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Parallel Universe College Football: Week Six

Based on the original schedule, it should be “Michigan Week.” Did Coach Tucker earn a win over the Wolverines in his first try?

Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

In the parallel universe, we have reached Week Six of the original schedule. In our universe, Big Ten football is still ramping up, but elsewhere in the multiverse, the season is in full swing. This is a big week in the parallel universe in the Great Lakes State. For MSU fans, it’s Michigan Week. But, before we get into what happened in East Lansing this week, let’s take a quick look first at how the season is shaking out so far.

Season Review

The Coach Tucker era in East Lansing got off to a strong start, as the Spartans finished September with a 3-1 record and a win over a ranked Miami team. But, MSU’s road trip to Iowa City last week did not go well and the record now stands at 3-2. Elsewhere in Big Ten play, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Illinois are all off to undefeated starts and Penn State is close behind at 4-1. Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines sit at 2-3 and on a three-game losing streak.

In other national news, Clemson, Florida State, and Virginia Tech are all off to undefeated starts in the ACC, as are Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa Sate, and Kansas State in the Big 12. In the Pac-12, Arizona State and UCLA are undefeated, but one-loss Oregon still looks to be league favorite, despite a Week Two drubbing at the hands of the Buckeyes.

In the SEC, Alabama, LSU, and Auburn are all undefeated in the East, while there is currently a five-way tie for first place in the East involving teams that each have at least one loss. In the Group of Five, Air Force and Cincinnati are emerging as the favorites to play in a New Year’s Six Bowl game.

Michigan at MSU (-4)

As mentioned above, both Michigan Big Ten schools were coming off a tough Week Five, but a date with an intrastate rival seemed to be just what each team needed to regain some focus. The mood in East Lansing was serious and business-like. Coach Tucker talked about “tightening the screws.”

In Ann Arbor, Coach Harbaugh seemed to be saying all the right things in the mid-week press conference, but rumors were rampant all week that the pointed to clear cracks in the façade. Multiple sources hinted at shoving matches between players during a midweek Wolverine practice. Detroit area sports radio topics including segments entitled, “Is this the beginning of the end for Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor?” and “Who would be the best fit as Michigan’s next head football coach?”

As the 3:30 p.m. Eastern kickoff approached, it was a near perfect day in East Lansing. The temperature hovered around 70 degrees under partially sunny skies. The trees lining the Red Cedar River were stunning shades of red, orange, and yellow.

The hometown Spartans won the coin toss and opted to take the ball first. But, the gambit did not pay off. Rocky Lombardi managed to drive the Spartans just into the Wolverine territory, but Elijah Collins came up just short on a third down running play. Coach Tucker decided to play the field position game and punted the ball back to the Wolverines.

The Wolverines started with a trick play on first-and-10, and picked up 20 yards on the first play from scrimmage. But, the next two plays were not nearly as effective. It started with a one-yard loss on a more traditional run play. Next came the first pass of the day from Wolverine quarterback Joe Milton. He missed badly on a slant pattern over the middle and the throw was picked off by Spartan safety Xavier Henderson. MSU took over possession at the Wolverine 35-yard-line.

The Spartan offense went to work and in two plays were in the red zone. But, a 15-yard chop block penalty backed the Spartans up to the 31-yard-line. At this point, Coach Tucker dialed up his own trick play: a well-blocked reserve where the ball wound up in the hands of Jalen Nailor. It looked at first as if Speedy had scored, but after a lengthy review, video confirmed that Nailor’s shoe brushed the sideline at the eight-yard line. Fortunately, Collins was able to punch the ball into the end zone two plays later to give the Spartans an early 7-0 lead.

Michigan seemed to settle down a bit on their next possession. The Wolverines drove to midfield, but a holding penalty backed the maize-and-blue up and eventually forced a punt on fourth-and-15. The Spartans got the ball back inside the 20-yard-line. Then, some pushing and shoving after the whistle resulted in another 15-yard penalty for the Spartans, which created a second-and-long situation from inside of the 10-yard-line. MSU was also forced to punt and a good return by the Wolverines gave Michigan the ball at the Spartan 39-yard -line.

Michigan was able to advance a bit further, but a few more off-target passes from Milton resulted in fourth down at the MSU 28-yard-line. The Wolverines attempted a 45-yard field goal, but the ball sailed just right of the upright, and the score remained 7-0.

MSU got the ball back, but could not capture the momentum. After a three-and-out, the ball was once again in the hands of the maize-and-blue as the first quarter came to an end. This time, Michigan drove the ball 66 yards in eight plays, including a back-to-back 24-yard run play and 19-yard pass play. Finally, Milton connected on a five-yard touchdown pass to Ronnie Bell to even the score at seven all.

The Spartans’ next drive got off to a better start, but the drive again stalled near midfield and the Spartans were forced to punt the ball back to the Wolverines. But, the battle of field position worked out, as a few plays later, the ball was back in the hands of the Spartans, once again near midfield.

