What They're Saying After Michigan's Loss To Michigan State
The Michigan Wolverines fell to 7-1 on the season with a painful rivalry loss to the Michigan State Spartans by a score of 37-33 on Saturday in East Lansing.
Here is what outlets from the local and national media are saying after the Wolverines let slip away a chance to bring the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to Ann Arbor.
"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."
"There have been some crushing games play out for the Wolverines on MSU’s shock-ridden soil. But this one brought back echoes of Spartan Bob in sheer emotional upheaval. Twenty years from now, it will be remembered, and reviled by anyone in maize and blue.
“This one stings, for sure, but we’ve got to be able to bounce back,” redshirt freshman quarterback Cade McNamara said afterward. “We can’t let this game define our season.”
He’s right, of course. At 7-1, 4-1 in the Big Ten, nothing is off the table for Michigan. But 8-0, 5-0, would have kept them in control of everything.
And 8-0, 5-0 is precisely what they ought to be.
Don’t think so? Try these numbers. McNamara went 28-for-44 for 383 yards and two touchdowns passing. He dominated at times, in arguably his best performance in a Michigan uniform, given the opponent, the setting, and the stakes.
Anyone wanting to revisit the argument over whether freshman QB J.J. McCarthy should be running the team right now needs to zip it and pump the brakes. McCarthy fumbled twice in the closing moments, and lost one — the one MSU put in the end zone to win the game.
That’s not shot at the rookie — just facts. He’s going to be a fabulous quarterback for the Wolverines, down the road. But McNamara was the man for the moment, and Jim Harbaugh seemed to indicate he was unavailable — “He was working through something…” when McCarthy and freshman running back Blake Corum let a late exchange tumble to the turf at the U-M 41, sharpening the final dagger.
Even that shouldn’t have made the difference. When you out-gain an opponent in their house, 552-395, out-pass them, 406-196, play to a draw in the turnover battle, avoid any sacks, and run 82 offensive plays to 66 by the opposition, you win. Period.
Only the Wolverines didn’t."
"This one hurts double because of what it means in both the short and long term. Michigan no longer completely controls its own path through the Big Ten East and needs some chaos along the way. From a broader perspective, MSU just received a heck of a boost to its stock under Tucker. This will pay dividends on the recruiting trail in-state and elsewhere.
MSU has results to sell. Michigan still only has hope.
Swimming upstream against the Buckeyes is difficult enough. To be outmanned by a Spartan program in year two of a facelift is a massive disappointment, to put it kindly. This is especially true given the regime in place has been in Ann Arbor for nearly a decade.
Michigan heads into November with its goals technically still in front of it, but it is hard to envision how this season ends any differently than even the best ones have under Harbaugh. A win over Ohio State was going to take a herculean effort anyways, but now it almost has to happen for this season to be considered a success by Michigan standards.
It felt like this group might have been different. It still could be. The climb just got a lot tougher.
However, it ultimately feels like more of the same.
Wolverines fans have eaten enough crow in recent seasons for it to become an acquired taste. The pain of Saturday's loss has a lot to do with the game result but stings more from a realization that MSU is simply further ahead as a program right now.
Narratives can be rewritten in November, but it feels like we know how this story ends.
It would be nice to be proven wrong eventually, though."
"Michigan, in the last decade, at times has left this game in shambles, embarrassed by the direction of the program and where things were headed after lifeless performances. Take 2013 and 2014, for example. The 2017 game wasn’t much better. The 2015 game was a beast all to itself. But this one is different, a special kind of awful for Michigan fans on their Harbaugh-era bingo card.
Leaving Spartan Stadium feeling like you outplayed Michigan State, have a better football team and are still 7-1 and without Paul Bunyan.
And now, for Michigan, a critical juncture arrives.
Harbaugh’s 2015 team had its guts ripped out against MSU in a way I’ve never seen before (nor since) and responded by finishing the year with double-digit wins and positive momentum. Michigan can still do all those things. The Wolverines have enough talent to circle the wagons and be proud of their final record, to play in a bowl game that will be exciting for the program and its fans. A lot can still happen.
But a lot also just did happen. Jim Harbaugh lost to Michigan State again. Jim Harbaugh had a team that should’ve won a football game on a big stage leave said stage with a loss for inexplicable reasons. Again.
It happened again. It feels different. But it also feels familiar."
