Big House Blues
No. 23 Michigan defeats MSU 12-10 in Ann Arbor, snaps four-game Spartan winning streak
Ann Arbor, Mich. — They had their chance.
Just like they did against Iowa, and just like they did against Ohio State.
The Spartans’ defense stood on the field in the game’s final minutes needing a stop. But, for one reason or another, the clutch plays synonymous with MSU football during the past two seasons just haven’t been made.
The No. 23 Michigan football team (5-2 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) used a 20-yard completion from senior quarterback Denard Robinson to junior receiver Drew Dileo to set up a game-winning 38-yard field goal by junior kicker Brendan Gibbons to stun the Spartans (4-4, 1-3) 12-10 in Ann Arbor.
It’s the first time U-M has won a football game without scoring a touchdown since a 5-0 victory over Purdue in 1995.
MSU has lost all three conference games by a combined six points, and in two of the three losses, including Saturday’s loss to U-M, a missed field goal by senior kicker Dan Conroy could have changed the outcome of the game.
Conroy now has missed six field goals this season, and MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said this is simply one of the seasons where his team is forced to deal with a couple bad breaks.
“Well it’s tough,” Dantonio said.
“You feel bad because you know that you are very, very close to having three wins, but it is what it is, and sometimes you have to look at that and deal with it. This is one of the years that we have to do that.”
The loss snaps a four-game winning streak over U-M, giving every Spartan their first loss against their archrival — something junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell said is tough for everyone to deal with.
“It is so personal for myself and for Max (Bullough), for everybody on this team, and for Spartan fans everywhere,” Maxwell said. “It is heartbreaking. But we will respond, we will respond, we always do.”
Maxwell finished the game completing 21-of-34 passes for 192 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and junior running back Le’Veon Bell was limited to his second lowest output of the season, rushing for 68 yards on 26 carries.
For the sixth time in eight games, the Spartans headed to halftime trailing, after two field goals, a 24-yarder from Gibbons and a 48-yarder by sophomore Matt Wile, gave the Wolverines a 6-0 lead.
MSU attempted to respond to the first field goal on its subsequent drive, but a nine play 54-yard drive — set up by a 45-yard completion to junior receiver Bennie Fowler — didn’t end in points after Conroy couldn’t connect on a 38-yard field goal.
The tide began to turn as soon as the Spartans came out of the locker room, using their first drive of the second half to go 80 yards on 10 plays for a go-ahead touchdown, as Maxwell found redshirt freshman tight end Paul Lang on a two-yard completion in the back of the end zone.
But the Wolverines came roaring back, using a 25-yard interception return by senior safety Jordan Kovacs to regain possession and get U-M in range for another Gibbons field goal, this time from 21-yards out, to regain the lead.
After MSU’s opening drive of the fourth quarter stalled at the Spartans’ 23-yard line, head coach Mark Dantonio gambled on a fake punt, and sophomore punter Mike Sadler made it work, running 26 yards to give MSU a first down near midfield.
But the 18 play, 90-yard drive was unable to go the distance, as MSU was forced to settle for a go-ahead field goal one yard shy of the end zone, a play that Dantonio said was a turning point in the game.
After both teams exchanged ineffective drives, the Wolverines got the ball back at their own 38-yard line with two minutes to go and the chance to snap the Spartans longest winning streak in the history of the rivalry.
With 18 seconds remaining, Robinson found Dileo at the MSU 21-yard line, setting up Gibbons’ game-winning heroics.
As bleak as things might seem following a last minute rivalry loss and four losses in the past six games, Dantonio said it’s incumbent on his team to find its strength through the harshness of adversity.
“We just have to play through it and in the end, this needs to make us stronger,” he said.
“I truly believe that. When you go through things like this it does make you stronger and builds character. You don’t like it at the time, but it does. I think it also reinforces the inches that we talk about and the little things, the differences between winning and losing. That hinges on some of the smallest things.”