The final play. [Bryan Fuller]
Death by a thousand self-inflicted cuts.
Michigan State's offense didn't look like it belonged in the same league as Michigan's defense, which forced eight three-and-outs, added a turnover on downs, and didn't allow a point after the 8:07 mark of the second quarter. By those numbers, you'd think the Wolverines would've won this game in a blowout.
But the offense, well, it all went wrong with the offense. They turned the ball over five times: a Ty Isaac fumble that killed any momentum from a promising start, a Sean McKeon fumble when they were driving at the end of the first half, and three John O'Korn interceptions. O'Korn's picks came on consecutive second-half possessions as rain fell from the sky in sheets; the coaches continued to call passes despite O'Korn's struggling and the receivers having a tough time hanging onto the ball.
That was it, really. State needed only one long touchdown drive and another on a short field to get the win while Michigan found new and demoralizing ways to shoot themselves in the foot.
After the game, the quarterback dismissed concerns about the playcalling and the weather, instead putting the loss on his own shoulders.
"I take full ownership for this loss," said John O'Korn. "You can't turn the ball over and expect to win and you can't give them great field position all game and expect to win."
"You've got to execute the plays that are called regardless of the conditions and we didn't do that tonight."
His head coach had a different take.
"Yeah, you can criticize that," Jim Harbaugh said about the playcalling. "We were trying to run the ball. We were trying to piece drives together."
It was a depressingly familiar script. Michigan State had the better, more cohesive gameplan, highlighted by their second touchdown, a gorgeous slip screen off a fake end-around that caught the entire defense on the wrong side of the field. Michigan's pass protection repeatedly broke down; Juwann Bushell-Beatty replaced Nolan Ulizio at right tackle midway through the game with little positive effect. The late-game plays didn't break the right way; MSU all but iced the game when Brian Lewerke dropped a third-down snap, frantically scrambled, and somehow rolled over two players to get the first down before touching the ground.
Another familiar sight—stupid Michigan State penalties—gave Michigan a final shot late, first when a holding call stopped the clock on MSU's final drive, then when senior linebacker Chris Frey committed an obvious late hit on Karan Higdon. Yet again, Michigan committed an unforced error. O'Korn found Eddie McDoom wide open around the MSU 30, only for the ball to clang off McDoom's hands. A couple plays later, O'Korn's Hail Mary heave hit the rain-soaked turf.
The bitter taste from this one is going to linger. Michigan could—should—be 3-0 against MSU under Harbaugh. Instead, they're 1-2. This time around, it was the struggling offense finally costing the team a game this season. Even if we knew that was coming this year, it won't sit well that it happened against the Spartans, especially given the preceding bye week and questionable playcalling.
It's going to be a long week for a lot of people.