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Wolverines vow to keep working after deflating loss to Spartans

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Where is Michigan now emotionally, coach Jim Harbaugh, was asked shortly after losing to in-state rival and huge underdog, Michigan State.

Most could guess his response, but there are more tangible answers to that question. Michigan is 1-1 after winning last week at Minnesota, which appears to be a marginal-at-best team, and then losing its home opener to Michigan State, 27-24, at Michigan Stadium on Saturday. The Wolverines were three-touchdown-plus favorites, and the score was closer than the game.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh yells at an official after a non-call in the fourth quarter.

The Wolverines offense looked out of sync most of the time, its first-year quarterback Joe Milton in too many third-and-long situations working behind an inexperienced offensive line that got manhandled by the Michigan State defense, and play-calling that didn’t take advantage of Michigan’s speed on a consistent basis and had backs often running inside where there were no yards to find. And the defense, which players said game-planned to stop the MSU running game, was burned by a freshman receiver, as quarterback Rocky Lombardi wisely targeted Michigan’s inexperienced corners.

So where they are now in this abbreviated nine-game season, is 1-1, after a stinging loss to Michigan State under first-year coach Mel Tucker, and now having to head to Indiana, which stunned Penn State the opening weekend and has played Michigan tough in recent years. Where they are now is unsettled after being upset by Michigan State a week after being lauded for their poise and multi-faceted offense.

More: 'It's on me': Michigan QB Joe Milton takes blame for devastating loss

“The team is going to own this,” Harbaugh said “Congratulations to Michigan State, but we’ve got to own the loss and come back and find out where we can improve. This is a high-character team, and I believe they’ll do just that. Each person looking at themselves, player, coach, all of us and strive to be a lot better, try to find the places we can make improvements.”

This is the state championship, as Harbaugh said during the week, and it’s for state bragging rights. There’s no denying this loss hurt Michigan emotionally.

“There really wasn’t too much talking,” running back Hassan Haskins said of the postgame locker room. “We just know we have to get back to work.”

Michigan had 152 rushing yards, including 56 and a touchdown from Haskins. Quarterback Joe Milton led the team with 59 yards on 12 carries and later shouldered the loss and said he had happy feet.

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Haskins gave a frank description of the feeling of the team after the loss.

“Unreal, honestly,” Haskins said. “I can’t believe it right now. It don’t feel right now. I don’t know what to think, to be honest.”

Lombardi threw for 323 yards and favorite target Ricky White, a freshman, had 196 yards on eight catches and scored a touchdown, the game’s first points, on a 30-yard reception. While Lombardi burned Michigan’s corners, Vincent Gray and Gemon Green, the strength of the defense, the front seven, didn’t give them much breathing room.

Linebacker Cam McGrone missed the second half with an undisclosed injury — Harbaugh later said McGrone wanted to play but the medical staff wouldn’t clear him — but the defensive line got very little pressure.

Michigan had two tackles for loss and zero sacks. Safety Brad Hawkins and linebacker Josh Ross each had a game-high eight tackles, and four players, including defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, had seven tackles. Hutchinson, who grew up in Plymouth and had a 2-0 record against Michigan State blemished on Saturday, wasn’t interested in dwelling on the game.

“It was a bad feeling. It sucks,” Hutchinson said. “Gotta move on.”

Up next is Indiana.

“We’re going to forget about this, move on to Indiana,” Hutchinson said. “We’re going to move on from this.”

Harbaugh made clear early in the week he believed Michigan State to be a strong team despite the seven turnovers in the loss to Rutgers last week.

“I thought they were really good,” Harbaugh said. “They darn near won last week. They turned the ball over seven times, that’s nearly impossible to win a game doing that, and today, no turnovers. We didn’t turn the ball over, they didn’t turn the ball over. They found the way to win. I thought they protected well. They made the downfield throws and catches. They were able to finish drives a little bit better than we did. We would get into a rhythm offensively, then we’d not be in a rhythm and then back in and didn’t finish the drives the way we want to, the way we are capable of, and that cost us.

And figuring out how to maintain that offensive rhythm is going to be key for Michigan the rest of this season.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis