Worst. Ending. Ever.
- Michigan State’s backwards-punt-fumble return for a touchdown with zero seconds left in 2015.
- Colorado’s Hail Mary touchdown victory from Kordell Stewart in 1994.
- Appalachian State’s blocked field goal in 2007.
I have not been alive forever, but those are the three worst finishes to Michigan games that I can remember. I’ll throw in an honorable mention to Spartan Bob and T.J. Duckett, but the above three are worse, in my opinion.
Hit the jump for the rest of the recap.
The Play. We all saw it, and we’ve been thinking about it non-stop since. I don’t know that there’s much I can say that hasn’t already been discussed or run through your mind. I will say that with ten seconds left in the game, I entertained the thought of having Jake Rudock take a shotgun snap and heave the ball as far downfield as he could. Catching and getting rid of the ball would take a couple seconds off the clock, and depending on the distance and trajectory of the ball, who knows? I got very nervous about a long snap and the fact that Blake O’Neill is an Australian. These are the things I mulled over in my mind as Jim Harbaugh took the timeout prior to the final play. Unfortunately, my worst fears came to fruition. Scott Sypniewski’s snap was low. O’Neill didn’t handle it well. When he lost the handle, he tried to do a Matrix-style kick of the ball rather than just holding onto it and curling up in a ball on the ground. That would have left MSU to try a field goal or run one play. None of those options are great . . . which is why I wanted Rudock to run a play. (Interestingly, MSU left Michigan’s runner – I believe it was Jehu Chesson – wide open on the left, but O’Neill either didn’t see it or didn’t have the green light to throw the ball.)
The referees really were terrible. And it went both ways. On L.J. Scott’s 11-yard touchdown run, Royce Jenkins-Stone was held egregiously – no call. It seemed like almost every play had to be reviewed, including three in a row on the goal line for Michigan. The Wolverines were finally awarded a touchdown when fullback Sione Houma’s forward progress should have been whistled dead. Joe Bolden was ejected after he was half-thrown by an MSU offensive lineman into Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook on the ground. How was Northwestern’s Matthew Harris not ejected for targeting last week for hitting Jake Rudock when Bolden got ejected this week? The referees have no idea how to interpret the rule. I thought Michigan State’s fullback Trevon Pendleton clearly scored in his 74-yard touchdown, but he was ruled down at the half-yard line. The entire game was called inexplicably.
Michigan doesn’t have the horses. The truth is that this Michigan team is overachieving a little bit. The Wolverines got to 5-1 and within a hair’s breadth of beating the #7 team in the country because they’re playing great defense as a unit. There are some outstanding athletes on defense, but there are also some overachievers. But where Michigan’s really lacking is in the offensive skill positions. All of the running backs are lacking at least one important trait. Quarterback Jake Rudock is a game manager who can’t hit a well thrown deep ball to save his life. It doesn’t help that his fastest downfield target is Jehu Chesson, who struggles to adjust to anything thrown downfield. The top wideout, Jehu Chesson, can’t get separation from defensive backs. There’s a reason that teams don’t fear Michigan’s offense, at least not until Michigan inserted defensive back Jabrill Peppers on offense, which precipitated two consecutive timeouts by Michigan State. (By the way, I thought it was against the rules for one team to take two consecutive timeouts.) When Michigan needs a play, they don’t have anyone who can make it consistently. Michigan needed an offensive play for the entire fourth quarter, and nobody could give them one. Michigan’s offensive success is almost entirely manufactured by Jim Harbaugh squeezing everything he can out of flawed talents.
Jake Rudock-to-Jehu Chesson frustration. This relationship just isn’t working out. Rudock overthrows a free-running Chesson once or twice a game. In this game, a well thrown crossing route in the middle of the fourth quarter turned into Chesson jumping awkwardly to catch a ball, which went through his hands and perhaps didn’t require him to jump at all. These are the types of things I mean when I talk about Chesson not being a natural receiver. If the ball needs to be caught outside the framework of his body, it’s a crapshoot. If you give Chesson the instincts and hands of Amara Darboh, you’ve got a potential All-American or at least All-Big Ten receiver.
I don’t care what you say: Connor Cook is good. I have heard some people trying to downplay Connor Cook as a quarterback, but he’s the best Michigan State quarterback in my memory. The guy makes good reads, gets rid of the ball quickly, and is accurate with the football. He only had a couple truly poor throws, his receivers dropped a couple, and otherwise, he was excellent. He is a difference maker that Michigan lacks. Rudock just doesn’t have the same anticipation or arm talent.
Jourdan Lewis vs. Aaron Burbridge was fun to watch. I would give Burbridge the edge in this matchup since he had 9 catches for 132 yards (and the win), but it’s only by the thinnest of margins. Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin decided to match Lewis against Burbridge wherever he went on the field, which was a great idea because Burbridge would have torched the other guys in Michigan’s secondary. If anyone else were covering him, he would have had 200 yards receiving. But Lewis managed to make 7 tackles, .5 tackles for loss, and 6 (six!) pass breakups in just this one game. (For some perspective on those 6 pass breakups, this one game alone would have tied Jourdan Lewis for #24 nationally for the entire first half of the season. As it stands, he now has 14 on the season when the national leader coming into this week had 12.) Even the majority of Burbridge’s receptions were hotly contested, with Lewis coming within a few inches of batting down the ball. Lewis is probably the best corner in the conference and one of the best in the country, but a well thrown ball from a quality QB like Connor Cook is tough to stop.
Michigan is not a contender. I said this a week or two ago, and I took some flak for saying it. The Wolverines have two losses, but even if they won this one, the flaws are too numerous. The biggest issue is a lack of offensive playmakers, as mentioned above. The elite teams have at least one guy who can make something happen, but Michigan doesn’t have that guy. The closest thing they have is a defensive back named Jabrill Peppers, who has two offensive touches in his career. The Wolverines’ offensive line still has a little way to go, too. Michigan had 33 carries for just 62 yards total, and that number only improves to 29 carries for 87 yards if you remove Rudock and O’Neill’s negative carries. Michigan really struggled with the Spartans’ defensive front, and despite a makeshift offensive line. Michigan’s defensive line and blitz packages didn’t start getting home until late in the game. According to recruiting rankings, Michigan has out-recruited Michigan State on both the offensive and defensive lines, but somehow MSU looks every bit as athletic and powerful.
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