Five Things We Learned: Michigan State
Talk about a season killer.
It’s hard to imagine No. 17 Michigan (1-1 Big Ten, 4-1 overall) competing for the Big Ten Championship — or the College Football Playoff — after No. 21 Michigan State came out victorious in the night game this weekend.
The 14-10 loss revealed what many expected would happen at some point in the season: The Wolverines’ offensive struggles would catch up to them, and Michigan would dig itself a hole that was too big to crawl out of.
Here are five things we learned from the Wolverines’ loss on Saturday.
1. Michigan can’t just rely on its defense
Once again, Michigan’s defense — the top-ranked unit in the country in yards allowed per game with 213 — shut down its opponent in the second half. The Spartans didn’t tally a second-half first down until their final drive of the game.
The Wolverines failed to get a sack for the first time this season, but tallied three quarterback hurries.
Two sophomores, cornerback Lavert Hill and safety Josh Metellus, combined for four pass breakups and played a big part in holding Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke to just 98 passing yards.
Michigan shut Lewerke down after halftime, but there was little the defense could do to help when the offense turned the ball over five times.
2. O’Korn’s performance against Purdue might not be representative
Two hundred and seventy yards, a touchdown and a 69 percent completion rate? That’s what O’Korn threw for when he came off the sideline to replace an injured Wilton Speight two weeks ago against Purdue.
Expecting him to perform that well every weekend, though, might not be fair.
While Speight’s efforts were criticized left and right in the beginning of the season, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh continued to back up his decision that Speight was the team’s best option at quarterback. When Speight went down, it was tough to imagine how the Wolverines would respond.
Reasonably though, Michigan fans were less worried after O’Korn lit up the Boilermakers, hitting his receivers and tight ends the entire afternoon.
But against the Spartans’ lockdown coverage, the fifth-year senior and transfer from Houston couldn’t produce like he had the week before.
O’Korn completed just 38 percent of his passes and gave up three interceptions. O’Korn’s best throw of the game came on a 17-yard pass to junior receiver Grant Perry, who landed on Michigan State’s one-yard line.
3. The offensive line struggles are the source of the problem…
Redshirt sophomore Nolan Ulizio got the start at right tackle. After he got beat on a second-quarter sack, redshirt junior Juwann Bushell-Beatty replaced him, but Bushell-Beatty was not any more effective.
The struggles at the position gave O’Korn little time to work in the pocket, as Michigan State’s pressing defense continued to break through the offensive line.
O’Korn was sacked four times and only passed for 86 yards in the second half. If the offensive line can’t create gaps or protect the quarterback, there isn’t enough time for any components of the offense to get to work.
4. But the receivers are struggling too
On the third-to-last play of the game, sophomore receiver Eddie McDoom dropped a wide open pass from O’Korn. Michigan would’ve been at the Spartans’ 31-yard line with 21 seconds left, but McDoom couldn’t reel in the catch.
O’Korn connected with four receivers in the second half, throwing for just 86 yards after the break.
Junior Grant Perry has stepped up as Michigan’s leading receiver since freshman Tarik Black’s season was cut short due to a foot injury. But other receivers like freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones and sophomore Kekoa Crawford just haven’t made a big impact.
The Wolverines needed big plays to swing momentum, but they never got any and couldn’t overcome their errors.
5. Not-so-bold Prediction: The Minnesota game probably won’t be at night
The Nov. 4 game between Michigan and Minnesota is the only home game left on the Wolverines’ schedule that does not yet have an announced time for kick off.
The game against Michigan State was held at night due to the national attention it would receive. It had all the dimensions to be an instant classic: the in-state rivalry, a highly-ranked team and the first time the Spartans came to Ann Arbor since the botched punt.
A game against Minnesota won’t have any of those factors.
And after this first loss, it’s tough to imagine the Wolverines beating No. 3 Penn State on the road in two weeks. If Michigan is 6-2 going into a matchup with the irrelevant Golden Gophers, a national television network will have no desire to air that game on primetime.