Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s first loss was bound to come sooner or later. But that loss coming to Michigan State certainly didn’t make it any easier to stomach.
The 18th-ranked Wolverines fell to the Spartans, 28-14, in East Lansing on Saturday, catapulting Michigan State ahead of Michigan in the Big Ten Legends Division.
The Wolverines (2-1 Big Ten, 6-1 overall) now have a bye week to refocus after the defeat. But it’ll be the head coach who needs the most time to recover.
“I have to shift myself first probably,” Hoke said on Monday. “But the seniors now will get together tomorrow and have a very good conversation. They’re a prideful group. Kids are more resilient than we are, period, and so we’ll move forward.”
The senior captains — center David Molk, defensive tackle Mike Martin and tight end Kevin Koger — all emphasized the importance of players supporting each other through a bye week instead of sitting on the previous game.
Last season, Michigan lost two-straight games entering the bye week, then emerged with a poor showing in a 41-31 road loss to a 4-3 Penn State team.
“That’s really what’s going to make this team different than all the teams in the past that I’ve played on and started,” Molk said. “It’s time for me, along with my senior group and fellow captains, to step up and take control of the emotional level of this team and stride on.
“We can’t let one loss set us back for the entire season and really make us feel like it’s over just because we have one loss. That’s not going to happen.”
The bye week is also crucial to allow Michigan’s injured players some much-needed rest from the grind of the season.
Hoke pointed out fifth-year senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk and junior quarterback Denard Robinson as two players who will surely benefit from the bye week.
“Football is a physical game, and guys are going to get bumped up, get sore,” Martin said. “I know we have some guys that are feeling that a bit, so having the bye week is key. I think it comes at the perfect time.”
Michigan’s seniors have already set their sights on the next game — an Oct. 29 homecoming matchup with Purdue.
But the loss to Michigan State isn’t out of their minds just yet. They’re letting it hurt just a while longer.
“This game is going to sting for a bit — I think it has to,” Martin said. “This team has to remember the taste in our mouths. It’s not good, but we have to move on.
“We’re at the halfway point of the season, and we have five more guaranteed opportunities as a football team. For us to be able to prepare longer for Purdue is also going to help. I think it’s going to show up on Saturday.”
FOURTH AND NONE: It was unquestionably the final turning point of the game. With one play call gone wrong, the Paul Bunyan Trophy settled right back into the Spartans’ hands.
On fourth-and-one from the Michigan State nine-yard line in the fourth quarter, Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges called for a play-action fake out of an I-back set. No one ever learned what the end of the play was supposed to look like.
By the time Robinson took the snap and faked to sophomore running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, Spartan cornerback Johnny Adams was in Robinson’s face, untouched off a corner blitz for a game-saving sack.
On Monday, Hoke explained that the call was supposed to leave Koger open for the score.
“If we execute the play, Koger’s in the endzone,” Hoke said on Monday. “We don’t make a block that we need to make.
“That’s part of their defense, bringing their corners especially when you get into two tight ends. A lot of people will do that to the weak side of it. Again, he was accounted for if we executed.”
Instead of a chance to tie up the game, 21-21, the ball was handed back to the Spartans.
Koger doesn’t have any regrets about the play call, saying the team runs it every week in practice. He also didn’t even know if he was open on the play.
“It’s hard to say,” Koger said. “When I whipped my head around, Denard was being tackled. So it’s hard to say if I was open or not. We just have to execute. We have to block better on that play, no matter what the call is. If we had executed, the play it would have worked.”
WOE IS WILLIAM: Michigan State is conducting an internal review into possible “sportslike conduct violation” by defensive end William Gholston in the Spartans’ win over Michigan.
Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis released a statement Tuesday saying the Big Ten had been notified of Gholston’s potential violations.
“We are thoroughly reviewing the entire game and utilizing all of the available resources: coaches’ video from midfield and end zone cameras, TV copy as well as still photographs,” Hollis’s statement read. “Once the internal review is completed, we will forward a written report on to the Big Ten.”
If Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany disagrees with the Spartans’ assessment, he has up to three business days to make a decision.
Two particular plays in question came in the third quarter of Saturday’s game.
Five minutes into the quarter, Robinson took off on third down and ended short of the first-down marker. Gholston dove onto the quarterback late, then grabbed Robinson’s facemask and wrenched the helmet sideways. A personal foul for a late hit was called.
Then in the final play of the quarter, Gholston was pushed to the ground by redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Taylor Lewan. When Gholston got up, he punched Lewan under the chin. The punch earned Gholston another personal foul.
“I’m not going to react to it,” Hoke said when asked about the incident. “You know what, I’m a football coach. I’m not a referee or a rules-maker. That’s not for me to say.”
Regardless, the Michigan players have not once said the Spartans’ play was cheap, though Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi called the game “sixty minutes of unnecessary roughness.”
“Football is a tough game,” Molk said. “The line between cheap and fair is pretty thin sometimes. It’s in the eye of the beholder. What could be tough play, could be rough play, could be too much. They’re a tough team and they played well, but that’s not what beat us.”