The Michigan football team has two weeks to get over the stunning loss to in-state rival Michigan State and move forward to become bowl eligible.
Michigan slipped three spots in the Associated Press and coaches polls after its 27-23 loss to Michigan State with no time remaining on Saturday. The Wolverines are now ranked No. 15 in the AP, tied with Texas A&M, and No. 17 in the coaches’ poll, tied with Memphis.
The Wolverines led the entire game at home against Michigan State and was seconds from preserving a 23-21 victory, its first against MSU since 2012. But Michigan punter Blake O’Neill took a low snap from Scott Sypniewski, dropped it, picked it up and spun around and attempted to kick but fumbled into the hands of Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson. Watts-Jackson scored on a 38-yard return giving the Spartans a 27-23 victory with no time remaining, their seventh win in the last eight meetings with Michigan.
“It just sucks, there’s no other way to phrase it no better way to put it,” quarterback Jake Rudock told the “Inside Michigan Football” show that aired Sunday morning. “Just kind of numb to it.”
Linebacker Desmond Morgan praised the MSU offense but said it was a difficult way to lose.
“You can’t discredit the ability of (MSU quarterback) Connor Cook and those offensive guys,” Morgan said. “They definitely have a potent offense. But for us coming into the game it was something we thought we could match up well and we did at times. There were times we definitely had mistakes we have to go back and clean up.
“It sucks, there’s really no other way to put it. Our guys fought hard. They fought for 60 full minutes, but there’s no way to point fingers or anything like, there’s a lot of things throughout the game that could have changed the way that game went. To lose like that, it’s very unfortunate.”
Michigan is 5-2, 2-1 Big Ten and is off next Saturday before playing at Minnesota (4-3, 1-2) on Oct. 31 to begin a final stretch of five games, including three on the road before the regular-season finale against the nation’s top-rated team, defending national champion Ohio State.
The Wolverines’ next two opponents after the Gophers are Rutgers (3-3, 1-2) at home and on the road at Indiana (4-3, 0-3). They travel again the following week to Penn State (5-2, 2-1) on Nov. 21 before finishing at Michigan Stadium against unbeaten Ohio State.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said he wasn’t sure if it’s a good or bad thing the Wolverines have a bye but said simply that the team must move on.
“We’re going to put steel in our spine,” Harbaugh said. “Played winning football. Didn’t get the result. Welcome to football. Move forward.”
Defensive end Willie Henry said that while in the immediacy of the aftermath of the loss, players were having a difficult time wrapping their heads around what had happened, they know there is much to play for.
The Wolverines were 5-7 last season and did not qualify for a bowl for the third time since 2008. They need one victory to become bowl eligible and clearly the carrot at the end of the season is the game against a potentially unbeaten Ohio State.
“We can’t kill ourselves over one loss like this,” Henry said. “It hurts. We know it hurts everybody we lost a game like this so close in the final seconds like that. We don’t want everybody down. Keep your heads up. Still got a whole season.”
Kicker Kenny Allen, who made all three field-goal attempts against MSU, said shortly after the game that the loss hadn’t hit him.
“We’ve just got to bounce back,” he said. “We’ve got to take this with a grain of salt, and we have to come back stronger, and that’s what we’re going to do.
“Yeah, this is a big game for everyone, especially in-state guys who grew up around this. But we’re a team, we expect to win every single game. When you don’t, it hurts, (but) you’ve got move forward.
“It just sucks to lose. I don’t think nobody out there on the defense, offense, special teams go into the game to lose a game, so when you lose a game like this, it just sucks. It sucks all around.”
There is a common cliché in sports regarding not allowing a loss to beat you twice. Michigan fullback Sione Houma, who scored two touchdowns in the game, said the Wolverines will move forward.
“We’re going to learn from it,” Houma said. “We’ve got to keep our heads held high. We can’t let this game just faze us like that. We have to prepare in two weeks. Just got to get back up during our bye week and keep moving forward.”