The Michigan Wolverines were a heavy favorite heading into their rivalry game against the Michigan State Spartans. However, the game didn’t go as planned and Michigan walked away with their first loss of the season, a 27-24 defeat. Here are takeaways from the game.
Michigan got torched on deep balls continuously
Michigan’s secondary didn’t fare well against what became an aerial assault from Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi. Cornerback Vincent Gray was beat routinely throughout the day on deep balls that led to big gains, and Gemon Green and Jalen Perry didn’t do much better.
We'll say it again: Strong start. @Only1RW | @MSU_Football pic.twitter.com/fGn2u1cvr3— Michigan St. on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) October 31, 2020
Lombardi went 17-of-32 for 323 yards and 3 TDS, numbers which could have been better when factoring in a couple overthrows to open targets. Michigan’s defense didn’t have an answer to the MSU vertical passing game. MSU recognized early that they’d be able to have success challenging Michigan’s corners, and that was a trend that continued throughout the entire game. To make matters worse, it was a freshman that was the difference maker, wideout Ricky White who led the charge with 196 yards and 1 TD.
O-line and d-line took a step back
Michigan was controlling the line of scrimmage a week ago against Minnesota on both sides of the ball, which was the opposite occurrence this week. The U-M line wasn’t able to consistently pressure Lombardi, and the o-line rarely created holes in the run-game and the pocket collapsed on Joe Milton many times throughout the game. Michigan State was the more physical team overall, with their front seven flying all over the field. MSU LB’s Antjuan Simmons and Noah Harvey each had 11 tackles. Michigan State’s D recorded one sack, Michigan’s had zero, but there was a lot more pressure applied to Milton on a down-to-down basis. The pressure on Milton led to him getting rid of the ball too soon numerous times, and settling for dunk throws when he didn’t have to. The MSU front-seven threw a wrench into Michigan’s gameplan, and the Wolverines didn’t adjust in time.
Milton shows he’s still raw
Make no mistake, it wasn’t easy sledding for Milton today. He was getting pressured a bunch, receivers dropped catchable balls, but in between those issues he made stellar plays as well as a lot he’d like to have back. Milton’s running prowess still netted U-M positive gains in this one, (59 yards rushing in all), but his vision wasn’t at the level it was last week, leading to some clunky runs that went for little to no gain. He kept locking in on his first read and was determining where to throw pre-snap which led to him throwing into tight and double coverage. His accuracy was pinpoint on some throws with that arm strength we keep hearing about, but far too many balls sailed or had too much sizzle on them when patience and touch was required. The pressure MSU’s defense applied changed how Milton operated, and showed the areas he has room for improvement. Milton’s stat-line looks decent, going 32-of-51 for 300 yards, but if he netted another completion on a few drives, Michigan probably wins the game. Milton certainly isn’t to blame for the loss, but his fingerprints are on it as well. It was a team loss.
Not enough urgency late in the game
As outline above, MSU wasn’t afraid to throw it deep, even with a lead. Michigan on the other hand, with their back against the wall wasn’t able to engineer any chunk plays with just minutes to go. A drive that started with 5:11 left ended with only 37 seconds left to play. Short throws and run plays ate the clock up. While Michigan should be commended for scoring when they had to, the amount of time they had left over did them in. Multiple gains of 4, 5, and 6 yards aren’t going to get it done when time is of the essence down two scores. Even dialing up a long throw or two and hoping for a 50-50 chance going your way or drawing a pass interference penalty would have been worth the risk of throwing it deep. Milton’s yards per attempt average was 5.9 while Lombardi’s was 10.1, and that says it all.
Michigan’s got to own this loss
“This team is going to own this loss. Congratulations to Michigan State but we’ve got to own this loss”, head coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game. That sums it up, Michigan State played good, but Michigan should have won the game. No excuses. Poor execution led to the loss. Self-inflicted wounds to the tune of 10 penalties for 86 yards didn’t help matters.
The defense didn’t look prepared to stop the deep pass, instead thinking that MSU was going to rely heavily on the run. Michigan had a gameplan on offense and defense that didn’t work, and they didn’t implement enough adjustments to walk out of the Big House with a win. This was a rivalry game, and the series is usually competitive, but all logic and reason pointed to Harbaugh’s team beating first year Mel Tucker’s.
It’s such a short season this year, with even less time to self-reflect and diagnose what went wrong. With that said, Michigan needs to get the mistakes corrected in a hurry, because Indiana will be ready to play next week. Milton has to get better. The offensive line has to block better. The defense must create more pressure and cover better down the field. Play-calling can get better, along with personnel packages. This was a really surprising loss, one that Michigan and Harbaugh feel is unacceptable, and it’s real evident where the errors occurred and what it will take to correct them.