EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Barrel crosses. Corner sharks. Will cats.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan can name them all. He could guess when these specific blitzes were coming and he tried his best to do so. After all, it was a lot of what the Wolverines saw out of Michigan State in 2011.
And, like in 2011, Michigan couldn’t stop the blitzes, couldn’t stop Michigan State. And, as in 2011, the Wolverines walked out of Spartan Stadium after being beaten up and bullied. This time 29-6 on Saturday.
“I think a lot of this game absolutely falls on the offensive line,” Lewan said.
And he’s right.
It’s a team sport, yes. But the Wolverines’ offensive line didn’t give the offense a chance to get started. Brady Hoke wants his team’s game to start in the trenches, so shouldn’t the blame and responsibility start there, too?
The Michigan State defense came in with that kind of a mindset -- go for the jugular, get pressure, get the win.
The Spartans knew if they could get to Devin Gardner, they could cause chaos. Gardner was key, and the only thing standing between the MSU defense and Gardner were five pesky Wolverines -- one All-American tackle, a three-year starter and three young interior linemen.
“When we came out, we came out ready to punch them in the mouth,” Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. “That’s the type of defense we want to run, want to have. ... I feel like we were able to get back there and wreak havoc in the backfield. You could see as the game went on, he started to wear and tear.”
And the plan worked.
On the first drive of the game, Calhoun and linebacker Denicos Allen blew up Michigan’s offensive front and sacked Gardner for a loss of 10 yards. On the next Michigan drive, Gardner was met in the backfield by Calhoun again. Then once more on the next, which was only followed up on the following play with a sack by linebacker Ed Davis.
Four sacks on the first three drives -- quite the statement.
“I could see that he was realizing that we were there,” Calhoun said. “He understood that we were coming after him and we weren’t going to stop. We were going to be dominant from the first snap to the last.”
In total, the Spartans would record 11 tackles for losses, including seven sacks totaling minus-49 yards.
“That’s on us,” Lewan said. “That’s on the offensive line and the running back and protecting our guy. We had a lot of full protections that they just got through, a lot of seven-man protections, and they got through it. We have to do a better job protecting our quarterback.”
Maybe the spark of a run game could have forced the Spartans to not send as many as they did, but there was no spark, no flicker, not even a dull ember. As a whole -- including a botched snap that lost Michigan 20 yards -- the sacks and tackles for losses, the Wolverines accounted for minus-48 rushing yards.
Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for just 20 yards on eight carries (2.5 yards per carry), but without his longest rush of 9 yards, his average was just 1.6 yards per carry -- nothing that put the Spartan defense on its heels.
And Gardner, upon whom the Wolverines have had to rely far too much to open up the run game, rushed for a total of 3 yards on 11 carries (when his sacks are taken out of his stats) for an average of 0.3 yards per carry.
And the pass protection wasn’t that much better, either.
Gardner finished the day 14-of-27 for 210 yards and one interception, but the Wolverines never found the end zone (through the air or ground).
He was 2-of-13 on the ever-critical third downs. The two conversions were on passing plays, and the other 11 plays included four incompletions, three QB rushes (totaling minus-2 yards) and four sacks.
Gardner left the game early a bit “beat up,” according to Hoke. But it wasn’t all his fault. If he could block and protect for himself, he surely would.
The Spartans came in with a blueprint and executed, making a confident and athletic quarterback look overwhelmed.
“Devin’s a great football player,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “We just got him on the ground.”