On Saturday night, the Michigan football team had no business winning. The seventh-ranked Wolverines made their own bed. Then they had to lie in it too.
Michigan’s performance wasn’t just sloppy. It was a heaping mess. The Wolverines threw three interceptions. They fumbled twice.
And despite all the chances its defense gave it, No. 7 Michigan fell, 14-10, to Michigan State (2-0 Big Ten, 4-1 overall) in the only night game in the rivalry’s 110-year history.
“We had plenty of opportunities to move the ball, score touchdowns,” said fifth-year senior quarterback John O’Korn. “How many turnovers did we have? Like five, six. You can’t expect to win when you turn the ball over that many times. And three of them were 100 percent my fault.”
The first pick came with just under four minutes left in the third quarter. Michigan rushed for 31 yards on five carries, and looked to be building momentum. And yet, despite the success in the run game and the torrential downpour that had arrived in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines (1-1, 4-1) elected to pass.
On the next play, Spartan safety David Dowell picked off O’Korn. Michigan’s defense bailed him out with three straight stops.
On the next offensive drive, junior running back Karan Higdon rushed for seven yards in the middle of the offensive series. Then, the Wolverines passed again. O’Korn was picked off again, and Michigan’s defense bailed him out again.
And with the rain coming down harder than ever, Michigan conformed to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. The Wolverines threw again in the downpour, and they got the same results. O’Korn threw his third interception of the game, and the defensive unit made up for his mistake once again.
“We were trying to run the ball. We were trying to piece drives together,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “We needed to score points and we needed to put some drives together. That’s what we were trying to do.”
Added O’Korn: “It was different at different points. There was one point where it was a torrential downpour and it was tough to throw the football, but there’s no excuses. You’ve gotta do what you’re coached to do and you have to complete the passes that are called.”
But there was, at the very least, one too many mistakes.
In the first quarter, the Wolverines were driving, threatening to score twice in as many drives to open the game. Fifth-year senior running back Ty Isaac was given the ball on first-and-10 near midfield. He failed to protect the ball, though, and Michigan State’s Joe Bachie forced a fumble that the Spartans recovered.
Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke rushed for a 14-yard touchdown to cap off a 46-yard drive following the fumble recovery, and later found Madre London on a screen in the second quarter. The junior running back coasted to the corner of the end zone to take a 14-3 lead at Michigan Stadium.
For a fleeting moment, it looked like Michigan would reclaim a grip on the game before the half concluded — the same one they had on the first offensive and defensive series of the game.
O’Korn found sophomore tight end Sean McKeon for a 36-yard reception that would have put Michigan on the Spartans’ 27-yard line with 31 seconds to play. Instead, McKeon fumbled, and the Wolverines went into halftime trailing by 11.
Michigan managed to reach the end zone with just over eight minutes left in the third quarter to cut Michigan State’s lead to four.
But the rest of the game was the byproduct of carelessness, and the Wolverines didn’t score another point.
Michigan turned the ball over too much, even for its defense to counteract. It adopted a nonsensical game plan, as rain poured down in sheets.
Now, Paul Bunyan is going back to East Lansing, and the Wolverines have no one to blame but themselves.