and now – a full three days later comes the suspension. Is it hyperbole to think that Fitz would’ve tossed a player for Gholston’s actions?
Michigan is not without blame. Mike Hart’s “little brother” comments in his presser a few years back was completely unnecessary and unbecoming. Mark Dantonio’s retort was even less flattering. Sparty fans are pointing to Jonas Mouton’s punch in the Notre Dame game as the “see, see, you guys did it too!!!” example. I’m quite confident if I were a Michigan player, and in particular an offensive lineman, I would’nt have been able to not take out my frustration on a Sparty player. Brady Hoke and none of the players went there in the postgame. No mention of dirty play, no heat of the moment bulletin board material. I’ve got a newfound respect for Coach Hoke and a new sense of disappointment for Coach Narduzzi and Dantonio.
The Spartans own Northwestern. They beat us annually in every way imaginable. Now, I’ve got a new game on the board that I want to win. Forget about Iowa. Screw the Illini. I want Sparty. A year ago Michigan State’s best defensive back, Chris Rucker, was serving time in jail for eight days after a drunk driving arrest while on probation for an assault led to the time. I’m not going to go in to the entire separate topic of college sports as a chance for redemption and a safe haven to learn from mistakes vs the exploitation at any cost debate. What I will mention is the fact that when Rucker returned for the Spartans undefeated record (after the comeback win over NU) on the line game at Iowa, Coach Dantonio put Rucker’s playing status in the team’s hands to vote. Shockingly, MSU voted for Rucker to play right away and the Hawkeyes promptly smoked Michigan State. I’m still puzzled as to how this is becoming of building a leader. I was able to look past the embarassing 2008 MSU football fight involving nearly double-digit players at an off campus party involving MSU hockey players (ironically, in 2008 a former Michigan player (singular) nearly killed a Michigan hockey star). I was maybe even willing to give Dantonio the benefit of the doubt on Chris Rucker, but I simply couldn’t let the actions of this game go without a non-Michigan/Michigan State perspective from being put out there.
I’d be curious to watch this game tape with Joe Paterno and see what his commentary would be. Perhaps we should blame Nike for the pro combat uniforms which Michigan State players admit gave them an extra sense of swagger. If the defensive play is swagger then I plead with Nike to stop the pro combat unis. However, by even mentioning them in this way I’m feeding the marketing beast for them to produce more! Again, this is not a blanket MSU= bad post. It’s pinned on the Sparty defense and Pat Narduzzi, the defensive coordinator. I just feel duped. I believed what Kirk Cousins said. He told me what an honor and a privilege it is for him to play Big Ten football and how that privilege comes with a responsibility. It comes with a need to use the platform of being admired as a college football player to use that platform to make a difference. Well, Kirk, I’m asking you to rewatch the game and use that very platform to make the change. If the coaches won’t, perhaps you can persuade your peers to do just that. I want to believe in all the good that you spoke of and I believe most think like you. Let’s revisit the speech and try to set Sparty back on course:
On a positive note…
Teddy Greenstein put the positive spin on a damning stat for the NU defense. As his article here points out, Northwestern is now dead last out of all 120 FBS teams on pass defense in terms of yards per pass (9.9). What I like about this piece is that he calls on former ‘Cat DB standout Chris Martin for some commentary and also integrates some answers from Pat Fitzgerald that imply some personnel changes to try and bring some type of pass rush. I’m 100% a believer in what TG mentions about McGloin’s cofidence against NU. It was his breakout, confidence building game and he’ll be fired up after watching tape.