Blake O’Neil’s botched punt was not the primary, major mistake which led to Michigan’s clock-expired loss to Michigan State. (I’m leaving out of all this, for now, the preposterous targeting call which ejected Michigan Capt. Joe Bolden early in the second quarter — that’s a whole ‘nuther topic.)
I am a huge fan of Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh, but he muffed the post-game press conference by failing — as a matter of decency — to make a more explicit statement of solid support for his punter, Blake O’Neil. Harbaugh’s a Big-Foot in college football now, and he should have used his bully pulpit to help pull O’Neil ‘up’ a bit, with a broad statement of sympathy and support. (Instead, he said that O’Neil should have “fallen on the ball.”)
But Harbaugh’s bigger muff was his failure to manage the clock appropriately as the game wound down. He appropriately ran down the clock by calling his time-outs, after each play, at the last possible second. But he called the wrong plays, which were straight-ahead plunges into the middle of the line. He should’ve called lateral sweeps, to chew up more time. If each of the three plays consumed two more seconds with such sweeps, the last play would’ve started with just two seconds remaining — at which point Harbaugh could’ve instructed QB Rudock to roll four steps to one side and throw a high arcing “bomb” as far — and as high — as he could. The ball would have been caught, or batted down, after the clock ran out.
As a result, Harbaugh should have not just made a statement of sympathetic support for O’Neil; he should have taken the blame himself.
Harbaugh missed his chance, and his mistake was the major cause of the loss.