Five years ago today, we saw one of the craziest finishes in college football history. Michigan football, up 23-21 on Michigan State with 10 seconds left, attempted to punt the ball deep to pin the Spartans and steal a win. The rest is history.
Punter Blake O’Neill bobbled the long snap on the play, and felt the pressure from a big punt block attempt by the Spartans. He wound up tossing the ball into the air, and it was scooped up by Jalen Watts-Jackson.
The sophomore returned it all the way for a 38-yard touchdown to win the game. That would wind up jumpstarting a pretty special season for the Spartans program.
Three weeks later, the team would suffer its only loss of the year, a 39-38 heartbreaker to Nebraska. The Spartans rebounded two weeks later to knock off Ohio State, blew out Penn State a week later, and then beat Iowa in a slugfest of a Big Ten Championship, to earn a College Football Playoff bid.
The play did cost Jalen Watts-Jackson, personally. He wound up dislocating his hip during the end of the play, getting dogpiled by his teammates. He’d return in 2016, but was primarily a special teams contributor for the Spartans.
In 2018, he opted to take his degree and transfer to the Air Force Academy, to begin a career in the armed services.
That was one of a number of heartbreaking rivalry losses for Michigan during the Jim Harbaugh era. The team is still looking to have the kind of breakthrough season that MSU did that year.
It was a high-water mark for the Mark Dantonio era in East Lansing. The team collapsed to 3-9 the following season, and would go just 27-24 in his last four seasons with the team. He retired in February, and was replaced by Colorado head coach Mel Tucker, who will begin his Michigan State football tenure next weekend when the Spartans host Rutgers.