Sunday, October 08, 2017

11 O'Clock Tick Tock

It shouldn't have even been this close, and yet, here we are.  AP Photo/Tony Ding | Photo Credit: AP
There will be no looped highlight from this one to torment Michigan fans in the future.  There will be vague uneasiness as we remember the sheets of rain, the five turnovers, the picks on three consecutive second-half drives, and mostly just that notion a game that statistically Michigan should have had no business being in, Michigan was still in because it has a nigh-unstoppable defense and a couple of Michigan State errors (a holding penalty that stopped the clock, a wholly unnecessary late hit out of bounds penalty) gave Michigan one last chance to win.  Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit were almost openly rooting for a karmic reversal of 2015's conclusion, a last-second heave by O'Korn from 37 yards out that would add another chaotic chapter to the rivalry.

But it was not to be.  Michigan had no one to blame for their struggles but themselves.  Michigan State came in with a game plan, executed the game plan, and did enough to win.  That is Dantonio's MO when it comes to Michigan and he and his staff should be credited for it.  Michigan came off an open date, and looked like they were going to put things well in hand on the first drive, until it stalled in the red zone and settled for a field goal.  But hey, no problem, there would be plenty more chances.  All Michigan had to do was not turn the ball over...well, not turn the ball over repeatedly...Well, let's just be astonished by the fact that Michigan State only scored 7 points off 5 Michigan turnovers.  Ty Isaac's fumble killed Michigan's momentum and put the Spartans in a mindset that they could win this game, and once in that mode, they never looked back.  Simultaneously, Michigan's offensive line continued to struggle, with O'Korn's escapability being one of the few reasons why Michigan State wasn't racking up a double-digit sack total.  Michigan State then used the defense's willingness to be aggressive against it with a brilliant play call and another ill-timed fumble trying to extend a play and Michigan was down 14-3 going into halftime.

The hope held by Michigan fans, I presume, by and large, was that, like the Purdue game, there would be adjustments at halftime, the defense would clamp down, and Michigan would find a way to get a couple of scores and that would be enough.  Except for the massive squall line bearing down on Ann Arbor, slated to arrive at 10 PM and putting a swirling rainstorm into the Big House.  Though Michigan used the field position game to close the gap to 14-10.  Though the defense was its usual stalwart self, O'Korn's poor decisions (and the inexplicable playcalling in buckets of rain) ended three straight Michigan drives before they could get going.  That was all there was, and Harbaugh drops to 1-4 against MSU/OSU.

The gnawing feeling I cannot escape at the moment is that Harbaugh may be one of the best coaches in the nation, and it still may not be enough.  That the defense may be otherworldly, but the sub-sub-par execution of this current offense will stymie any progress Michigan wishes to make.  That for all of our hopes that things would be better, there's still a lot to fix.  That the single-mindedness of Michigan State towards beating Michigan works well for them and must be met.  Many of us strongly suspected that something like this would happen, and sadly, it happened against Michigan State, the second straight ABC night game where Michigan's offense let the defense down, and no solution seems to be in sight.  There's still time to find a way forward on offense, but that time is running out.  Beyond that, there are no grandiose takeaways from this game, just a sad sensation we've become all too familiar with in the last decade.

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