Observations on the shocking loss to the Spartans, 23-27
Michigan State trailed virtually the entire game until the last second, and comes away with a blocked punt and 38 yard fumble runback by Sophomore Backup Defensive Back, Jalen Watts-Jackson, for a thrilling, 27-23, win over the beleagured Wolverines who haven't coached their Australian punter, Blake O'Neill, to fall on the ball in that type of game situation. Watts-Jackson was led into the end zone with a critical block by Junior Backup Defensive Back Jalen Edmondson on Wayne Lyons who tried desperately to push him out of bounds between the 20 and 10 yard line.
Michigan gained the lead early in the second quarter, and led the whole way except a brief 1:28 when the Spartans knotted the score at 7-7 before Michigan regained the lead, 10-7, before halftime. The Wolverines built a two score lead in the 3rd quarter, 17-7, and again in the 4th quarter, 23-14, with 9:28 to go.
Michigan converted 5 red zone trips for 23 points while Michigan State only gained two red zones for 14 points, but scored 6 off one Wolverine turnover. Neither team turned the ball over until the fumble on last play of the game; this gave Michigan State the key which was to win the turnover battle. A defensive score turned the tide in this one.
The offensive performance was bleak. We only gained 10 first downs, 230 net yards, were forced into 7 punts, and as a result we let the Spartans gain 14 more offensive plays. Jake Rudock was 15 of 25 for 168 yards, and was only 4 of 15 in 3rd down conversions with 4 sacks. Sione Houma had 3 carries for 30 yards and 2 TDs. DeVeon Smith was stopped cold all day; he finished with 46 yards on 19 carries. Jehu Chesson has 4 catches for 58 yards, and A.J. Williams caught one for 21 yards to set up our first red zone. Jabrill Peppers came in and caught 2 passes for 35 yards, and set up another. The Spartan defense executed their game plan; they choked our running game allowing only 62 net yards plus pressured Rudock with 4 sacks and lots of hurries. When we had a two score lead with 9:25 to go in the game, our offense came up with two "three and outs" on our final two possessions; we couldn't control the ball nor our destiny due to the tough Spartan defense. Demetrius Cox had 8 tackles, and Shilique Calhoun had 5 tackles including 2 sacks while he chased Rudock all afternoon.
The Spartans gained 386 net yards as Connor Cook picked apart our defense for 328 yards in the air; he was 18 of 39 for 1 TD, and was 3 of 13 in 3rd down conversions. The crippled Offensive Line for Michigan State did a great job negating the pressure from our defensive line until late in the 4th quarter when Willie Henry kept getting through. Spartan Senior Fullback Trevon Pendleton burned Delano Hill on a 74 yard pass play from the 25 setting up a red zone at the Michigan one yard line, and L.J. Shelton punched in the TD to tighten the game at 23-21. We thought we had won the game after stopping them on a 4th down conversion with 1:47 to go in the game on a pass break up by Dymonte Thomas; we held the Spartans of 0 for 4 in 4th down conversions on the afternoon. Aaron Burbridge had 9 catches for 132 yards, and Jourdan Lewis broke up 6 passes plus had 7 tackles. Desmond Morgan led the defense with 8 tackles including a huge stop on Spartan punter, Tyler O'Conner, one yard short of a first down on the fake punt engineered by Dantonio. Willie Henry came up big down the stretch; he finished with 5 tackles, 3 for loss including 2 sacks and a pass batted down while finally giving Cook some pressure.
Special Teams almost won the game for us, but in the end it was the lack of execution on one special teams play that lost us this game. Jabrill Peppers had 129 yards in returns. Kenny Allen converted three field goal attempts, and Blake O'Neill hit an 80 yard punt with three punts downed inside the Spartan 10 yard line. We "dodged a bullet" of self-destruction when Jehu Chesson scrambled to recover a fumble by Jabrill Peppers on a kickoff late in the 4th quarter. While we dominated the game overall on special teams, we made one horrible mistake on the final special teams play of the game, and that was the difference in this one. It wasn't all O'Neill's fault, a low snap by Scott Sypniewski, and a poor scheme by the coaching staff on the play also contributed as we lined up two flyers when they had 11 men on the line of scrimmage with nobody back to receive the punt.
While there is disappointment in losing a game we surely had won, give the Spartans all the credit. They kept their poise and composure, took risks the whole game, but stayed with their game plan; we made a ton of mistakes and played too conservatively especially at the end of the game. The Spartans never stopped believing they would win, and they were not denied with that stunning final play. Dantonio and his staff outcoached Harbaugh and his staff especially in the 4th quarter with the game on the line. Facts are facts, and while I'm just as disappointed as any true Wolverine fan, we should give the MSU the credit they deserve. Michigan State beat us in a "fair and competitive" 60 minute game; we beat ourselves. We had many stupid penalties, in all 8 for 70 yards including our Captain Joe Bolden being ejected for targeting plus we gave the Spartans 4 first downs on penalties to keep their drives alive; the time of possession advantage that resulted in 14 extra offensive plays for the Spartans. The Spartans overcame many injuries and adversity to take this one out of our grasp. To win a championship, you must play championship football; the Spartans did, and we didn't. We should wish them the best of luck in beating the Buckeyes on November 21 as it will take a win by them, and a win by us over the Buckeyes to give us a chance to land in the Big Ten Championship game on December 5. We can only hope that two other Big Ten foes will upset the Spartans along the way to make that happen.