Michigan’s going to do bad things to Michigan State on Saturday.
The Spartans, losers of five games in a row, are most certainly a bad team. UM is more than a three-touchdown favorite and should be able to win by approximately as many points as Jim Harbaugh desires.
Things are good in Ann Arbor. Now, let’s talk about when they were bad.
The date was Oct. 17, 2015.
When Saturday rolls around, it’ll have been 378 days ago. You already know what happened, but a brief refresher: Michigan had just about put away Michigan State. The Wolverines had a nine-point fourth-quarter lead, and even after Michigan State cut that to two, the Wolverines just had to run out the last few ticks of the clock by punting a ball high and out of bounds. They were about to move to 6-1.
That’s not how the cookie crumbled.
The snap was low. Michigan punter Blake O’Neill dropped it, scooped it, and tried to punt it. He failed. The ball bounced to MSU’s Jalen Watts-Jackson, who raced into the end zone for an outcome-flipping touchdown as time expired. Final: 27-23, Spartans.
In the moment, this was all a blur. But remember everything that surrounded it?
1. Michigan fans were the highest degree of devastated. A sampling:
Ohio State put that kid on its video board, by the way.
She’s seen some things, man. She’s seen some stuff.
Michigan fans thought they’d win. Here was the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, a UM alum, shortly before the carnage began:
And after the fact:
That did not just happen.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) October 17, 2015
One fan had a heart attack. (The fan was OK.)
2. Fans weren’t the only people who couldn’t believe what had happened.
Here’s Michigan State’s radio call, the happy one:
And here’s Michigan’s, the sad one:
Mark Dantonio wondered where all the Wolverines had gone.
Former MSU running back Le’Veon Bell channeled King Leonidas.
3. People very much thought the game was already over.
Even Michigan State. The Spartans had already given Michigan the Paul Bunyan Trophy, which the teams play for annually.
(They did get it back.)
That makes sense, though. MSU’s chances of winning the game right before actually winning it were basically a rounding error, according to an ESPN projection system.
In graph form, Michigan State’s chances under another model:
One TV station had even started reporting on Michigan’s loss.
4. The plot thickened in the days following the game.
Some Michigan “fans” harassed O’Neill, the Michigan punter, on social media. Michigan’s interim athletic director felt compelled to tell them to buzz off in an open letter. (Previously in the game, O’Neill had launched an 80-yard punt, one of the most gorgeous Big Ten special teams moments of the year. And the last-play flub wasn’t really his fault.)
It came out that Watts-Jackson, the Spartans’ hero on the winning play, got badly injured and needed season-ending surgery. But he had no regrets, saying he’d “do it again for my brothers.”
President Obama consoled Harbaugh.
Obama told Harbaugh it “was a tough way to lose a football game,” the coach said. The pair also talked about mutual friends. “(Obama) told the fellas to keep their chin up and him and Michelle were watching the game and likes the way our team played and told our guys to keep it going.”
We commissioned a poll to name the play, and the reading public decided it should be called “Fail to the Victors.” Runners-up included “The Gift Six,” “The Jackson 6,” and “Watts Just Happened.” All of these were fine.
5. Does Harbaugh wanna talk about it yet?
Not really. From the week before 2016’s game:
Do you turn the page to Michigan State any quicker given the way that one hurt a little bit more last year?
Do you turn the page to Michigan State quicker--
“Yeah, no question about it. Big game. Championship game for our team, and we’re gonna enjoy. We celebrate all wins, but we’ll very quickly be focusing in on our next opponent.”
Jim, it’s about a year a week ago since that 10 seconds in the Big House here. Does that play still sometimes pop up, or have you tried to just shut that down. Does it just randomly come up at times?
“As I said, this will be a huge game for us. It’ll be a championship game and it’ll be a big game for our team. Gonna enjoy this one, though. We’ll give ourselves that. Celebrate all wins, then quickly move our focus to next week.”
The way that this team’s executed, to use your words, Jim, was very apparent out there. It’s been apparent all fall. A team would be forgiven given what’s happened in East Lansing and against them in recent years for wanting not only to beat them next week but perhaps to put a severe beating on them.
No, I realize coaches have to laugh at that, but really, given the way that your team is progressing, the problems they’re having up there, and also considering the emotions and the history, that would be something that would be expected. Is that anything that’s in your mind?
“We’re gonna prepare for a big game. We’re gonna prepare for a championship game. That’ll be our mindset.”
“You always have a chance,” Dantonio said this week when asked about the lesson of 2015.
Sorry about this post, Wolverines fans.
You’ll be able to forget about it with some discounted steak after your team wins by a million points on Saturday.