Michigan football players have seen and been through a lot since they stepped on campus, since coach Jim Harbaugh was hired last December, even since the start of the season seven weeks ago.
But none of them — nor anyone outside the program — had ever seen anything like what happened Saturday night.
By now, the final play that lifted Michigan State to a 27-23 win over the Wolverines at Michigan Stadium is famous. Michigan will have to move on from that and play five more games — but it won’t get the chance this weekend, with a bye week between now and next Saturday’s game at Minnesota.
The off week could let the sour taste from last weekend’s loss linger for a few more days, but it could also allow the Wolverines to heal physically before heading into the back half of their schedule.
“It’s a good and a bad thing, because you get to rest your bodies for a whole week, and you’re just focusing on one team for two weeks,” said junior running back De’Veon Smith. “Yeah, you want to get the taste out of your mouth, but in a way it’s a good thing, because we can go back and look at all of our mistakes and correct them all.”
In the past, the effects of bye weeks have worked both ways. Last year, Michigan lost coming out of both — including a 35-11 loss to Michigan State — but in 2013, the Wolverines recovered from an ugly seven-turnover performance at Notre Dame to cruise past Purdue, 44-13.
But because of the circumstances of last Saturday’s game, they have never had to bounce back in quite the same way. Minnesota (1-2 Big Ten, 4-3 overall), also has a bye Saturday after a loss, albeit a less dramatic one.
“Our group’s glad that we got the off week,” said Golden Gophers coach Jerry Kill on Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference. “We gotta get some bodies healed up, and we’ve been banged up pretty good, so we’re hoping this week allows us to heal up and start the preparation for Michigan.”
The Wolverines will make a similar effort by taking Thursday, Friday and Saturday off this weekend, giving the players a chance to go home or relax in Ann Arbor. They did, however, have practice Tuesday and Wednesday, perhaps to avoid a hangover after the devastating loss.
When Michigan goes back to work next week, it will focus on fine-tuning the details. Those details looked as sharp as they could be when the Wolverines won five straight games and shut out three consecutive opponents, but the team pointed to small issues in the loss to Michigan State.
“When you’re blowing teams out, when you’re shutting teams out, winning by 30 points, I feel like there’s a little bit more leniency,” said fifth-year senior offensive lineman Graham Glasgow. “I feel like it’s like, ‘Hey, you got the job done, but just step with the right foot next time.’
“Now it’s really serious. I’m taking it very seriously. A lot of the upperclassmen are. You just can’t make mistakes anymore.”
Yes, a Big Ten title chase is still within reach. But the Wolverines’ backs are up against the wall.
“Anything can happen to any other team that we play,” Smith said. “Our dreams are still alive of winning the Big Ten championship, so that’s our focus.”