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Michigan State and a Lot of Water Just Beat Michigan

But you can’t blame just the weather for the top-10 upset

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Few things are funnier to me than rainstorm football. Almost one year ago exactly, we had NC State–Notre Dame, a game with a single touchdown scored on a botched snap. That was hilarious for many reasons, primarily because Notre Dame refused to stop throwing, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t particularly meaningful—Notre Dame went 4-8 last year.

Seventh-ranked Michigan, though, was undefeated before Saturday. But Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines came away from their battle with the Spartans and the weather gods with soggy khakis and a 14-10 loss.

The game was relatively dry for the first half, and Michigan State took a 14-3 lead. (There is no weather to blame for Michigan’s failures to score for an entire half under normal conditions.) But then the rains came, and things got beautiful and hideous.

This is what happens when it rains like that:

Refs don’t stop the game unless there’s a nearby lightning strike, so even as a biblical downpour dropped a lake onto Ann Arbor, the teams had to play on. But just as bad as the rain was Harbaugh’s play calling. The Wolverines were missing their starting quarterback, Wilton Speight—during the game, it was announced Speight is likely out for the whole season. That makes backup quarterback John O’Korn, a senior who began his career at Houston, the starter.

I’m not sure I trust O’Korn as a quarterback on a sunny day. This was damn near a monsoon, and Harbaugh asked his backup to throw the ball 35 times. The two teams could barely snap the ball without a screw-up. O’Korn was doomed. On this play—one of three interceptions on back-to-back-to-back possessions in the middle of the downpour—he couldn’t even get his fingers into the laces, throwing a wobbler to MSU:

O’Korn finished 16-for-35 for 198 yards with no touchdowns and the three picks. Rain leads to good harvests—no wonder Michigan State was able to pick O’Korn so easily. On the plus side, O’Korn drew a penalty on this play, which was either a flop or a battle with a ghost:

We shouldn’t pin all the credit for Michigan State’s win on the rain. The Spartans built a 14-3 lead in the dry first half, and when the deluge came, they could basically sit on their lead. The Spartans only had 34 yards in the second half. They didn’t need more. They could just run three plays, punt, and watch Michigan sputter moistly. The Wolverines also had a pair of fumbles: five turnovers in a one-possession loss.

Michigan had a chance to win late, and O’Korn made his throw of the night with 20 seconds to go. But it was dropped by Eddie McDoom—an embarrassing drop even if the ball was coated in rain, or butter—and the Wolverines were McDoomed. Then the Spartans got to do this:

I approve of all of this. Play football in any weird scenario you can: zero-gravity simulators, wind tunnels, pools. I thought I liked this best as an oddity, but I just watched the Spartans tag team with a cloudburst to take down their biggest rival and throw a wrench into the Big Ten title race. I think this might actually be better.