The Michigan football team finds itself with a bye week at either the best or worst possible time, depending on your perspective.
After a deflating last-second loss to Michigan State on Saturday, the Wolverines now have two full weeks to prepare for their Halloween night matchup against Minnesota.
The Daily looks back on the good, the bad and the ugly from Saturday’s 27-23 loss.
Redshirt freshman Jabrill Peppers finally stole the show, and he was breathtaking. Peppers accumulated 129 return yards, giving Michigan stellar field position throughout the game. Fans also got their first look at him on offense, where his mere presence was enough to force Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio into consecutive timeouts in the second quarter.
When he finally got an offensive touch, a reception in the third quarter, he took it for 28 yards to set up 1st-and-goal. He had another catch late in the game that was just shy of a first down.
Rounding out his impact in every phase of the game, he added two tackles on defense.
Elsewhere in the secondary, junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis was in full view all night. Tasked with guarding likely All-Big Ten receiver Aaron Burbridge, the two Detroit-area standouts battled throughout the game.
Burbridge finished with nine catches for 132 yards, but Lewis broke up six passes and made seven tackles.
Through seven games, Lewis has now broken up 14 passes, just four shy of Michigan’s single-season record.
The “bad” really came down to one play. No, not that play. We’ll get to that later.
In the fourth quarter, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook found his fullback wide open on a 75-yard wheel route. He at first appeared to score on the play, but after review, he was called down at the one-yard line. LJ Scott punched it in for Michigan State to cut the Wolverines’ lead to two, and you know the rest.
The fact that a fullback went 75 yards is both a credit to the Spartans’ play design and indicative of some kind of coverage breakdown for Michigan. Fullbacks just aren’t built to go 75 yards if properly covered.
These things happen, and Michigan has had its own share of big plays from fullbacks this year, but it’s hard to ignore the importance of this one gaffe given the final result of this game.
Perhaps you’ve seen it by now. On the final play of the game, fifth-year senior punter Blake O’Neill bobbled a low snap and tried to get the punt off anyway. As he turned to make the ill-advised second effort, he was hit, sending the ball into the waiting arms of Jalen Watts-Jackson.
Watts-Jackson ran down the sideline and into the end zone as time expired, ending the game in the most shocking fashion imaginable. Michigan State dominated the yardage all game, but the Michigan defense and special teams had been good enough to earn a win on Saturday.
It’s never simply one play that costs a team the game, but the Wolverines looked secure in their lead until this one.
O’Neill had been excellent all day, even booming an 80-yard punt earlier in the game, the longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season. That’s one reason that this one ugly play is so hard to swallow for Michigan fans.
After a few upset fans made unruly comments to O’Neill on Twitter, there was an outpouring of support from the Michigan community to the graduate transfer punter, including interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett, who posted an open letter Sunday afternoon asking students to pledge support and not turn to spite.