Monday, October 19, 2015

There Are Losses, And Then There Are Losses

TigerBlog didn't see much of the Michigan-Michigan State game Saturday.

He knew Michigan was leading late in the game, and that was it. After a little while, he realized that he hadn't checked the final score, and so he looked on his phone. That's where he learned that Michigan State had won.

Okay, teams win late all the time. So TB checked the play-by-play part of the app to see how they won and saw it was on a 38-yard fumble return. Then he saw it was on the final play of the game. Then he saw it was on a fumbled snap on a punt.

That's an incredible loss for Michigan. All the Wolverines had to do was get off a punt, and the game was over. Instead, someone nobody ever pays attention to, Michigan punter Blake O'Neill, dropped the snap and was swarmed a second later by the Spartans.

In that second between dropping the snap and getting swarmed, O'Neill may have tried to pick it up and punt it or something. Whatever it was, he never got the chance.

As insane, ridiculous, heartbreaking losses go, this one was up there with any of them on so many levels.

To have a really all-time heartbreak, there has to be an element of the impossible. It has to be something that absolutely nobody saw coming. The team that ends up winning has to be completely dejected right before the moment.

It can't just be a Hail Mary at the end. That happens all the time. No, it has to be something so routine like a punt.

If O'Neill got it off, then that's the game. Michigan State had nobody back, so time probably would have expired before the ball rolled dead.

Of course, because MSU sent 11 after the punt, it was no longer a routine play. Since it was a 4th-and-2 at the State 47, maybe Michigan should have gone for it. A first down and that's that. A failed play on fourth down leaves time only for a Hail Mary.

TigerBlog wondered about how the two schools played the story on their respective websites.

Michigan's first sentence of its game story was this:
The University of Michigan football team (No. 12 AP, No. 14 Coaches) saw a late lead slip away in the final seconds, falling to rival Michigan State in heartbreaking fashion, 27-23, on Saturday (Oct. 17) inside Michigan Stadium.

On Michigan State's website, you got this:
When Jalen Watts-Jackson, a back-up red-shirt freshman Spartan defensive back used primarily on special teams, scooped up U-M punter Blake O'Neill's fumble and returned it 38 yards for the game-winning touchdown as time expired, he did more than send all 112,000 partisan and non-partisan witnesses alike at Michigan Stadium into a unified state of jaw-unhinging shock. Jalen-Watts shined a light on the program's fundamental underpinnings that Dantonio put in place on day one. Sayings such as "luck is the residue of design" and "the harder I work the luckier I get" rang true. And a belief system that repeatedly carried the Spartans through dark moments to dramatic regular- and postseason wins over the years proved its worth once again. 

The main actors in the final drama had some pains to deal with when it was over. Watts-Jackson needed hip surgery for an injury on the play, or after it, if he was hurt in the celebration.

As for O'Neill, TigerBlog has no idea if he spoke or not. He didn't see any quotes from him. He did see that Michigan AD Jim Hackett had to put out a statement yesterday asking for fans to stop posting "hurtful, spiteful and vicious comments" on social media. TigerBlog saw some awful ones about O'Neill.

Princeton's 38-31 loss to Brown Saturday wasn't quite as stunning or soul-crushing as Michigan's was to Michigan State. It still was a big one for the Tigers as the Ivy League season reaches its midway point.

TigerBlog wasn't at Brown Stadium Saturday. He can say that the game was one of the best announced he's heard in awhile, especially color commentator Jack Ford, who was awesome on the American Sports Network. Often a big name like Ford is there simply for the name, but he was incredibly well-prepared and informative.

And, once again, Princeton played a game that had a final score it had never had before. As amazing as it sounds, at least to TigerBlog, Princeton had never had a 38-31 game before.

Anyway, as for the game, Princeton fell behind 7-0 when Brown ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, and it grew to 21-7 at one point. The Tigers had a chance, tying it at 24-24 and 31-31 with a possession with three minutes left, but an interception set up the winning Brown drive.

Princeton has done a remarkable job covering up for the injured players week after week. As TB said last week, it's largely due to the depth Princeton has and the way Princeton opts to play so many different players week after week.

At some point, though, it's too much to overcome. Maybe it's more impressive that Princeton was 4-0, rather than disappointing that the team lost to Brown.

In the meantime, there is the remarkable John Lovett, who is quickly becoming as remarkable as Quinn Epperly was. Lovett is sixth in the FCS in points per game, with eight touchdowns in five games.

Of course, seven of those have come in the last two weeks. That, too, is remarkable. Included in that total was a great touchdown reception on a perfectly thrown pass by Kedric Bostic, who has merely completed all four of his passes this year. He, too, is remarkable.

How about these numbers for the year for Lovett, who is technically a quarterback:
* 32 carries, 184 yards, 5.8 yards per carry, team-best seven rushing touchdowns
* team-best 17 receptions for a team-best 232 yards
* 10 for 14 passing for 92 yards and two touchdowns

Is there another player in Division I who matches up? Is there another team that's ever played football whose leading receiver is the No. 2 quarterback and fourth-leading receiver is the No. 3 quarterback (Bostic)?

Anyway, Princeton has Harvard next. Should the Tigers win out, they'll be assured of at least a tie for the Ivy championship. Of course, Harvard and Dartmouth are unbeaten and looking good, but hey, there's a long way to go, half a season to be exact.

For now, Princeton can't worry about the injuries or the game that just got away or the last four weeks of the season beyond the next game.

All it can focus on is the upcoming task, at Harvard Saturday.

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