Gator Bowl Rewind: MSU 52, Michigan 14

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

Thumbs up
– This was MSU’s best overall performance of the season. Heck, in years.
The No. 21 Bulldogs (9-4) racked up 485 total yards – 281 passing, 204 rushing – held Michigan QB Denard Robinson in check (career-low 59 rushing yards) and won the special teams battle.
Regarding the latter, MSU had a blocked punt and made a 42-yard field goal, while Michigan missed its lone field goal try.
State scored 21 points in the second quarter, which is when the game turned. The secondary, burned a few times early, adjusted and played what defensive coordinator Manny Diaz called “the three best quarters that they’ve played all season.”
Thumbs down
– You have to look hard to find anything wrong with MSU’s performance.
So … well, Michigan came out and scored right away, driving 78 yards in 10 plays for a 7-0 lead. Robinson had some early success both running and passing.
But MSU beat Michigan in every single major statistical category – except interceptions. Each team had one – MSU’s was on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half; Michigan’s set up a State touchdown.
Keys to victory review
– Evaluating the keys to victory in Saturday’s GameDay section:
1. Reel in Robinson. The Michigan QB, Denard Robinson, has shredded many a defense this season, but MSU soon figured out what was coming and kept him from breaking any long runs after the opening possession. He had 254 yards through the air, but the Wolverines couldn’t finish drives.
2. Pound the ball. This has been key all season, and MSU stayed between the tackles with occasional forays to the edge in the option game. Both routes were highly effective, with Vick Ballard gaining 76 yards and four other Bulldogs rushing for 30 or more yards.
3. No big plays. Robinson had runs of 22 and 24 yards on the game’s opening drive, and Michigan had three plays of 30-plus yards in the first quarter. After that, it had just one.
MVP
– Quarterback Chris Relf: The junior had 281 yards on 18 of 23 passing with three touchdowns. He was consistently on target and showed good judgment, whether it was checking down to his tailback or simply throwing the ball out of bounds when nothing was there.
Bottom line
– MSU’s revival is all going according to Dan Mullen’s plan. The second-year head coach has taken MSU from four wins to five in 2009 to nine this year, and as he said about what defines future success, “Next year it’ll be more than nine wins for us, and that’s something we’re going to start working on tomorrow.”