The Spartans are in position to get their due, all their due, even if they think it’s overdue. Amid all the quirky scenarios, one thing came into sharper focus Tuesday night when the playoff committee revealed its latest rankings. Michigan State moved up to No. 5, just behind No. 4 Iowa, which basically sets up the Big Ten championship game as a playoff play-in.
Everything is set up for the Spartans; all they have to do now is win out. First and foremost is taking care of business on Saturday at Spartan Stadium by beating Penn State. This will not be an easy game; the Nittany Lions are solid on defense and will poise a challenge for the Spartan offense, which may or may not have QB Connor Cook. It will be a game day decision whether he plays or not. If not, backup Tyler O’Connor will start with Damion Terry seeing action as well. The two managed last Saturday’s game perfectly in Columbus against the Buckeyes.
The Spartans should be plenty motivated, this being Senior Day as well the opportunity to become the Big Ten East Champion and a chance to play for the Big Ten Championship on December 5 against the Iowa Hawkeyes in Indianapolis. It will mark the third time in five years, the Spartans will have that honor. Winner of that game will most likely get one of the four slots for the college playoffs to determine the national champion.
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After observing the MSU-OSU game on Saturday, what stands out the most is the way the Spartans played defense. Their defense was outstanding to say the least in shutting down a Ohio State offense that was averaging 244.8 yards rushing per game ranking 11th nationally. This is the same offense that gassed the Spartans last year in East Lansing running up over 500 total yards and 49 points. Throughout this season, the defense has been criticized as not being as dominant as in past seasons and no one would argue that. It could be that the defense is starting to play up to expectations as shown the last two weeks. The front seven has been the strength throughout the season, however, the secondary has had its issues as freshmen have been forced to play in an effort to shake things up; there has been no continuity. The secondary has played well the last two weeks, thus the defense has come together at the perfect time for the Spartans to make a run toward the college playoffs.
“Spartan Dawg” defense is what you saw today as the Spartans revenged last years’ lost to the Buckeyes by beating them 17-14 in Columbus on a 41-yard field goal by Michael Geiger as time expired. MSU limited Ohio State to only 5 first downs and 132 total yards of offense, including only 86 yards rushing, thus denying Ezekiel Elliott at least 100 yards rushing in a game as he gained only 33 yards on 12 carries. In addition, the Spartans controlled the clock by dominating the time of possession by almost 2 to 1. It was just a tremendous performance by a unit that has been much maligned for most of this season. This game clearly showed how dominating the Spartans can be defensively!
MSU played the game without star quarterback Conner Cook, who was scratched after pre-game warm ups because he had no velocity on his passes, so Coach Dantonio used a two-quarterback system of junior Tyler O’Connor and sophomore Damien Terry. they also used a punishing running game which accounted for 203 yards, which helped to control the clock. Ohio State’s two scores came on two MSU fumbles, which allowed the Buckeyes a short field to work with.
The victory over the Buckeyes now sets up the Spartans to clinch the Big Ten East title with a win next week in the regular season finale at home against Penn State on “Senior Day.” Winning the East title will put the Spartans in the Big Ten Championship game against the Iowa Hawkeyes, who clinched the West title today by beating Purdue. A Big Ten championship title on their resume would no doubt put the Spartans in contention for one of the four playoff spots for the National championship.
As a life long Detroit Piston fan, the amazing statistics that center #Andre Drummond is putting up night after night, reminds me of another big man who played for them in the early sixties named #Reggie Harding. Harding has the distinction of being the first high-school basketball player drafted by the NBA not so much for his skill, which was apparent, but for the fact he had no other place to go. His career, for the most part, is a case of a player with a million dollar talent, but a two dollar brain. As a youth, he was constantly in trouble committing petty crimes. Harding, a 7-foot product of Eastern High School in Detroit, had short careers in the NBA and ABA. Harding made his NBA debut with the Pistons in the 1963-64 season midway through the season because of a suspension on a gun charge. In 39 games, he averaged 11.0 points and 10.5 rebounds playing almost 30 minutes per game. The following season, he played in 78 games averaging 12.0 points and 11.6 rebounds in playing over 34 minutes per game. That was, for the most part, the highlights of his career with the Pistons as his career was pretty much downhill after that. The 1964-65 season he did not play for being suspended for reasons unknown. The next season he averaged only 18.5 minutes a game which produced 5.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. His next stop was with the Chicago Bulls where he lasted only 14 games after which he signed with the Indiana Pacers of the ABA.
Despite playing in only 25 games with the Pacers, Harding wanted $15,000 to finish the season, but the Pacers only offered $10,000, however he was convinced by management that the team could play 50 games if it went all the way to the ABA championship, The team only played in three postseason games, which didn’t matter because between fines and suspensions for missed practices and being late for flights, Harding ended up owing the Pacers $4,000. In a New Orleans hotel, he reportedly woke up his teammate and roommate, Jimmy Rayl one night with a gun pointed at Rayl threatening to shoot him. After that season, he was out of basketball at the age of 25. Afterward, he returned to his native neighborhood in Detroit committing petty larcenies. One such attempt was made in his old neighborhood at either a liquor store or gas station where Harding walking in wearing a nylon mask over his head brandishing a gun and demanding money. The clerk took one look at the 7-footer and reportedly said “Reggie, I know it’s you to Harding replied, “It ain’t me, man.” Now think about it, everybody knows everybody in the neighborhood and 7-footers don’t exactly walk around every day not noticed. It didn’t matter what disguise he wore, everybody knew Reggie!!! Some may remember this scene was re-created in the movie “White Men Can’t Jump” where former NBA player Marques Johnson played the neighborhood thug in a nylon mask trying to rob a liquor store and the owner of the store, played by Reynaldo Rey, knew who he was and ran him out of the store. Harding was shot on a Detroit street corner after an argument in September of 1972 and was dead at the age of 30. One could only say “what could have been!”