No. 8 Michigan State’s 37-33 win over No. 6 Michigan on Saturday wasn’t without controversy.
Actually, it’d be more accurate to say the Spartans’ home victory had multiple controversial moments, with officials making several questionable calls throughout the game, each of which had a direct impact on the final score.
To be sure, it was Michigan that lost this game: Jim Harbaugh and Co. committed several errors that wasted a 30-14 second-half lead. Moreover, it’s impossible to know whether one changed ruling — or several — would have resulted in a Wolverines victory.
Still, the officials from Saturday’s contest placed themselves at the center of the storyline of this game in the calls they made, reviewed, upheld, reversed or otherwise declined to call.
With that, Sporting News takes a look at the four plays that most directly impacted the final score in Michigan State’s win:
Did Kenneth Walker drop the ball before touchdown?
The first controversial call from Saturday’s game came at the start of the second quarter: a 27-yard Kenneth Walker III touchdown to cut Michigan’s lead to 10-7. At first glance, it appeared as if Walker scored an easy touchdown. After further review, it looked like he may have lost control of the ball prior to crossing the plane.
That would result in a touchback for Michigan, giving the Wolverines the ball without any damage done to its 10-0 lead. To their credit, officials reviewed the call, but didn’t find enough evidence to overturn the play — hence the ruling that the touchdown stood as called on the field, instead of being confirmed.
Was Payton Thorne down on Michigan defensive touchdown?
Officials made the right call when they upheld Walker’s touchdown in the second quarter. Curiously, they reversed course at the close of the half. It appeared as if Michigan linebacker David Ojabo strip-sacked quarterback Payton Thorne, with defensive end Aidan Hutchinson recovering the ball in the end zone to give the Wolverines a 27-14 lead just before the half. Naturally, officials reviewed the play.
Several camera angles showed Thorne’s left shin was down, but none definitively proved he still had control of the ball when he was down. It appeared as if the play would stand as called, not confirmed, but officials reversed the call, giving Michigan State a chance to punt. The Wolverines went downfield and kicked a field goal, costing them four points — the final difference in the loss.
Did Jayden Reed complete catch on game-tying 2-point conversion?
Another play that Michigan fans pointed to after the game was Jayden Reed’s 2-point conversion catch to tie the game at 30-30 early in the fourth quarter.
The point of emphasis on this play was the fact Michigan defensive back DJ Turner came off the ground holding the ball. It looked as if Reed took several steps backward after making the contested catch in the air, but he would have needed to control the ball through the completion of the catch — i.e., to the ground — for the call to have stood.
Whether the play would have been reversed, stood as called or been confirmed is a matter of conjecture. The biggest issue is that officials declined to review the game-tying play at all. As such, this is the only angle of the play:
Did Michigan State commit penalty on Wolverines turnover on downs?
The final official nail in the coffin. Despite giving up a huge lead, Michigan still had a chance to take a late lead — it needed only to complete a fourth-and-3 attempt at the Michigan State 31 to keep its drive alive.
McNamara threw an inside slant to Mike Sainristil, but the pass fell incomplete with both Ronald Williams and Angelo Grose in defense. It looked as if the Wolverines attempted to run a pick play, but Williams grabbed onto Sainristil’s waist while Grose simply ran into him, interfering with his ability to even contend for the ball.
It appeared as if officials could have easily called pass interference or defensive holding on the play, keeping the drive — and Michigan’s hope of victory — alive. They kept their flags in their pockets, however, forcing the Wolverines to make another defensive stop before the offense got on the field one last time. (The Michigan offense’s final drive ended in an interception).
Harbaugh was clearly angry at the no-call on the field, though Sainristil did not protest the officials’ decision.
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