Michigan football players knew before MSU ‘the refs wouldn’t have our backs’

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — There was fighting the Spartans, and there was also fighting the refs.

Last Monday in the lead-up to the Michigan State game, Michigan football head coach Jim Harbaugh was asked about Aidan Hutchinson never getting holding calls, despite being held on nearly every play. It’s something of a microcosm of what happened in East Lansing.

“Hope that you’re gonna get a fair shake every time you go out there,” Harbaugh said. Not always do you get that.”

And on Saturday, Michigan didn’t get that.

Now, Michigan failed to make plays when it needed to, and despite causing two turnovers, the Wolverines also coughed up the ball at crucial moments. So the officiating wasn’t the reason Michigan lost, but the one-sidedness certainly played a part.

Not one review in East Lansing went Michigan’s way. Whether it was the close call of whether or not Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III fumbled before reaching the end zone, or even a targeting call on Hassan Haskins (in our view, it wasn’t targeting, but it certainly should have been a personal foul given the obvious choice to go at the running back’s knees).

Perhaps none was more egregious than when Aidan Hutchinson’s fumble recovery in the end zone was overturned on what appeared to be scant, if any, evidence. If Walker’s touchdown stood, then it seems impossible that the referees had enough evidence to overturn the Michigan touchdown call.

But alas, it didn’t go as such.

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And that’s what the Michigan players expected going into the game. They knew full-well that they would have to play better than the officiating. That may be a nice thing to say, but it does play a big part of the game, can put or take points off the board, and ultimately change the momentum or tenor of a given game. Still, third-year edge rusher Mike Morris is taking it in stride, because he went into the game knowing that the Wolverines were not going to be benefactors in East Lansing.

“It really didn’t matter because I feel going into that game, the refs wouldn’t have our backs,” Morris said. “I feel like regardless of getting a touchdown or not, we were gonna get a stop. That was just our mentality.”

But why is that the team knew that the referees would be so one-sided? As far as Morris sees it, it’s a mix of it being the rivalry as well as just some good old home cooking.

“It’s Michigan-Michigan State – it’s gonna be left up to us, it’s not gonna be left up to them,” Morris said. “So they’re not gonna call all the little ticky-tack stuff. They’re gonna – I felt like the knee was up but it probably wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t gonna go our way. It’s like when you’re an away team playing at home, it’s gonna favor the home team more times than not.”

He does have a point, in that Michigan would need to play better than the officiating. If the defense tackled better, particularly against Kenneth Walker III, then all of the questionable calls would have been much ado about nothing. But it didn’t, and it will live with a loss as a result.

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