Immediate thoughts on another "close but no cigar" loss.
1) Close but no cigar. Again.
For the third loss in a row, you can point to any number of plays that could have been the difference. The missed FG. Getting stopped at the goal line late and settling for the FG. (I think it was the right call at that point - get the lead and put your faith in the defense to make it hold up - but as with the FG that was missed, going for it isn't indefensible either.) Dropped long balls that could have gone for touchdowns or at the very least set up another FG attempt or two. The spot on the Michigan third down at the end - was his knee down or on top of another player? Hard to tell with the angles that we saw. The incomplete pass that stopped the clock and gave Michigan an extra timeout to work with when we were trying to grind clock after forcing the punt. Any one of those could have swung the game.
Dantonio's teams here seem to have a trend of either winning every close game or losing every close game within a season. After two years in a row of being on the right side of that, getting the other end of the stick sucks.
2) For one possession, the offense showed up.
Trick plays, screens, end-arounds ... I realize you can't run those every play or even every possession, but where has that been the last few weeks? Saving it up to surprise Michigan is a waste if you sacrifice two games to hide them (even more so if you then fail to beat Michigan with those surprises).
After that, it was back to three and out, interception on a badly overthrown pass, a good drive sparked by a fake punt that still stalled out short of the end zone, and another three and out without even forcing Michigan to burn both timeouts. Three drives exceeding 22 yards for the game isn't enough.
Le'Veon Bell couldn't get going, as Michigan was clearly keying on him all day and daring Andrew Maxwell to beat them. Maxwell had one really terrible throw (the interception to Jordan Kovacs) but for the most part was serviceable - 21/34, 192 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, and at least two long drops.
3) The defense held up strong when they needed to ... except the very last time.
I'm never going to blame the defense for a loss in which the opponent doesn't score a touchdown, but it's frustrating when, for the third game in the last four, the offense finally does get a lead and the defense can't make it hold up. The defense did a reasonable job of shutting down Denard Robinson on the ground, although he did break one 40-yarder, but the occasional big play to get into FG range was enough when our offense consistently failed to achieve even that.
4) Special teams was big in both directions.
The fake punt was perfectly timed and executed, Bell's opening kickoff return got us good field position right away (but it was squandered) ... but Dan Conroy picked a bad day to go back to "one miss a game". Compared to a lot of kickers around the NCAA, Conroy's still reasonably good - yes, six is a lot of missed field goals, but he's also attempted a larger number than most since our offense has such difficulty finding the end zone (tied for third nationally in made FGs and 40th in percentage coming into the day). But the misses all seem to be coming at the worst possible times.
5) A bowl game is seriously in question at this point.
Wisconsin seems a likely loss, if their recent resurgence is more than just a function of playing the bottom of the Big Ten (Purdue, Illinois, and Minnesota), though the defense will certainly keep us in the game. That means we need two out of three from Nebraska, Northwestern, and at Minnesota. Thanks to home field (and Minnesota being the weakest of the bunch), we're probably going to be slight favorites in all three - but we haven't handled close games well for much of the year, and our offense doesn't seem to be capable of making it not a close game. Getting two out of four is probably not better than a 60% chance right now. (If every game was an exact toss-up, it would be just under 70%.)