With ESPN College GameDay on campus and a top-12 matchup between hated instate rivals Michigan and Michigan State, college football was fun again in Ann Arbor on Saturday. Until it wasn’t.
After not trailing for 59 minutes and 50 seconds, Michigan needed only to execute a successful punt to take back the Paul Bunyan trophy and down the Spartans for just the second time in eight years. Instead, ecstasy turned to heartbreak when punter Blake O’Neill fumbled the snap, tried to pick it up and kick it, and the ball bounced right into the hands of Jalen Watts-Jackson who raced 38 yards to the end zone. Technically, Michigan State hadn’t held a lead for the entire 60 minutes as the game-winning score came after the clock hit zero, but the result was a stunning one indeed.
Michigan State’s bench raced to the North end zone to pile on Watts-Jackson in celebration, while the once festive Michigan Stadium crowd of 111,740 stood speechless. Jim Harbaugh described it as “very unfortunate circumstances.”
It took a while for either team to get going, and while Michigan State gained 92 yards on 22 plays in the first quarter, it was Michigan that struck first with a 2-yard Sione Houma touchdown run two minutes into the second quarter.
Michigan State got the break it needed two possessions later when quarterback Connor Cook was stopped three yards short of the first down line on 2nd-and-9. Senior Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden was thrown down on top of Cook and flagged for targeting, not only giving Michigan State 15 yards and a first down, but also kicking Bolden out of the game. Harbaugh referred to the penalty and ejection as “hard to fathom.”
Two plays later, Michigan State ended Michigan’s shutout streak with a 11-yard L.J. Scott touchdown run.
Michigan came right back with a 49-yard kickoff return by Jabrill Peppers to set up the offense with great field position. Jake Rudock connected with Jehu Chesson for 23 yards, but the offense stalled and Kenny Allen kicked a 38-yard field goal. Michigan took a 10-7 lead into the half.
Neither team managed anything on their first possessions of the second half, but Michigan again got great starting field position, this time because the Spartans failed to convert a fake punt. On Michigan’s ensuing drive, Jabrill Peppers took a pop-pass 28 yards to the Michigan State 3-yard line and Houma punched it in three plays later to give Michigan a 17-7 lead.
Michigan State answered right back with a 5-play, 75-yard drive that included a 13-yard completion to Aaron Burbridge, a 27 yards pass to R.J. Sheldon, and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Macgarrett Kings.
Back to back Kenny Allen field goals put Michigan ahead by nine, but once again Michigan State refused to go away. On the very first play of the ensuing possession, Cook found fullback Trevor Pendleton wide open for 74 yards to the Michigan one. Scott carried it in on the next play to bring Michigan State within two at 23-21.
Trying to hold on to its lead, Michigan’s offense went three-and-out on two straight possessions, but the defense came up big with a fourth down stop. Michigan took possession with 1:47 remaining, needing only one first down to seal the win. But three straight De’Veon Smith runs gained just eight yards and 10 seconds were all that separated Michigan from a win before the botched punt occurred.
Despite not leading until the very end, Michigan State outgained Michigan 386-230, and for just the fourth time in the last 46 meetings, the team that rushed for more yards didn’t win. Michigan finished with 62 rushing yards to Michigan State’s 58. Rudock completed 15 of 25 passes for 168 yards. Smith led the way on the ground with 46 yards on 19 carries, while Houma added 30 yards and two touchdowns on three carries. Chesson caught four passes for 58 yards and Amara Darboh caught three for 52.
For Michigan State, Cook completed 18 of 39 passes for 328 yards and one touchdown. Gerald Holmes rushed eight times for 33 yards, while Burbridge led all receivers with 132 yards on nine receptions.
At 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan gets a week off before traveling to Minneapolis to face a Gophers team that has lost two of its last three and also has a Week 8 bye. Michigan State remains undefeated with Indiana coming to town next Saturday.
Game Ball – Offense
Kenny Allen (3-for-3 field goals, 2-2 PATs)
While no one on Michigan’s offense had a great game on Saturday, punter Kenny Allen was his usual consistent self, calmly nailing three field goals. The first came with 5:34 remaining in the first half, from 38 yards out, after Michigan State had tied the game. It gave Michigan a 10-7 halftime lead. The second came from 21 yards out with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter, and he followed it up with another 38-yarder on Michigan’s next possession to give Michigan a 23-14 lead with 9:25 left in the game. A position that has been a question mark the past few years has become consistent this season with Allen earning a scholarship and converting 10 of 12 attempts through seven games. He is perfect inside 40 yards.
Week 1 – Jake Butt (8 rec for 93 yards and 1 TD)
Week 2 – De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 126 yards, 3 TDs)
Week 3 – Ty Isaac (8 carries for 114 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — De’Veon Smith (16 carries for 125 yards and 1 TD)
Week 5 — Drake Johnson (13 carries for 68 yards, 1 TD, 1 rec for 31 yards, 1 TD)
Week 6 — Mason Cole, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson
Game Ball – Defense
Willie Henry (5 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU)
Michigan didn’t get a lot of pressure on Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, but when it did it was usually Willie Henry providing it. The redshirt junior recorded two of Michigan’s three sacks, knocked down a pass, and stopped a running back in the backfield. He also provided pressure off the edge on 3rd-and-19 in the closing minutes, forcing Cook to get rid of the ball sooner than he wanted. Henry now leads the team with nine tackles for loss and six sacks through seven games.
Week 1 – Chris Wormley (5 tackles, 3 TFL)
Week 2 – Chris Wormley (6 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 3 – Jourdan Lewis (3 tackles, 4 PBU)
Week 4 — Ryan Glasgow (3 tackles, 2 TFL)
Week 5 — Desmond Morgan (9 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
Week 6 — Jourdan Lewis (4 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 touchdown, 1 PBU)
|Final Individual Stats|
|Aaron Burbridge (WR)||1||9||9.0||0||9|
|R.J. Shelton (WR)||1||3||3.0||0||3|
|Jehu Chesson (WR)||1||1||1.0||0||1|
|Jake Rudock (QB)||3||-10||-3.3||0||0|
|Blake O’Neill (P)||1||-15||-15||0||-15|
|Connor Cook (QB)||4||-23||-5.8||0||6|
|Trevon Pendleton (FB)||1||74
|Macgarrett Kings Jr.||3||57||19.0||1||30|
|Karan Higdon (RB)||1||3||3.0||0||3|
|De’Veon Smith (RB)||1||-1||-1.0||0||-1|
|Jake Rudock (QB)||1||-3||-3.0||0||-3|