ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Two days after it staved off its intrastate rival, Michigan reiterates this: The Wolverines are nowhere near hitting a panic button. Instead, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Michigan’s 32-23 win Saturday at Michigan State will offer teaching moments for his team as it prepares for the final month of the regular season.
“It was good that our defense was tested,” Harbaugh said Monday. “There’s things that we can improve, and I’d say that for all the players, us coaches, it was a good opportunity for us to make further improvements.”
Still, an undermanned Michigan State team that had less than 150 yards of offense in the first half and used three quarterbacks somehow made the game competitive down to the final seconds. The postgame frustration of one of Michigan’s marquee players was palpable.
“The second half, we just didn’t go out and play,” Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis said after the win in East Lansing, Mich. “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 the second and third quarter.”
Two days later, Harbaugh insisted that everything is fine for the No. 2 Wolverines (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten Conference).
Well, almost everything.
“We have some things that we can address and coach. I thought we got a little tired up front,” Harbaugh said. “I’m going to address that, and some other things. Not for public consumption, but throughout the team it was good for our defense to be tested. It was good for our offense and our kicking team to be tested. And you get excited about the fact that you win the game and also have things there that you can improve.”
Michigan has work that needs to be done in preparation for Maryland (5-3, 2-3) in the days after what could have turned into a near meltdown.
After glossing over the fact Monday that, yes, Michigan allowed Michigan State to cut a 30-10 deficit, Michigan’s players acknowledged the importance of what they call “little details”: minimizing penalties; following through on blocks and assignments; protecting the football.
“Little things and technique can always be the difference between you winning your one-on-one matchup and you losing it,” fullback Henry Poggi said.
Saturday at Michigan State, the Wolverines committed just one turnover — Darian Hicks’ third-quarter interception of Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight — but took five penalties for 62 yards and missed tackles that allowed Michigan State to move down the field at key times, including its opening scoring drive.
On its final possession, Michigan couldn’t get a first down that would have run out the clock.
“That drive where we couldn’t get that one first down at the end of the game, we’re definitely bummed about that,” Poggi said. “You’d like to see your team impose your will on the other team and get that first down on three run plays.”
On Michigan State’s final drive, Michigan took two penalties for 25 yards that help set up Donnie Corley’s 9-yard touchdown catch, which cut Michigan’s lead to 30-23 with 1 second left in regulation.
“There’s a lot of stuff from every player’s perspective that I think we could have done a lot better,” Poggi said. “From the standpoint as a football player and as a competitor, you always want to have a perfect game. You’re going to be disappointed in a few plays, but I wouldn’t say at all that we’re upset about a win. A win’s a win, so … ”
Michigan State reminded Michigan of what it will take not to break down.
“A lot of little things,” Poggi said. “Fine details. We’ll look at it on the film today and we’ll really hash it out.”
Shore up the little things individually and as a unit and the big things will follow.
“We have a team that’s full of always wanting to get better,” Michigan running back Karan Higdon said. “We look at the critiques of the game. That’s what we’ve got to do if we want to be a national championship contender.”