The Spartans have made a living pulling upsets (often against Michigan) under similar circumstances. They came up on Saturday, and Michigan won by 14 anyway.
No. 6 Michigan beat No. 24 Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing, 21-7. The Wolverines kept themselves in the thick of College Football Playoff contention, a week after the Spartans knocked Penn State out of that same race in Happy Valley.
The win’s important in the Big Ten standings, where Michigan’s still tracking toward a showdown with Ohio State. It’s also important for the collective psyche of the Michigan fanbase, because the Wolverines won despite facing several critical omens that would normally predict MSU is about to beat Michigan — as the Spartans have so often done.
1. Michigan was favored.
Michigan was the unanimous pick on College GameDay. The Vegas point spread at game time was anything from 7 to 8, depending on where you were placing your bet.
This was the eighth time since Mark Dantonio’s arrival at MSU in 2007 that the Wolverines were favored to beat the Spartans. Of the seven previous times Dantonio’s MSU faced UM as an underdog, four turned into Michigan State victories. (Michigan’s never upset Michigan State in the years the Dantonio Spartans have been favored to win.)
2. The weather was bad.
This is one of the four keys to a generic Michigan State upset. The game was delayed due to lightning for about 80 minutes in the first quarter, then was played on a sloppy field.
In 2017, weather was a factor in MSU’s win in Ann Arbor. It was fitting — and for UM fans, scary — that this weather has visited East Lansing on this of all Saturdays. Given Michigan’s dangerous passing offense, bad weather favored the Spartans, but UM won anyway.
There was October snow, and in the second half, there was hail.
When there’s lightning in the area but you don’t care because you’re a Michigander pic.twitter.com/SUs8JTWBMq
— Detroit Free Press (@freep) October 20, 2018
3. Special teams weirdness went against Michigan.
A horrible, horrible omen, set in stone by Michigan State’s shocking win on a botched punt snap at the end of the teams’ 2015 game.
The Wolverines’ usually solid kicker, Quinn Nordin, missed a 36-yard field goal. He totally shanked it, kicking something that looked like a knuckleball and twisted wide left.
— Adam Bowman (@imAdamBowman) October 20, 2018
Later, the Spartans’ Tyler Hunt turned a bad long snap into an incredible one-handed catch and a 60-yard punt down the right sideline:
You see one-handed catches every week.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 20, 2018
Instead of a safety for Michigan, the Wolverines got the ball at their own 18.
4. There were a bunch of weird bounces, the type MSU usually uses to frustrate superior teams.
Yet Michigan didn’t seem that frustrated, despite repeatedly squandering good field position in the first half.
5. Michigan State deployed some SPARTY TRICKERY.
In upsetting Penn State, the Spartans used a devilish fake punt to set up one scoring drive. Dantonio’s long had weird tricks up his sleeves against elite opponents.
And on Saturday, Michigan State pulled off a QB touchdown reception:
Philly, philly ! Passe renversée de RB LJ Scott pour QB Brian Lewerke ! TD Spartans !
Michigan State 7, Michigan 7 pic.twitter.com/sTXTLvjIz3
— TBP College Football (@thebluepennant) October 20, 2018
6. Michigan was playing on the road against a ranked team.
The Wolverines had lost their last 17 games in such circumstances, an embarrassing streak that went back to their close loss to Troy Smith’s Ohio State in 2006.
7. Michigan showed a bunch of pregame spite.
Yet another bad omen.
Michigan linebacker Devin Bush relentlessly kicked the Spartan logo at midfield during pregame warmups, dragging his spikes across it to rip out grass:
Devin Bush was ruining the Michigan State logo at midfield before the game. pic.twitter.com/dx7GqdwplX
— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) October 20, 2018
The Wolverines have longstanding issues with the field at this stadium. In 2014, they jammed a spike into the ground there before the game.
Dantonio later had his players run up the score in MSU’s 35-11 win. Then he criticized Brady Hoke’s program after the game.
“Them putting a spear in a field before the game is not a product of their team but their program.” – Dantonio on the UofM Pregame spear.
— Rico Beard (@RicoBeard) October 25, 2014
Another thing Saturday: Michigan State was taking its customary pregame walk across its home field, with pretty much the entire team linking arms. Some Michigan players were on the field warming up at this point, and a few of them just opted to not move:
Interesting way to start things today. Michigan players don’t move for MSU’s pregame walk. pic.twitter.com/zJPgVfgvTj
— Matt Wenzel (@mwenzel2) October 20, 2018
The Spartans’ walk continued mostly unabated, but not without drama:
#Michigan spokesman says MSU players were 10 minutes late to the field for their march, “close lined” Lawrence Marshall and ripped the head phones off Lavert Hill.
— Aaron McMann (@AaronMcMann) October 20, 2018
When the game started, it started hot:
We have offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties two minutes into the game.
— Maize n Brew (@MaizenBrew) October 20, 2018
When it was all over, look where Michigan celebrated:
Michigan celebrates right on the logo pic.twitter.com/YwpqoONGky
— Max Marcovitch (@Max_Marcovitch) October 20, 2018
All of that beef happened amid a history of beefing between the two programs, and recently between their two head coaches.
Harbaugh and Dantonio had this exchange in 2017:
Michigan got a better bowl placement, which was questionable, given that the Spartans had a better record and also won head-to-head. So, Dantonio said:
Dantonio on Michigan being chosen ahead of Michigan State for the Outback Bowl: “The records are what they are. I’ll just continue to focus on beating Michigan.”
— Graham Couch (@Graham_Couch) December 3, 2017
To which Harbaugh said:
Saw Coach D comments on continuing to “focus” on how “he” can beat Michigan. Congrats on turning around a 3-9 team, plagued with off field issues. Good for BIG to have him back.
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) December 4, 2017
To which Dantonio said this …
For all Spartans, “it’s not over, it’ll never be over, it’s just getting started” #SpartansWill
— Mark Dantonio (@DantonioMark) December 4, 2017
… which was a reference to this comment from his first year in East Lansing, before he commenced a decade of regularly beating Michigan:
So many things happened that are almost always associated with Michigan State beating Michigan, but somehow, it didn’t happen here.
The Wolverines even covered a touchdown spread.