Michigan lost to Michigan State on Saturday. The final score was 27-24 in favor of the Spartans, and in any tightly contested game there were multiple options for what would be deemed a ‘turning point’.
There were missed calls by the missed opportunities, missed assignments on both sides of the ball, missed calls by the officials. As head coach Jim Harbaugh said, the team has to own this loss.
For this week’s installment of Turning Point, I’m pointing to what set the tone throughout the day.
Going into Saturday’s game, MSU quarterback Rocky Lombardi was coming off a performance where he was strip-sacked and threw two interceptions against Rutgers. Instead of being conservative in their game-plan early in the day against Michigan, Lombardi opted to challenge Michigan’s corners deep down the field.
Michigan State’s first score of the game was via a Lombardi pass to Ricky White for 30 yards.
“We really didn’t expect those (deep throws). Because the game plan was to hone in on the run. But they threw some shots in there,” Michigan defensive back Dax Hill said. “So, you just have to adjust and something like that happens, we just got to keep playing on our defense. Don’t be shocked or anything, just be ready for anything.”
The adjustments weren’t enough, as Michigan’s cornerbacks were beat too often. Vincent Gray, Gemon Green, and Jalen Perry all allowed sizable gains down the field.
The first touchdown to White set the tone and gave QB and WR all the confidence they needed to continue their vertical assault. White went on to catch 8 passes for 196 yards and 1 TD. White had three receptions of over 30 yards (30, 40, and 50).
White wasn’t the only MSU target to haul in a huge catch deep. Jalen Nailor’s 53-yard grab set the Spartans up in the red zone, leading to a touchdown five plays later and putting MSU up 14-7.
If Michigan State decided to be tentative and design dunk plays, Lombardi’s day and that of MSU would likely have been a lot different. The long throws are what defined their offense against the Wolverines. They were aggressive and throwing punches throughout the day. Lombardi wasn’t trying to methodically drive down the field, he was trying to create explosive plays.
In the third quarter with over 90 yards to go for a TD and in a 2nd & 9 situation, instead of playing it safe and running the ball, Lombardi let it rip, flipped field position, and the 50-yard gain to White led to a field goal to put MSU up 17-10.
MSU took chances and they were repeatedly rewarded for doing so. There wasn’t one definitive moment in this one that turned the tide, it was the pattern of play by Michigan State’s offense and Michigan’s inability to stop the long ball that drastically influenced the outcome of this game.