At this point, with time beginning to wind down in the second quarter, Rocky Lombardi and the Spartans drove the ball all the way down to the Wolverines three-yard-line. On first-and-goal, MSU tried and failed on a fade pattern to Tre Mosley. On second down, the Spartans attempted to run the ball off tackle, but were stopped a yard short. On third down, a play action pass to Matt Dotson over the middle was dropped for an incompletion.

Coach Mel Tucker called a timeout to consider his options. He decided to send in the jumbo package instead of the field goal unit. Sophomore running back Brandon Wright entered the game for the first time. The Spartans ran a simple power run to the left. Wright plunged into the line and was met by a Wolverine linebacker right at the goal line. Coaches on both sidelines celebrated. After several seconds, the official on the goal line ran towards the play with both arms held up in the air.

A lengthy video review ensued. The ball was a bit obscured, but one of the camera angles appeared to show the ball over the line. The ABC broadcast team predicted that they play would stand, and they were correct. MSU took the lead, 14-7.

Michigan would have one more possession prior to halftime, but only managed eight total yards before time expired. The Spartans took the 14-7 lead into the halftime locker room.

In a word, the third quarter was uneventful. Michigan got the ball first, but failed to get a first down. The teams traded punts for almost the entire quarter. The longest drive of the entire stanza for either team was 28 yards.

As the third quarter drew to a close, it appeared that MSU was starting to win the field position tug-of-war. The Wolverines were forced to punt from their own 17-yard-line, and MSU started the next drive from the Michigan 41-yard-line. But, two plays later, a fumble from Ant Williams gave the ball back to the Wolverines near midfield just as the fourth quarter began.

Michigan jumped on this sudden change, and by virtue of a play-action pass to a Ronnie Bell off of a double move, were suddenly inside the red zone. Four plays later, Milton connected on a pass to Giles Jackson in the end zone. With 12 minutes left to play, the score was knotted at 14 all.

The Spartans received the ball and started the next drive with a renewed intensity. Lombardi completed three straight passes over 10 yards, and suddenly the Spartans were into Wolverine territory. A few plays later, MSU was on the Wolverine 25-yard-line.

On first-and-10, the Spartans attempted a play-action pass, but just as Lombardi released the ball, he was blind-sided by Wolverine defensive end Kwity Paye, causing the pass to float up into the air and into the arms of Michigan linebacker Josh Ross. Rocky was also slow to get up from the turf. Once he did make it to his feet, he was in visible pain.

On the MSU sideline, senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons was seen moving from player to player, doing his best to get the defense ready to take the field. Whatever he said, it appeared to work. The Spartan defense forced a three-and-out, and regained possession of the ball at the MSU 27-yard-line.

All eye were on the Spartan sideline. Then, Theo Day trotted onto the field as the new Spartan quarterback. This drive started off well, as Day completed a 13-yard pass to Jayden Reed to pick up a first down. But, a holding penalty pushed the Spartans back, forcing a punt with just over six minutes to play.

The Wolverines then began to drive. But, as they crossed midfield, offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield was forced to commit an obvious hold to prevent a sack. The Michigan drive stalled at the 50-yard line at fourth-and-seven. Coach Harbaugh decided to play it safe, and opted to pin the Spartans deep. MSU took over possession at the eight-yard line.

With only three minutes left in the game, MSU began with a well blocked off tackle run by Elijah Collins which picked up 14 yards and gave Theo Day some room to operate. A few plays later, Nailor got behind Wolverine corner Vincent Gray on a play-action pass. Day hit Speedy in stride for a catch-and-run pick up of 34 yards. Just like that, the Spartans were in Michigan territory once again.

Over the next few plays, as the clock ticked down, MSU pushed inside the 40-yard-line with a series of run plays by Collins. With 35 seconds remaining, it was fourth-and-five from the 35-yard-line. Coach Tucker called on Matt Coghlin to attempt a career long 52-yard field goal to give the Spartans the lead. With the gentle breeze at his back, Coghlin calmly put foot to ball and the pigskin flew gracefully toward the uprights in the south end zone.

The fans in the south end zone immediately signaled that the kick was on target. However, the fans in Section 20 saw that the kick might not have the distance. The ball hit the cross bar at roughly a 45-degree angle and popped almost straight up into the air. Then, the gentle breeze and rotation of the ball carried it a few more inches to the south. The ball fell to turf just past the cross bar, and MSU took a late 17-14 lead.

Spartan Stadium erupted. The next two minutes were pandemonium in the stands and on the Spartan sideline, but the game wasn’t over yet. Michigan received the squib kick at the 37-yard-line, but the boys in maize-and-blue seemed clearly rattled. The final three plays from scrimmage were two badly thrown incomplete passes followed by a game-ending sack by Jacub Panasiuk.

As the clock hit zero, the Spartans had defeated their arch-rivals, the Michigan Wolverines, by a score of 17-14. The Spartan players triumphantly paraded the Paul Bunyan Trophy around the perimeter of Spartan Stadium, stopping in the southwest corner of the stadium to sing “Victory for MSU” with the still-packed student section.

Coach Tucker was clearly happy, yet stoic in the postgame press conference. He praised his team’s preparation and fourth quarter grit, especially the way both Theo Day and the entire defense stepped up after Rocky Lombardi left the game. He explained that is was an honor to be able to lead the Spartans to victory over the Wolverines in his first attempt on the Spartan sidelines.

