Now that a few days have gone by since the soon-to-be-legendary game (although it has clearly already passed into legend) between the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans, the two teams, as well as the rest of the college football-watching world, and the key players in that game, have had a moment to reflect upon it. And yesterday, many of those players and individuals spoke out for the first time since that stunning moment at Michigan Stadium.
One of those people whom many have been dying to hear from (as well as some have been cowardly threatening on social media) is Michigan punter Blake O’Neill, who’s fumbled punt and subsequent botched play led to Michigan State recovering the ball with just seconds left, allowing Michigan State to score and win over the Wolverines in the biggest shock in the history of the rivalry. O’Neill, an Australian-born punter, was phenomenal throughout the game, even kicking an 80-yard punt earlier that broke the record for longest ever at Michigan Stadium.
Unfortunately, since his goof, O’Neill has also become the target of some despicable vitriol at the hands of low-end Michigan fans, and didn’t speak to the media anytime after the game or long after. But yesterday, the kicker from down under finally talked to the press, and he seemed positive, warm, and overall understanding of the situation and anger, but ready to put it behind him in order to continue helping the Wolverines win with his impressive and stylish punting game.
“I tried to sort of kick it over my head, and that didn’t work out,” O’Neill said Tuesday afternoon. “That’s life. That’s football. You learn from it so you can do better and pick up yourself up, dust yourself and move on. We’re sort of taught to pick up and move it on. Obviously, that’s completely on me. I own this error and very much know better if I was to have my time over again.”
As to wondering if whether or not he spent any time looking at Twitter and other social media outlets to see the sometimes heinous things said about him, O’Neill said he stayed clear of it, opting to focus instead on the team’s upcoming battle and moving on from the loss.
“I just figured I think I’d be better off to let this one cool down a little bit before I check it,” he said. “I’ve certainly been impressed by the amount of people who have taken time out of their day to say thank you for playing for Michigan and supporting me. I’m really appreciative of all that.”
As for the hero of the Michigan State Spartans, Jalen Watts-Jackson, who picked up O’Neill’s botched punt and ran it in for the shocking game-winning touchdown, things haven’t been quite as smooth as some may have hoped. As reported almost immediately after the game, Watts-Jackson had injured himself pretty severely on the final play, which was later revealed to be a dislocated and fractured left hip. Many speculated that the injury had happened in the pile up or fall to the ground in the end zone, but it actually happened when Michigan’s Jake Butt yanked hard on Watts-Jackson with all his might to keep him from scoring.
Photos poured in after the game on twitter of Watts-Jackson in a hospital bed surrounded by family. Many had assumed the worst, that perhaps the injury would be similar to the one that ended Bo Jackson’s NFL career in 1991, but that wasn’t the case.
“As it turned out, it wasn’t the same thing — they told us Jalen got lucky,” Rick Jackson, Watts-Jackson’s father, told the Detroit Free Press. “Everything’s looking good after the surgery, and this isn’t gonna be a career-ending injury.”
Rick Jackson also told the media that while his son will be on crutches for a few months following surgery earlier this week, and he’ll need to follow that up with intensive rehab, the injury itself is not career-ending, and he would play football again. As to whether or not the pile-up in the end zone actually worsened the injury is not clear, but MSU head coach Mark Dantonio did state after the game that he thought it was an unlucky situation in an otherwise joyous moment.
“It’s unfortunate everybody piled on him,” Dantonio said, “but you know, I think people started figuring out pretty quickly what was going on.”
As for Dantonio’s thoughts on the game now that the dust has settled? He said yesterday that winning the game took more brains than muscle, and that that mindset is what differentiated his players.
“We were saying all week that mental is to physical as four is to one — that you had to be four times mentally tough than you were physically tough,” Dantonio said. “The 10 seconds obviously comes in at the back end, with the last 10 seconds of the game.”
Even MSU head basketball coach, who was on hand for the game, said while he missed seeing the play in real time on the field, he knew the exact emotion associated with such a play and stunning win/loss.
“I didn’t actually see the exact play, believe it or not,” Izzo said. “That was like missing a free throw and then a guy throwing it behind his back the length of the court.”
Dantonio has now also named the stunning historic play after a long history of unique names for his team’s many shocking plays over the years. This one? “Rangers: Mission 4:10.”