It was a long night for the Michigan football team.
Under the lights at Michigan Stadium for the first time in the history of the in-state rivalry, the now-17th-ranked Wolverines lost their illustrious unbeaten status in a 14-10 loss to Michigan State. Saturday night, Michigan dropped a game it should never have been in a position to lose to the unranked Spartans — putting its College Football Playoff aspirations on life support in the process.
As a torrential downpour engulfed Ann Arbor, the Wolverines couldn’t climb out of the hole they had dug themselves into during the first half. The Daily breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly from Saturday night’s game.
On a night when almost everything went wrong, Michigan’s only redeemable quality was the performance of its stalwart defensive unit.
As has been the case throughout the season, whenever the Wolverines have faltered, their defense has swooped in to save the day. But against Michigan State, there was simply too much overcome.
The defense was spread thin all game, forced to spend a considerable amount of time on the field due to a number of mistakes on the offensive side of the ball.
Though the defense gave up two touchdowns in the first half, it would shut the door in the second half, not conceding a single point after the break.
The opening score could be chalked up to favorable field position. On Michigan’s second offensive drive, fifth-year senior running back Ty Isaac fumbled the ball, and the Spartans recovered it at the Wolverines’ 46-yard line.
The second score came down to a fortunate 30-yard completion and a well-executed screen pass. Spartan wideout Darrell Stewart Jr. caught a deep ball that had been tipped by senior cornerback Brandon Watson, and Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke caught Michigan’s defense completely off guard on a 16-yard trick play.
The one noticeable shortcoming on the defensive side of the ball was that the Wolverines failed to record a sack after leading the nation in the category prior to the contest.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh summed it up after the game: “Too many turnovers.”
As it turned out, Isaac’s fumble was only the beginning of the Wolverines’ troubles Saturday night. Michigan turned the ball over a total of five times against the Spartans, including another fumble and a whopping three interceptions.
Worse yet, all three picks came in consecutive possessions in the second half. After the rain had begun to pour down, it would have been expected for Michigan to transition its game plan accordingly and rely more heavily on the run game. Suffice to say, that’s not what happened.
The Wolverines tested fate by electing to keep throwing the ball, and then suffered the consequences. Fifth-year senior quarterback John O’Korn threw three straight interceptions.
At that point, Michigan’s comeback attempt lost all of the steam it had gained from its touchdown drive halfway through the third quarter.
In a game that ultimately came down to a four-point differential, the Wolverines shot themselves in the foot one too many times to escape unscathed.
There is a lot that could go in this category, but the overriding sentiment from this game is that, yet again, Michigan lost a rivalry game to Michigan State in front of a home crowd.
With the wounds from 2015’s infamous fumbled punt still fresh in the minds of Wolverine fans, this game was supposed to be redemption.
Despite the fact that the Spartans were unranked while Michigan was No. 7 — in contrast to when Michigan State was No. 7 and the Wolverines were ranked 12th — their respective rankings went out the window with the Paul Bunyan trophy on the line.
Despite taking home a victory in East Lansing last season, Michigan’s win seemed to be overshadowed by the Spartans’ 2-5 record at the time. This year was the win the home crowd really wanted.
That’s why the student section stuck it out through the storm as the rain drenched them from head to toe. They eagerly awaited a chance to ease the pain many of them had suffered in that same student section two years ago.
The Wolverines delivered yet another disappointment instead.