Saban Selebrations, Edition #2

Saban Selebrations, Edition #2

Football

Saban Selebrations, Edition #2

Michigan State’s 1998 home loss to Purdue that immediately followed the memorable upset over #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes is another fair reminder of The Saban Era.

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When we first launched SpartansWire, we introduced a feature that we’ve branded “Saban Selebrations.”

The mission of this feature is to shine a light on the moments that best represent the Nick Saban Era.

For readers who don’t fully appreciate Nick Saban’s legacy that exists prior to the launch of Twitch and Instsnap, the era was an excruciating one that lasted from 1995 until 1999.

The era was full of herky jerky starts and stops, shocking highs immediately followed by even more shocking lows, and all of it was punctuated by the failure to find any sort of rhythm that might have allowed the Michigan State football program to gain some traction.

We all now know that Nick Saban’s body will be bronzed and encased in a floating, clear casket when he passes on at some point down the road so that all can gaze upon his brilliant and transcendent being.

But most college football fans continue to forget that his five years as the head coach in East Lansing were about as frustrating of a stretch as there’s ever been for Spartan fans.

His final record as Michigan State’s coach actually looks better than it all felt at the time.

Overall, he finished with a not-so-shabby 34-24-1 mark.

His Big Ten record over the five years he spent in Green & White was a fairly pedestrian yet not exactly awful 23-16-1.

His program’s performances in bowl games were putrid.

In 1995, LSU pounded the Spartans 45-26 in the Independence Bowl.

In 1996, Michigan State failed only took the field of play in an existential manner and Stanford shut the Spartans out 38-0 in the Sun Bowl and the game wasn’t even that close.

And in 1997, Saban brought the Spartans out to Hawaii where the Spartans were outclassed by Washington 51-23.

It’s necessary to note that the 1999 season was a strong one.

Saban’s Spartans appeared to finally harness all of the talent and potential that was loaded in and throughout the program by beating Notre Dame, UMAA, Ohio State, and Penn State en route to a 9-2 regular season mark.

But, as great as that season was, it wasn’t without typical Saban-esque head scratching clunkers midway through the year.  After everyone thought that the final arrival of the program occurred with a memorable 34-31 win over UMAA,

Saban led to the Spartans to a crushing 52-28 loss at Purdue and followed that up with an empty performance at Wisconsin that ended 40-10.

And, before the Spartans were even able to pack for the Citrus Bowl, Saban was off to greener pastures when he accepted the head coaching job at LSU.

The 1998 season was, perhaps, the best representation from a full-season perspective of how maddening the Nick Saban Era really was.

Hopes were high entering the season after glimpses of possibilities in 1997 but when Colorado State scored 23 unanswered points in the season opener at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State looked up and saw a final score of 23-16 and the 0-1 record wasn’t encouraging.

A week later, Saban’s troops never got off the bus and left Eugene, Oregon without their manhood and an 0-2 record after a 48-14 thrashing by the Ducks.

Somehow or other, Saban managed to get Michigan State to .500 and the Spartans went into Columbus to face the #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes as 674-point underdogs.

As we all know, Michigan State pulled one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport, let alone the program, that day in Columbus and thwarted Ohio State’s dreams of a national championship by beating the Buckeyes 28-24 in dramatic fashion.

Green and Whiters thought the win at Ohio State had finally awoken Saban’s program and that an 8-win season was in sight.

But on Saturday, November 14th, Purdue came to East Lansing for a sleepy 12n et kickoff at Spartan Stadium.

The Boilers were led by Drew Brees in 1998 and came to town with a 6-4 record.

But this was a game that simply would be and needed to be won by Saban’s Spartans.

What happened that afternoon – a dreary one, at that – perhaps is the best single-game representation of the Nick Saban Era.

Let’s examine some of the key moments from that Heckle & Jekyll performance by the Spartans.  (The YouTube link provided has the plays described here in succession)

Opening drive, Michigan State, coming off of the aforementioned universally celebrated win over Ohio State, masterfully pounds the ball all the way inside the Purdue five-yard line and has 1st and goal.

Here’s how the next four plays went for Michigan State:

What should have been a 7-0 start becomes, instead, a really crummy way to hand the ball over to Brees and the Boilers.

The rest of the first quarter features sleep walking from both of these juggernauts.

Purdue figures out a way to move the ball deep into Spartan territory early in the second quarter and the Boilers’ kicker, Travis Dorsch, kicks a short field goal to give Purdue a 3-0 lead.

Later on in the second quarter after Michigan State mysteriously managed to hit pay dirt and take a 7-3 lead, the Spartans have 3rd down at their own 25-yard line and Spartan quarterback Bill Burke’s soft toss nestles nicely into a beefy Purdue defensive lineman who trots into the endzone for the score.

What should have been a 14-3 Michigan State lead is now a 10-7 Boilermaker advantage.

Early in the third quarter with the score still 10-7 Boilers, the lithe Purdue kicking specialist, Dorsch, converts on a 35-yard field goal attempt and the snooze-fest continues and Purdue is somehow up 13-7.

Still in the third quarter and with the Boilermakers holding on to that 13-7 lead, Saban’s Special Teams gets in on the action and reminds everyone in Spartan Stadium that the frustrations of the program aren’t limited to just the offense and the defense.  A block by the Boilers showcases some lapses in concentration and execution by the supposedly razor sharp Saban.

A chance to recalibrate with the short clipped highlights in succession here –

However, the Spartan defense stiffens after that gaffe and somehow Michigan State rattles off 21 straight points to take a 24-13 lead late in the game.

With five minutes to play, Drew Brees gets his Boilers to within five on a late score – but the failure of the two-point conversion attempt gives Spartan fans hope that a 24-19 lead can be iced with a couple of first downs.

Those hopes were too high and Drew Brees and the Boilers get the ball back and flick their way down the field and take a 25-24 lead with just over a minute to play.

Yet another failed two-point conversion leaves the Spartans with a realistic reason to think that a game winning field goal is within reach.

Ryan Van Dyke actually moves the Spartans down the field and is inching the team within field goal range but the Boilers keep Van Dyke from even getting rid of the ball on the feeble final play at the end of the string of clipped highlights here –

A week after Saban’s Spartans were the toast of the entire sports world, the man who now causes all to genuflect whenever his name is mentioned in public led his program to a deflating loss that typified his tenure as head coach at Michigan State.

Final score:

Purdue – 25

Saban’s Spartans – 24

The 5-4 record following the win over the #1 ranked Buckeyes immediately went back to .500 and, after a 41-9 win over Illinois, Michigan State wrapped up a bowl-less season with a pulse-less 51-28 loss at Penn State.

If anyone can explain what was wrong with the Michigan State football program during the five year period when Nick Saban was in charge, it’d be great for SpartansWire to hear the explanation.

This loss to Purdue, it says right here at SpartansWire, really does best exemplify the really, really, really maddening way in which Saban was capable of big things one week only to follow those big things up with things that were really, really, bad the very next week.

As we’ve said before, there are certainly silver linings from the Saban Era that can be seen in retrospect.

The most important silver lining – Saban had a guy named Mark Dantonio as his secondary coach on the defensive side of the ball.

If I knew that Dantonio would eventually do what he’s doing, I’d have sat back and enjoyed the humor woven throughout this 25-24 loss to Purdue in 1998.

 

 

 

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