MSU 37, Michigan Wolverines Football 33: Notes, Quotes & Observations
Another painful way to lose a game, another chance for a special season that goes by the wayside at the hands of a rival.
That was Saturday afternoon for Michigan football in a 37-33 loss at Michigan State, and it’s become a familiar script.
A lot had to go wrong for the Wolverines to lose in East Lansing Saturday, including MSU making some outstanding, winning plays when it appeared they were about to get blown out … and a lot did. Untimely turnovers, sketchy reviews, a couple touchdowns given up when the defense wasn’t set … added up, it resulted in a tough-to-stomach loss.
“It didn’t go the way we wanted it to go,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I thought we played hard. Now we’re going to have to strengthen our resolve.”
That was pretty much most of the hard-hitting stuff from Harbaugh in the postgame.
Yes, he was upset with the calls, especially an Aidan Hutchinson touchdown that was overturned after a David Ojabo sack just before the half. The Wolverines were up 20-14, and what looked like a fumble recovery in the end zone for a two-score lead was inexplicably overturned.
If there was conclusive evidence, only the guys in stripes seemed to see it.
“I made my thoughts known as the game was going on,” Harbaugh said.
But it never should have come to that. The Wolverines left points on the field — again — in the red zone, despite a mostly outstanding game from Cade McNamara (28-for-44, 383 yards, two touchdowns) and a breakout showing by true freshman receiver Andrel Anthony. He put on a show in his hometown with 155 yards, including a 93-yard touchdown on a crossing pattern to open the scoring, and instantly looked like the receiver Michigan has been missing (which begs the question — where’s he been all year?).
Tight end Erick All played his best game with 10 catches for 98 yards, and kicker Jake Moody was perfect again on all four of his field goals.
As former Michigan receiver Jason Avant once said, though, ‘field goals don’t win games.’ U-M was up 30-14 at one point, and it should probably have been 37 or 38. Some of it was bad luck, including a sketchy holding call on Anthony during a Cornelius Johnson reverse inside the 10 — and the offense certainly wasn’t the main culprit in the loss — but 552 yards of offense should have yielded more than 33 points, and this group had a chance to salvage one when the defense wilted.
And credit MSU transfer back Kenneth Walker for his play, the reason MSU was even in it early. He’s turned the Spartans into a 50 percent better team by himself and was the guy who made the MSU offense go, notching 197 yards and five touchdowns with an assist from Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald and Co.
U-M’s first-year play caller on defense didn’t have his group set several times, and twice the Spartans caught Michigan for big running plays.
“That’s fair to say [we weren’t ready],” defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said. “They got two touchdowns off of it, so that’s an area where we have to improve.”
It’s inexcusable, really, and it’s happened quite a bit this year. That’s on the staff, especially one on which U-M should have called timeout with players running on the field late.
Several other plays, though, were on the execution. Punter Brad Robbins bobbled a snap, ended up running with the ball and was stopped near midfield on fourth down. Second-year frosh Blake Corum dropped a pass out of the backfield with nothing but green in front of him in the first quarter, a play that would likely have led to a two-score Michigan lead early.
And when the Wolverines were on the verge of putting MSU away midway through the third quarter, the Spartans executed another beautifully thrown ball over safety Daxton Hill’s head on fourth and five to set up a touchdown.
MSU converted the two-point conversion, and the game had flipped in dramatic fashion.
Freshman J.J. McCarthy, meanwhile … we said all week this was a tough venue for a true frosh, or even a sophomore with little experience going back to the Drew Henson game in 1999 (when Tom Brady was on the bench). His fumble after McNamara had led the Wolverines to a field goal and a 33-30 lead was a killer, and he never should have been put in that situation.
Harbaugh did say McNamara was “working through something” when McCarthy fumbled for the second time on two series, losing this one — some said McNamara could have played and only went to the tent for evaluation after that play — but that was one of the game’s most critical plays with 7:17 remaining near midfield, and it was too big for the young guy.
This isn’t Tom Brady vs. Drew Henson part II, but it had the same feel, and the quarterback who had been maligned for the better part of season by a fan base enamored by the new kid in town played more than well enough to win.
He didn’t take any solace in that after the game, especially after he threw the interception on the last series that clinched it.
“I really don’t really care about that. We lost, and that’s what I care about,” he said.
“… “We had a couple of plays … there were a few plays that stand out, and it’s not many. I need to do better. I just can’t do that at the end of the game. I’ve got to check it down, or something.”
“Or something,” indeed. It seems it’s always ‘something’ in games like these for the Wolverines, who outgained the Spartans 552 yards to 395, were 8-of-17 on third down to MSU’s 4-of-12, notched three sacks to the Spartans’ zero and still found a way to lose … unfortunate, since this looks like a team that could have run the table heading into a game with Ohio State.
There’s little solace after losing to a rival, no matter what happens the rest of the way, but there’s still plenty to play for, and this is still a team in the hunt, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the aftermath.
Their success, though, depends again on getting out of their own way, something they haven’t done enough of as a program over the last several years. It’s a big reason they aren’t winning titles, including (most likely) this season, once again.
• Anthony proved to be the big-play receiver the Wolverines have been missing, and he emerged at the right time. He already looks like the best route runner and most sure-handed of U-M’s receivers.
“He balled out. That first play really got us going in the first half,” McNamara said of his 93-yard touchdown. “I’m proud of him. He had a great performance today.
“We’re going to be confident in him being out there, especially since this is the most experience he’s had in one game.”
Anthony and Ronnie Bell could be a formidable duo next year if Bell comes back for another year after recovering from a knee injury.
• All seven of the plays reviewed went in Michigan State’s favor, including the critical fumble that was overturned.
“They said his shin was down, I guess, but I don’t know,” Hutchinson said. “I didn’t see it.
“It is what it is. Game’s over. Can’t change it.”
“The refs made their choice,” Ojabo said. “Obviously, I would’ve liked for it to be a touchdown — everybody would — but we just have to keep rolling on and keep firing back. That’s how it goes. You can’t dwell on something.”
• The field appeared to be getting slick in the rain the fourth quarter. Center Andrew Vastardis said that might have had something to do with McCarthy’s fumble.
The weather was starting to get a little bad. Keeping my hand dry, the ball was a little slick,” he said. “But we’ll get better from it. Keep practicing ball security. It’ll get fixed.
“Something like that happens in a competitive game. It’s nobody’s fault. We’ve just got to play a little cleaner and keep harping on ball security.”
The Wolverines lost one of three fumbles.
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