"One quarterback crouched with his head tucked between his legs. The other stood on the sideline with his hands on his hips, knowing the end had arrived. For the first seven games of the season, Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy executed an effective tag team, with McNamara as Michigan’s starter and McCarthy as the situational backup. For seven nightmarish minutes Saturday afternoon, everything that worked during Michigan’s 7-0 start seemed to go haywire.
A gallery of haunting images will come to mind when the Wolverines look back on Saturday’s 37-33 loss to No. 8 Michigan State. Kenneth Walker III turning Michigan’s defense inside out en route to one of his five touchdown runs. Cornelius Johnson getting jostled by two Spartans defenders as a fourth-down pass sailed incomplete. A defensive touchdown taken off the board. The Spartans hoisting the Paul Bunyan Trophy, celebrating a comeback that will live in the rivalry’s lore.
Nothing stings more than Michigan’s two fourth-quarter turnovers, each devastating in its own way. McCarthy’s fumble with 7:12 remaining paved Michigan State’s path to a go-ahead touchdown. McNamara’s interception snuffed out Michigan’s final chance to answer. And just like that, a team that prides itself on protecting the football watched a season-defining victory slip through its fingers.
“It sucks,” center Andrew Vastardis said. “It sucks from the top down.”
Michigan’s quarterback situation was a trending topic leading up to Saturday’s game, the first meeting between the Wolverines and Spartans as top-10 teams since 1964. This was a clarifying moment in Michigan’s season, the point when McNamara would either seize the job for good or cede it to McCarthy, the five-star freshman.
Even in defeat, the Wolverines got their answer. McNamara completed 28 of 44 passes for 383 yards, by far the most productive game of his career. The one throw he would like to have back was a first-down pass to tight end Luke Schoonmaker in traffic, intercepted by Michigan State’s Charles Brantley to seal the Spartans’ win.
“I just can’t do that at the end of the game,” McNamara said. “I’ve got to check it down or something.”'
"Michigan State, buoyed by the victory, is a formidable contender, both for a Big Ten title and a berth in the College Football Playoff. All of a sudden, Spartans coach Mel Tucker has entrenched his team as the dominant in-state program.
As for Michigan? The feel-good momentum from the 7-0 start is dashed. Vastardis described the postgame locker room as “somber.” Harbaugh’s message to the team was three-part: stick together, grow from the experience and know that the season isn’t over.
His players echoed the resilient, optimistic tone.
“This season’s not over,” Vastardis announced while redshirt junior edge rusher David Ojabo nodded along in agreement. “Not even close.”
In theory, it’s not. There’s a rather straightforward path to a 9-3 season and a New Year’s Six bowl.
Yet, in a way, part of Michigan’s season ended inside Spartan Stadium. Gone is the blissful ignorance surrounding a revamped coaching staff, a refined culture and a “different” Michigan team.
Afterwards, with a majority of Wolverines already having made their way up the tunnel, sophomore receiver A.J. Henning lingered on the 25-yard-line. He stood, watching, while the Spartans bum rushed the corner of the endzone, Paul Bunyan in tow, serenaded by the marching band and a raucous student section.
It could have, perhaps should have, been Michigan celebrating. But instead, for Harbaugh and the Wolverines, it’s the same old story."
"Several times the Wolverines were a play or two — a tackle or two, frankly — from blowing open the game.
They were leading by 16 points, quieted the crowd and were controlling – no, dominating — the line of scrimmage. Another play, another cut, and the game was over and Jim Harbaugh was leading a caravan of buses back to Ann Arbor ... singing.
And thinking about preparing for Indiana and Penn State and Maryland and Ohio State and the chance to change his story and his legacy and leave with a winning record against his most important rival:
But that’s not Harbaugh’s fate. Not yet. Maybe not ever, at least as a coach of the Wolverines. This was his best chance to get to Ohio State undefeated since his second season. He had the more physically gifted team up front.
He had a quarterback on a roll, and young skill players flying around. He just didn’t have enough juice.
A costly fumble by freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who saw spot duty in this game as he has most of the season, led to the go-ahead TD in the fourth, and the fifth of the game, by Walker.
Who, remarkably, shared time in the backfield last season at Wake Forest before transferring to MSU along with almost 20 other players. Well, he’s not sharing the backfield any longer.
Nor is he sharing the stage. It’s his. At least for this week, in this rivalry.
One hundred ninety-seven yards?
Yeah, he was all that, and then some, spinning and cutting back and even lowering his shoulder and plowing defenders, as he did on a critical third-down run when he took a direct snap. And he did all this behind an offensive line scraping to stay upright against U-M's aggressive front."
