Joe Milton passed his first test with flying colors.
The second proved to be significantly more challenging.
Michigan football's quarterback had a mixed performance in the 27-24 stunning loss to Michigan State on Saturday afternoon — and after the game, he tried to take ownership of the team's flat performance.
“We practiced the look every day of the week," Milton said. "They didn’t do anything that we didn’t practice. I was thinking too much. I was too busy with my feet. It was all on me. (Offensive) line did great.”
Milton was 32 for 51 passing for 300 yards, averaging just under 6 yards per attempt in what was an erratic performance. As Milton said, his struggles were partly due to his lack of pocket presence on several downs, especially before halftime. But Milton and the passing game were in plenty of difficult situations because of Michigan State's defense.
The Spartans shut down U-M's run game and had six tackles for loss. And on third downs, Michigan's average distance to go was 8.9 yards.
"We weren’t nearly as efficient on third down as we want to be," said coach Jim Harbaugh. "At one point we were 1 for 6 and then we were 2 for 8, finished the game on third downs in the second half and fourth quarter but that was definitely part of the issue, not converting on the third downs getting into the new set of downs and being able to keep those drives going and turn them into scoring drives.”
After throwing mostly screens and short passes last week at Minnesota, Milton was forced to look downfield more often against the Spartans. He made several plays, establishing a rapport with freshman receiver Roman Wilson, who had a team-best five catches for 71 yards. But Milton's longest pass of the day was just 26 yards, and he was unable to stretch MSU's defense vertically. There were also several plays where he threw at covered receivers only to escape without a turnover.
Meanwhile, his effectiveness as a runner was limited by the Spartans, who held Milton to just 12 carries for 59 yards. Many of those yards were gained on scrambles out of the pocket — especially on Michigan's desperate final drive, which required 18 plays and 4:34 to travel 93 yards.
After the game, Harbaugh supported his quarterback while acknowledging Milton's struggles in the pocket early in the game.
“He made a lot of plays, made a lot of incredible plays," Harbaugh said. "Early in the game, I thought he was bringing the ball down and trying to run the ball. First quarter, too much, and that settled down. He hung in the pocket pretty darn well after that. Stood in there and made some big-time throws. Threw the ball, no turnovers.
"There were some exceptional throws and as I said earlier, my take of it right now until I rewatch it, we would be in rhythm or we wouldn’t be in rhythm and then we’d get it. Didn’t finish the drives and be in rhythm throughout the drive like we wanted to.”
Milton's postgame assessment was blunt. And he says he knows he has to be better going forward.
“I was a lot more poised last week," Milton said. "I got more poised throughout this game. But I don’t know why my feet were busy, I think my mind was just roaming everywhere, but that’s totally on me. Everybody did what they needed to do, so it’s just on me.”
Contact Orion Sang at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Michigan Wolverines content.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football's Joe Milton accepts blame for Michigan State loss