Friday, September 25, 2009

2008 revisited: Game 4 and Michigan State

The Tappas are in the UP this weekend, where I'll be watching the Badger game tomorrow with my favorite Michigan State fan, Jana's Uncle John. Because John means so much to me and our family, I'm going to be on best behavior during this one, or at least try my hardest.

It's not hard for me to remember when I was on my worst behavior during and after Badger games during last year's nightmare season. They both have tie-ins to Saturday's game, our fourth game of the season.

Flash back to our fourth game last year, at Michigan. We're coming off a big win at Fresno State. Michigan clearly has its worst team in recent memory, maybe history, they turn the ball over about 10 times in the first half. Yet we settle for field goals, Allan Evridge shows his penchant for turnovers, and we become one of only three teams to lose to the Wolverines.

Going back and looking at that box score again just pissed me off.

From my living room, if we don't blow that one, our confidence level stays up, we beat Ohio State the next week, and while we certainly don't run the table and go to a BCS bowl, the season goes much better.

Flash back to our last game in East Lansing. We hold Javon Ringer to 54 yards rushing. P.J. Hill and John Clay each go over 100 yards rushing. Yet Jay Valai gets called for a stupid penalty, Bret Bielema compounds the problem, and John Moffitt caps it off with a dubious holding call nullifying Clay's game-clinching run. We lost the game the way Sparty has done it traditionally, pulling defeat from the jaws of victory.

We only lost one more game the rest of the season, the bowl game against Florida State, but had we beaten Michigan State we could have avoided a losing Big Ten record and finished with eight wins. That's significant in my book.

Those were the two most painful losses in a painful season, in my book.

If this was a glass-half-full Badger blog, as it often is, you could say the silver lining to those horrible losses was that it exposed some systemic problems with the program -- quarterback play and lack of discipline chief among them -- that Bielema, his coaches, and his players have been working to fix ever since. Close wins in those situations may have allowed bad habits and tendencies to linger.

Those two days last fall, though, I wasn't a glass-half-full guy. I broke that damn glass.

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