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How Michigan’s loss to Michigan State pushed them to ‘the next level’

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Black Clouds and Silver Linings.

Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

37-33.

A final score Michigan fans nor Michigan State fans won’t soon forget.

Michigan State was 7-0 heading into the matchup and ranked No. 8, Michigan was also 7-0 and ranked at No. 6 during a gray and misty day at Spartan Stadium. ESPN’s College Gameday was on the scene, it was the highest rated game of the season at the time.

The Wolverines started hot, but their 30-14 lead turned into a 37-33 loss.

It was a game with controversial officiating, with no play standing out more than a strip-sack fumble for Michigan’s defense that was initially ruled a Michigan touchdown — the play was ultimately reviewed and overturned, with the reasoning being MSU quarterback Payton Thorne’s shin was down. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh would later say the Big Ten acknowledged the officiating crew made multiple mistakes.

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III rushed for 197 yards and 5 touchdowns — cementing his status as a Heisman front-runner at the time. The cynics and critics of Michigan Football resurfaced, not giving them a chance to beat Penn State or Ohio State in November.

The trajectory of the season changed for Michigan and Michigan State after they faced one another — Michigan State would lose the following week to Purdue 40-29, with Aidan O’Connell passing for 536 yards against the Spartans. Michigan State would lose another game in December, a demoralizing 56-7 defeat to Ohio State, a game where OSU QB C.J. Stroud threw for 6 touchdowns in the first half.

For Michigan, they cook care of business the rest of the regular season, running the table — a fact that wasn’t lost on head coach Jim Harbaugh. Before the run began, Harbaugh knew Michigan had to get into playoff mode.

“My approach, very similar to a fighter getting knocked down. You get up, referee wipes the gloves and you come back even more determined, with even more resolve,” Harbaugh said. “To prepare, to work harder, to find a way, to finish, and to win.”

Aidan Hutchinson spoke with Rich Eisen on Tuesday, telling Eisen how important the loss to Michigan State was. It made the team elevate their level of focus.

“Looking back at it, I think if we hadn’t lost that game, I don’t know if I’d be here today a Big Ten champion,” Hutchinson said. “Having a loss like that where we were up 30-14, we should’ve won the game, but we lost that game ourselves. The whole game seemed like we couldn’t get a call. We had a series of events that were so unfortunate, and we ended up taking a tough loss.”

Where Michigan currently stands, one of four programs left with a chance at a National Championship — computer algorithms such as ESPN’s Football Power Index gave Michigan just a 11.3% chance of winning the Big Ten East and a 20.5% chance of making the College Football Playoff.

Michigan was knocked down on October 30 against Michigan State, but they were never knocked out. Those black clouds in East Lansing had a silver lining.

“It was something I think motivated our guys so much and made we realized that if we lose another game, we don’t have a chance, we’re going to be out of the playoffs, we’re gonna be out of the Big Ten Championship,” Hutchinson said. “I think that was an eye-opener and kind of a reality check for our team. It was something that really pushed us to take that next level.”

Two levels remain for the Wolverines.