"At this stage of his career, Jim Harbaugh has experienced a bit of a renaissance.
The Michigan coach, who was on a downward trajectory heading into this season, spurred a revival in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines defied expectations while compiling an undefeated record heading into the clash Saturday with Michigan State. But doubts will again resurface about Harbaugh’s long-term prospects now that he has failed to beat the Spartans for the fourth time in his seven-year tenure.
While the outcome from last year’s stunning result stuck in the craw of Michigan fans for the last 364 days, this defeat to the Wolverines' bitter rival will be equally difficult to swallow. Harbaugh, after all, is now 0-2 against Mel Tucker and remains winless against Ohio State.
In the biggest games, Harbaugh's teams have stumbled. These Wolverines, despite showing some pluck, also tripped when the chips were down."
"Walker, who transferred to Michigan State from Wake Forest less than 10 months ago, said he got a crash course in the history of the Paul Bunyan Trophy the last couple of weeks. Honestly, it wasn’t until Michigan State’s bye week last week that he began to fully grasp the deep-seated feelings of disrespect that drive the Spartans in this series.
Former players were invited in to the team. Tom Izzo did the same. Leaders like Henderson filled in the gaps. Tucker also showed the team highlights from past games. And when asked what stood out, Walker rather innocently brought up the infamous “trouble with the snap” ending from 2015. As someone who didn’t watch much college football growing up, he said he’d never seen that play before.
“I didn’t know much,” Walker shrugged. “But when I was able to see the history of (the rivalry), and the alumni were able to talk to us, it meant that much more.”
And so did all this in the aftermath of what Walker accurately described as a “crazy game.” Everything from the celebration that erupted on the field when the Spartans’ wild second-half comeback was complete to the dancing in the locker room, the pictures posing with Paul Bunyan, and the meeting that was yet to come with his family who’d made the trip from Tennessee for this one."
"Nowhere is the good-to-great dynamic more apparent than with Michigan, which fell to Michigan State 37-33 on Saturday.
Jim Harbaugh is a good coach. He's won a lot of games at Michigan. It's just hard to remember a single one of them that really mattered.
Harbaugh famously won for the first time at Michigan as an underdog earlier this season, which begged the question: Why was Wisconsin favored in that game to begin with? While big wins are few under Harbaugh, the crushing defeats are everywhere. The 2016 Orange Bowl. The 2018 Notre Dame game. The ultimate surrender cobra. A 3-9 career mark against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. The man has a flair for the big stage -- if that flare is a raging inferno that engulfs his entire program in pain.
Saturday's defeat was particularly galling because there were myriad opportunities for Michigan to put the game away, and it was ultimately Harbaugh himself who blew the biggest one.
In fairness to Harbaugh, we were all confused when Michigan appeared to have a real QB leading the offense Saturday. To suggest Michigan could win with its QB under Harbaugh makes no sense historically. It would be like saying the gross domestic product of Mars is purple. The words don't add up. And yet, Cade McNamara was terrific, throwing for 383 yards and two TDs and zipping one beautiful ball after another downfield. So of course Harbaugh assumed he needed to sub in his backup, J.J. McCarthy, for a few snaps in hopes of gaining an edge he didn't need.
The decision proved disastrous. McCarthy nearly fumbled away the game once, escaping only when the ball bounced out of bounds. One drive later, he did it again, and the Spartans recovered. It was the beginning of an inevitable end.
It wasn't the most painful way to lose to Michigan State, of course. But the fact that there's a hierarchy of horrible losses to Sparty is itself an indictment of Harbaugh.
There's no real shame in losing to Michigan State either. The Spartans are good. Mel Tucker has become the hottest coach in America, and he'll have his pick of jobs if he wants to leave East Lansing. Kenneth Walker III is a Heisman contender. The defense is terrific. And yet, Michigan had this game in its back pocket, and instead, it tripped over its own shoelaces. This, in spite of all the wins, is the story of the Harbaugh era."
"The Wolverines had a 16-point lead in the second half, but couldn't hang on in the loss to Michigan State. Quarterback Cade McNamara had 383 yards passing and two touchdowns, but threw an interception at the end of the game, ending Michigan's chances at a touchdown and the win. The Wolverines only had 146 yards on the ground compared to 406 yards passing and saw a breakout performance from freshman receiver Andrel Anthony, who had 155 yards and two touchdowns. Michigan was winning the game with nearly seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, but freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy fumbled and gave the Spartans the ball, which eventually led to the game winning touchdown. -- Ton VanHaaren"
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