By RICKY LINDSAY, Sports Editor
Four games remain in the Michigan Wolverines’ season.
But it feels as if it’s already came to a screeching end.
One by one, the Wolverines walked up to the podium inside the trailer nested outside Spartan Stadium. A bloodied Taylor Lewan was first, followed by Jake Ryan, covered in grass stains and mud. Coach Brady Hoke and Desmond Morgan rounded out the defeated participants.
Disgust and humiliation floated inside the makeshift media room, although much more was lost.
Just like its offensive line and entire ensemble, Michigan’s dreams of a Big Ten championship came crashing down with each dagger.
For the fifth time in six years, Michigan State prevailed over the Wolverines. A strong Spartans’ defense, one to be doubted no longer, provided Michigan’s offense headaches all day in a 26-6 statement win.
“Well obviously, they’ve won five of six,” Hoke said. “We’ve got to keep working. I don’t think there is a gap (between programs). I think they played awfully well, executed awfully well, and I don’t think we did.”
The Wolverines biggest weakness this season was magnified against their instate rival. Michigan’s offensive line, filled with inexperience and youth, wilted under Michigan State’s supreme pass rush.
Redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner, battered and bruised, took each explosive hit, rising up each time, the mud on his jersey progressively increasing. The offensive line had allowed seven total sacks, but Gardner’s beatings couldn’t be found on a stat-line.
“I feel bad for him (Gardner)….that’s on us,” Lewan said. “That’s on the offensive line and the running back protecting our guy. And we had a lot of full protections that they just got through.”
Ransacked the entire game, Gardner 14-for-27 passing with 210 yards and an interception. The story of his performance, though, was his dual-threat ability, or the lack-there-of, against the Spartans.
On 18 carries, Gardner rushed for -46 yards, a majority coming from the seven sacks and a high snap. On the final drive of the game, a brittle Gardner couldn’t continue. He was replaced by true freshman Shane Morris.
“He got pounded a little bit,” Hoke said. “He was a warrior out there that last drive before the interception at the end. He had taken a lot of shots in there at the game.”
But when asked whether or not Gardner was injured, Hoke replied no, he was only a “little bit worn out.”
But it wasn’t just Gardner. Behind an offensive line crumbling against the Spartan’s defensive front, Michigan’s running game couldn’t get going.
Fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint led the team in rushing with 20 yards on eight carries, a number that cosmetically improved the final statistical line.
The -48 total yards of rushing the Wolverines finished with was the worst in 134 years of Michigan football, breaking a record formed in 1962.
The Wolverines had an extra week to prepare for Michigan State’s tenacious defense. But Michigan couldn’t muster up any answer on both sides of the ball.
Michigan State finished with 394 total yards of offense to Michigan’s 168. The Spartans completed 50 percent of their third down chances, Continuing a telling trend held all season, the Wolverines coughed up 12 of their 14 opportunities.
“We didn’t play the game we wanted to play,” Ryan said. “We needed to go 100 percent every play and some plays we didn’t do that.”
But even after being outplayed, Lewan refused to pin the loss on one thing.
“We just gotta compete better, that’s really what it comes down to,” Lewan said. “We just gotta compete and understand every block could be the block, or every run could be the run or every pass or every catch…..that’s really what it comes down to. It’s just what are you going to do that one play. There’s six or seven plays that can win or lose you a championship.”
For Michigan, those seven plays just so happened to coincide with the Spartan’s sack total.