EAST LANSING Maybe the clock ran out, maybe it didn”t. It”s impossible to know. Official time is, after all, kept by the officials on the field.
Maybe there was still a second left. Maybe there were three.
From my standpoint, it looked like time expired. Sitting in my seat, I was convinced that Michigan was robbed.
But here”s the thing the Wolverines left their door unlocked. There was no reason for them to be in that position to begin with.
Intra-state rivalries usually bring out the best in everyone. And Michigan State played better than it had all season. But where was the Michigan team that was thinking Rose Bowl? Where was the nation”s No. 1 rush defense? Where was the composed John Navarre, the one that looked too good to let another UCLA slip away?
Coach Lloyd Carr said that his Wolverines “deserved better.” He said that about six times during his post-game press conference.
But did they? Couldn”t it be argued that they got exactly what they deserved?
The fact remains that the game was over long before Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker made the phantom spike. The game was over when he threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-16 from the 50. But cornerback Jeremy LeSueur committed one of most ill-advised penalties in Michigan history, grabbing Michigan State receiver Charles Rogers by the facemask and flinging him out of bounds. What would have been the end of the game turned into a 15-yard penalty and an automatic Michigan State first down.
But it”s as unfair to blame the entire outcome on LeSueur as it is to blame the clock. Countless times, Michigan could have put the game away. But poor decision making and worse execution led to the loss.
It started right at the beginning of the game. When Rogers ran across the field when the Spartans were punting from Michigan”s 31, did the Wolverines really not see the fake coming? How did Rogers get such good position that he had to be interfered with, extending the drive?
Also where was Michigan”s rush defense? T.J. Duckett is a fantastic running back, but Michigan”s nationally- recognized defense made him look like Eric Dickerson. He was unstoppable.
Throughout the afternoon, Michigan refused to put the game out of reach. The Spartans” secondary was decimated by injuries. In the first half, Michigan exploited this, getting the ball to stud receiver Marquise Walker on first and second downs.
Where was that in the second half? Michigan seemed locked in a battle against the clock long before that last second took two seconds to expire. The Spartans were destroying the run, and Michigan faced third-and-long on many an occasion. And on each occasion, it read like a book that Navarre was looking to Walker.
The Spartans” secondary even a high school secondary can key on one player when it”s clear that he”s going to get the ball. Michigan”s gameplan gave the Spartans no reason to respect any receiver other than Walker.
After the game, Michigan players had more tears than excuses. How had they lost that game? How could they set a new Michigan record with 12 sacks and still give Smoker one last chance?
Every Michigan player willing to talk after the game ended pointed out that the team was leaving with its head high. That”s admirable. Michigan still leads the Big Ten, and to dwell on this loss would be one of the worst things that the team can do.
And maybe Michigan did deserve better I think it did. I think that with the way things have gone this season, there was no reason to expect this game to go down the way it did. In the first half, Michigan executed beautifully. Who could have thought that the team would go dead in the second?
Maybe Michigan did deserve better. But I don”t care what happened with the clock. I don”t care that Larry Stevens was held on the last play, when it looked for sure like he was going to sack Smoker.
I don”t care about any of that. Because Michigan didn”t play like it deserved anything.
Jon Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.