Coach Harbaugh’s press conference was a bit more... erratic. He started off with faint praise for MSU’s determination in the fourth quarter, but the narrative quickly shifted into complaints about the officiating, especially the late holding call and the second MSU touchdown. “I just feel like the players in such a great rivalry deserved a better officiated game.”

Other Week Six Big Ten Results

The results from the other Big Ten games in the parallel universe this week are summarized below in Table 1.

Table 1: Week five results for the Big Ten in the parallel universe

It was a good week for the state of Indiana, as both Purdue and IU blew out Big Ten East bottom feeders Maryland and Rutgers. The Buckeyes also had a good weekend, beating Iowa by 29 points, despite being only a one-point favorite due to some injury concerns that did not wind up being as issue.

There were two notable upsets in the Big Ten West. First, Minnesota went into Camp Randall and upset the Badgers 38-27, and Illinois went to Lincoln and upset the Huskers, 27-17. As a result, Illinois and Purdue now sit at the top of the Big Ten West standings as the lone undefeated team in conference play. The updated Big Ten standings are shown below.

Table 2: Big Ten standings after week six in the parallel universe

Other Week Six Power Five Results

Table 3 below summarizes the results from the rest of the Power Five in the parallel universe in week six.

Table 3: Week six results for the remainder of the Power Five in the parallel universe

In the ACC game of the week, Clemson defeated Florida State 24-21 despite being a 10-point underdog on the road. The Tigers had looked inconsistent in the first few weeks of the year, but were sharp this weekend in Tallahassee. Virginia Tech was also sharp in its victory over UNC. The Tigers and Hokies are now both alone in first place in their respective ACC divisions after Duke dropped a game at North Carolina State. Wake Forest also upset Miami, which is not a great result for MSU’s strength of schedule.

In the Big 12, four teams entered the weekend undefeated, but only two exited the weekend in the same state. Most notably, Oklahoma State edged the Cyclones of Iowa State, 17-16. Joining the Cowboys in the ranks of the undefeated are their intrastate rivals, as the Oklahoma Sooners downed the Texas Longhorns in the Red River Showdown, 45-42. In one of the biggest upsets in recent memory, Kansas shocked Kansas State 24-21 to knock the boys from Manhattan from the ranks of the undefeated as well.

In the Pac-12, Conference favorite Oregon had the week off, but division rivals Washington, Stanford, and Washington State all scored upset wins. Stanford’s upset of Notre Dame gave the Irish their second loss of the year. In a key South Division showdown, Arizona State beat UCLA to remain undefeated. This win, coupled with Utah’s loss to Wazzou leaves the Sun Devils alone in first place in their division.

In the SEC, the West Division teams flexed their collective muscles as Auburn and LSU soundly defeated Georgia and Florida in interleague play. Alabama also had its way with Arkansas. In the East, Missouri and Tennessee both won and remained tied with Kentucky for the Division lead at 2-1.

Week Six Group of Five Results

Table 4 below summarizes the results from the Group of Five in the parallel universe this week.

Table 4: 3:Week six results for the Group of Five in the parallel universe

It was a bit of a slow week in the Group of Five as several teams in the AAC, C-USA, and Sunbelt conferences had byes, including undefeated Cincinnati and Old Dominion. But, Air Force picked up a win over San Jose State to get to 6-0. Also, in key Sunbelt action, Appalachian State upset UL-Lafayette to knock the Ragin’ Cajuns from the list of undefeated teams. Both teams now sit at one loss.

A few other team had a bye or picked up wins and are still in striking distance of that elusive New Year’s Six bid. Those teams include: Memphis (4-1), Temple (4-1), Marshall (5-1), Southern Miss (5-1), UTSA (4-1), Ohio (5-1), and San Diego State (5-1).

Week Seven Preview

MSU’s celebration with the win over Michigan was sweet, but also short lived. Soon after the clock hit zero, the players and coaches were already turning their focus towards the next challenge, and it is a big one: a contest against Ohio State. MSU held a record of 4-2 overall, but the parallel universe oddsmakers were not impressed. Also, with Rocky Lombardi’s status unclear, the state of MSU’s offense is now in question. MSU opened as a 31-point underdog... at home.

Meanwhile, the Wolverine’s season is now officially in free-fall. After a 2-0 start, Michigan now sits at 2-4, and next up is a road trip to Minneapolis to face the 5-1 Gophers. Minnesota opened as a 12-point favorite. Representatives from the Quick Lane Bowl starting putting in phone calls to the University of Michigan Athletic Department.

A summary of the Week Seven action in the parallel universe is shown below:

  • Ohio State at MSU (+31)
  • Michigan at Minnesota (-12)
  • Purdue at Illinois (-1)
  • Iowa at Penn State (-15)
  • Oklahoma at Iowa State (-15)
  • Old Dominion at UTSA (-26)
  • Washington at Utah (-11)
  • Texas A&M at Auburn (-42)
  • Georgia at Missouri (-8.5)

Stay tuned for continuing coverage from the parallel universe.