Michigan football: Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines essentially beat themselves vs. MSU
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t make any excuses following his No. 13 Wolverines’ 27-24 home loss to in-state rival Michigan State.
He said his team had to “own the loss,” congratulating the Spartans on a well-played and well-coached game Saturday in Ann Arbor.
However, there is a twist to the story.
Three-touchdown favorites, Michigan didn’t do itself any favors against a team that just lost 38-27 to Rutgers in Week 1 of the Big Ten season. Penalty after penalty, miscue after miscue — it was an effort plagued by mental mistakes.
And it didn’t have to be that way, considering that the Wolverines lost by just 3 points.
During the first half, Michigan had 6 penalties for 60 yards, finishing the day with 10 infractions for 86 yards. Defensive back Vincent Gray made a costly error with his pass-interference on Spartans WR Jalen Nailor during the first half, one of the most glaring uh-oh moments for the Wolverines on Saturday that ended up giving the Spartans 15 yards on top of an already 53-yard completion.
Michigan was sloppy and unorganized.
Again, it didn’t have to be that way.
But it was.
Michigan must clean up those errors and play cleaner football if it hopes to contend for a conference title. Harbaugh’s team essentially shot itself in the foot at The Big House during a crucial rivalry game.
“Penalties… if you look at the statistics — definitely,” Harbaugh said during a postgame Zoom conference. “There was quite a difference in the penalties,” he continued, referencing his team’s 10-for-86 yards compared to MSU’s 5-for-65. “(Penalties) played a big factor.”
Infractions are bound to happen. A penalty could be called — in some form or fashion — on just about every play, especially during a heated rivalry bout. Typically disciplined, Michigan just couldn’t get out of its own way as the Spartans pulled off a shocking victory over a team that just pummeled Minnesota to the tune of 49-24 one week ago.
“We have been emphasizing it — we’ve been emphasizing it a lot,” Harbaugh said of his desire to avoid costly mistakes. “The PI’s, we had some defensive holdings, offensive holding, an off-sides. They called a delay-of-game on our defense — that was an usual call. We definitely have to play smart, penalty-free football. We didn’t have the personal fouls… but there were too many penalties that resulted in helping to extend their drives, for sure.”
On the flip side, the Wolverines found themselves in several 3rd-and-long situations, unable to move the sticks and continue moving forward against a defense that looked wildly unprepared against the Scarlet Knights.
One week ago, Michigan delivered knock-out blows against the Gophers by way of a 70-yard touchdown run by RB Zach Charbonnet, a 66-yard run by RB Hassan Haskins and a 66-yard kick return by viper Michael Barrett. Barrett also got after Gophers QB Tanner Morgan, who coughed-up the ball right into the hands of DT Donovan Jeter, who scored a 15-yard TD.
Michigan lacked “havoc plays” against MSU, per Harbaugh.
Saturday, Michigan got a dose of its own big-play medicine, allowing the Spartans to dominate through the air at will and come up with timely carries. Despite completing just 17 of 32 attempts, MSU QB Rocky Lombardi made the critical throws when they counted most, hitting WR Ricky White for a 30-yard TD, a 50-yard momentum-shifting connection and another 19-yarder that all but deflated the Wolverines secondary.
White — who caught 8 of 10 intended passes — finished with 8 catches for 196 yards and a TD.
On top of that, MSU RB Jordon Simmons rattled off a 28-yard run that seemingly pushed Michigan on its heels in the 1st quarter.
It wasn’t a penalty, but it was certainly a self-inflicted wound: The Wolverines’ botched Wildcat experiment with RB Hassan Haskins, who sat in for QB Joe Milton during two goal-line attempts, was just an ill-timed attempt to catch the Spartans off-guard.
Figure in the dropped balls by TE Erick All and the fact that Milton connected with WR Ronnie Bell just 4 of 9 times, and it was a recipe for disappointment and disaster for a team that was dubbed a legitimate B1G contender after smashing Minnesota.
Michigan was out-of-rhythm Saturday. There is no other way to explain or describe its 27-24 loss. Costly penalties and the inability to extend drives took away any chance of a third consecutive win over MSU.
No big plays. No wow factor.
It was a mess that needs to be swept under the rug.
“That was definitely part of the issue,” Harbaugh said. “Not converting on 3rd downs, getting into the new set of downs and being able to keep those drives going and turning them into scoring drives.”