EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan was pleased with the outcome, but not with the process.
The response following Saturday’s 32-23 win at Michigan State was, in a word, mixed.
On one hand, the No. 2 Wolverines (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten Conference) were all smiles after beating the Spartans — who bumbled their way to their sixth straight loss this season — for the first time since 2012.
On the other hand, Michigan couldn’t help but to dwell on the play of its defense in the fourth quarter. Or lack thereof. In the final 15 minutes, Michigan State outgained Michigan 231-41, including 150 passing yards, and outscored the Wolverines 13-5. Michigan also took three penalties for 40 yards, including a pair of penalties on Michigan State’s final scoring drive: a personal foul call against Chris Wormley on first and 10 at the 40, and a pass interference call against Lewis on second and 10 at the Michigan 15.
After Michigan State scored a touchdown that cut Michigan’s lead to 30-23 with 1 second left in regulation, the Spartans lined up for a 2-point conversion. This time, however, the Wolverines got the fortuitous bounce to end the game a uniquely high note.
Michigan State quarterback Tyler O’Connor fumbled and Jabrill Peppers picked up the ball and ran it to the opposite end zone his own 2-point conversion that allowed Michigan and its fans to exhale.
But again, those mixed words.
After hugging the Paul Bunyan Trophy in the locker room, Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis was very particular about voicing his frustrations.
“The second half, we just didn’t go out and play,” said Lewis, whose team gave up a season-high 401 yards of offense. “They played a tough game the whole way. They were trying to beat us. They tried to give it their all, the whole game. We just didn’t come out as intense as we did.”
Michigan allowed Michigan State (2-6, 0-5) to creep back into a game where the Wolverines entered as the heavy favorite — a 25-point favorite within an hour of kickoff. Eighteen seconds into the fourth quarter, Michigan was making that number look good, up 30-10.
And while it was a boon that Michigan rallied from an early 7-0 deficit, Lewis was displeased that his team allowed the Spartans to become a factor again in this game.
Others didn’t necessarily feel the same, instead focusing on the fact that Paul Bunyan was heading back to Ann Arbor for the first time in four years. They disregarded the fact that Michigan State could have made this a different game.
But was the game actually as close as the score showed? Ask a few of Michigan’s players, and it felt like it was closer.
“(The Spartans) played a great game,” Lewis said. “They definitely did. They were supposed to be in it. Our lack of intensity, our lack of focus, it just showed on the field. I’m pretty sure it will show on film. We could have played a way better game than this.”
Instead of a win against Michigan State being solely a cause for celebration, it now becomes a building block for the Wolverines entering the regular season’s final month. Michigan hosts Maryland at 3:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 5, then plays a night game Nov. 12 at Iowa and hosts Indiana on Nov. 19 before the hotly anticipated regular-season finale Nov. 26 at Ohio State.
“We definitely can’t go into Iowa playing like that. Or Maryland playing like that,” Peppers said. “We have some tough guys and tough teams coming down the road (Maryland coach DJ) Durkin is going to have his guys ready to play, too. We’re going to get their best game, as well.
“We needed this as a wake-up call. Nothing too major, but hey, come on, let’s go.”
Now is the time for some self-evaluation, after Michigan’s second-closest margin of victory in an otherwise near-dominant season.
“I was excited we got the win, you know, having one against Sparty, but there’s a lot of things we need to clean up,” Lewis said. “We saw that during the game and we saw that we didn’t play our best game during the fourth quarter. That was kind of disappointing. It kind of took away from our celebration because I want to dominate. And we didn’t.”