Despite playing with effort for 60 minutes, the same old mistakes came creeping into the equation for MSU once again, and the Spartans were hung with another loss by the Wolverines by the count of 31-13.
Spartan fans clearly want one thing from this football team beyond wins and losses, and that is effort. The Spartans gave effort for the entire game, but simply were overmatched by a superior football team in a game that was compounded further by mistakes and poor officiating.
Momentum appeared to have swung early for MSU when defensive end Ervin Baldwin forced a fumble that was recovered by Travis Key. However, that played was overturned due to the motion of quarterback Chad Henne's arm as he attempted a pass. This first reversal appeared to be correct.
However, to add injury to insult, Henne then found Adrian Arrington in the back of the end zone. Henne threw high and Arrington appeared to land on his elbow out of bounds before he dragged a foot in-bounds.
The Big Ten officials in the booth have the responsibility of buzzing down to the field if there was any question at all about the call. That call never came and the Wolverines quickly kicked the extra point before John L. Smith used his challenge, or perhaps thought of it.
Late in the game, MSU appeared to score at least two touchdowns on short running plays, including one by Drew Stanton that the officials marked short of the goal line that had the puzzled Spartans wondering what was going on, but the Spartans struggled on.
Drew Stanton then kept the ball and dived into the endzone once again and scored what should have been an obvious touchdown to a third grader. However, wouldn't you know it, the officials finally buzzed down to the field to review the play as Lloyd Carr frantically ran down the sidelines to contest the play.
The review call officially came from the booth, but it's amazing how Carr and the Wolverines can get the ear of the refs game after game. In recent years, Joe Tiller, Joe Paterno, Charlie Weis, and especially former Illinois coach Ron Turner have complained about the officiating when playing the Wolverines.
In fact, Joe Paterno asked for a comprehensive review for Big Ten officials after getting jobbed at Michigan. Ron Turner went as far as saying, "I always know when we are playing Michigan."
Also, the officials let Chad Henne quickly pull away from center without the ball being snapped for audibles with a head and hand motion that would indicate the play was live. Then again, the defensive line has to have the common sense to not come across the line until the ball is snapped.
So let's not totally blame the officials, clearly mistakes by MSU cost them the football game, which included:
1. False starts and holding penalties.
2. Encroachment penalties.
3.At least two blown coverages.
4. A missed field goal.
5. T.J. Williams dropping a sure touchdown pass.
6. Running into the kicker penalties.
Well, you get the idea, Michigan was clearly the more physical team as well and MSU struggled to stop the running of Mike Hart, who often dragged tacklers down field.
Mario Manningham also scored a touchdown in a play that is becoming all too familiar to Spartans fans when he ran by a Spartans defender and hauled in a pass from Henne.
Still, the Spartans didn't quit and gave effort for 60 minutes.
The Spartans still have a chance to save Smith's job. Regardless of what happens against Ohio State next week, they finish the season at Northwestern and Indiana, then have Purdue and Minnesota at home, before closing with Penn State on the road.
Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota are all winnable games, which would give the Spartans seven wins and bowl eligibility. The tougher games will be against Ohio State and Penn State, so there is no margin for error.
However, if the banged up Spartans can get a little healthier this week, they may have a chance against Ohio State. That is, if they give the kind of effort they gave this week and don't make as many mistakes, which is a chore in in itself.
This team must stay together and not get down. Already, tight ends Kellen Davis and Eric Andino were left home for breaking team rules, and tackle Rocco Cironi actually played as a blocking tight end.
Yes, another Spartans loss, and the same mistakes were made, but at least this time they fought back and kept playing, and that in itself is a step in the right direction.