Opinion: What's left after a tough overtime loss in East Lansing? Plenty of questions for the Michigan football team
EAST LANSING - This was bound to happen some time for Michigan, with the way the Wolverines continually forced themselves into last-second comebacks, flirting with the brink of losses only to pull out victories.
On the road, in a place filled with Michigan hate, another fourth-quarter fantastic finish, like the come-from-behind wins over Notre Dame and Indiana, showed up. Only this time, the comeback fell short.
Considering the way Michigan played Saturday, it should feel lucky to be in the game in the first place. The running game - a facet that entered the game as the Big Ten’s best and one of the tops in the country - stunk.
Michigan had minus-3 yards rushing in the first half and barely inched into positive yards for the game. The passing game looked inept.
The defense made Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, not perceived as a dual-threat quarterback, into a pretty decent example of one.
Everywhere Michigan looked inside Spartan Stadium, it was outplayed. Offense. Defense. Special teams. Coaching.
And yet because Michigan State couldn’t completely capitalize, there was another chance for freshman quarterback Tate Forcier to carry Michigan to victory.
He led Michigan (4-1) to a game-tying touchdown with two seconds left, a pass to little-used receiver Roy Roundtree that tied the game at 20-20 and for a moment, silenced the rabid Michigan State fans.
But as Forcier scored, the rain - which magically showed up as Michigan started its final drive - disappeared.
And with it went the Michigan magic as an interception from Forcier on a route he said was a miscommunication with his receiver, Martavious Odoms. He sat on the field after, needing help up from his offensive linemen.
“That was something I told myself I wasn’t going to do, make a freshman mistake, and I did,” Forcier said.
He shouldn’t take all the blame as Michigan, at that point, had exhausted its chances.
Fittingly, it ended with missed tackles that allowed Michigan State running back Larry Caper to cross into the end zone and send Michigan State (2-3) into hysteria.
The players, coaches and anyone in green or white on the sideline stormed the field. The Spartans had beaten its in-state rival twice in a row for the first time in 42 years.
Rodriguez also is left waiting for answers to questions.
There’s the defense, where the game plan, again, looked the same as the previous two weeks. Cornerbacks, again, weren’t pressing receivers. The middle of the field, again, was susceptible to dink-and-dunk plays.
And while Michigan can survive that to beat Mid American Conference teams and scrape by against Indiana, the rest of the Big Ten is going to exploit it all year long. The run defense was better, but no one accounted for the quarterback on most plays and any misdirection sent Michigan into miscommunication.
Third downs killed the Michigan defense, where defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said “the scrambling hurt us.” Except Michigan never seemed to adjust to it as Cousins had a 41-yard scamper in the fourth quarter.
The offense didn’t help much, either. The 28 yards of rushing was the worst under Rodriguez at Michigan, besting the 36 yards Michigan gained during Rodriguez’ opener last year against Utah.
"We couldn't get any spark going offensively - it was disappointing,” Rodriguez said. “As coaches, we have to figure out how we can jump start our guys when you get in a game like this when you're not on the field very much."
Special teams joined in the ineptness after a failed fake punt call on a fourth-and-one play led to a Michigan State field goal. And the kick return team, which had been pretty good so far this season, didn’t manage much.
And there's also the question as to why Michigan seems to wait until the fourth quarter to start looking like a winning football team. Is that conditioning? Is it urgency? Why isn't it there from the game's outset?
All in all, it added up to a loss and the biggest question of all - with a road game at undefeated Iowa in seven days, was this merely a blip in the season or a sign of things to come?