Michigan struggles to cash in on red-zone chances, unable to finish off Michigan State

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan players, their faces long, but their resolve still in place, vow they won’t let this stumble do them in.

But it’s a hard one to take, especially after building a 16-pound lead late in the third quarter. The sixth-ranked Wolverines saw their unbeaten season end with a 37-33 loss at No. 8 Michigan State. The Spartans 8-0, 5-0 in the Big Ten, while the Wolverines are 7-1, 4-1.

There were positives, of course, like the emergence of freshman receiver Andrel Anthony, a local product from Lansing High, who had 155 yards and two touchdowns. And quarterback Cade McNamara was 28-of-44 for 383 yards and two scores.

Michigan State's Jacub Panasiuk recovers a Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy fumble in the fourth quarter.

Michigan, which started strongly, finished poorly. McNamara bemoaned an interception that ended the game after the Wolverines got the ball with 1:15 left. The previous drive went 44 yards in 12 plays, but consecutive incompletions — McNamara thought there was a pass interference on Cornelius Johnson on the second — turned the ball over on downs. And the previous drive to that, freshman quarterback J.J McCarthy took over the offense and fumbled, his second of the game, which of course begs the question — was McNamara, who went into the medical tent after that play, not healthy enough?

“He was working through something at that point,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.

More: Cade McNamara takes blame for Michigan loss: 'We just came up short and that's on me'

That the Wolverines found themselves in this situation late in the game was their doing, stemming to the first half, leaving points on the field — again — and relying on field goals from Jake Moody, who was 4-of-4. Running back Blake Corum dropped a pass early on third down and it looked like he had open field ahead. And late in the second quarter it appeared Aidan Hutchinson landed on a fumble forced by David Ojabo in the end zone for a touchdown. A review indicated MSU quarterback Payton Thorne was down before losing the ball on the sack.

“It is what it is,” Hutchinson said of the play. “Game’s over, can’t change it.”

Michigan had two interceptions in the first half, the first from R.J. Moten at the MSU 2-yard line, but McNamara connected with Anthony for a 93-yard touchdowns and a 7-0 lead. Mike Morris got a second interception late in the first quarter after Dax Hill deflected a Thorne pass high in the air.

There also were some bizarre defensive substitutions during MSU quick-snap offense that proved costly. Michigan gave up a 40-yard pass and then the next play Michigan wasn’t set when Kenneth Walker III scored on an eight-yard run. He would gouge Michigan for 197 and five touchdowns.

But if there’s an area where Michigan has consistently struggled this season, even during a 7-0 start, is scoring touchdowns in the red zone. It happened against at MSU.

Four times Michigan had the ball in the red zone, four times they came away with field goals. This has been a consistent issue during Big Ten play.

“I think us stalling out, it’s a variety of reasons,” McNamara said. “Last game (against Northwestern), we weren’t able to get the ball in the end zone. We had our opportunities last week, and we did not execute. It could be a combination of that as well this week. Obviously, we’re going to watch it on film, but we know we have to do that and we have to get better.”


Twitter: @chengelis