Michigan AD: Back off punter, stop the ‘vicious comments’

Michigan punter Blake O'Neill may have felt like the loneliest guy in the world on Saturday night, but a day later he had quite a big supporter come to his defense.

Tony Ding

 

Michigan’s athletic director has released an open letter urging fans to avoid "thoughtless comments" after a punting mistake cost the No. 12 Wolverines Saturday night’s game against No. 7 Michigan State.

Jim Hackett does not mention punter Blake O’Neill by name, but it is clear he is concerned about what O’Neill might face on social media.

In his letter Sunday, Hackett writes of the "shocking reality" that the Michigan community would send "hurtful, spiteful and vicious comments" to one of its students.

He says such remarks from a "small minority" do not reflect the university. He adds that the "program I know at Michigan" is "about the team, the team the team."

With the Wolverines up 23-21 and just 10 seconds to play, it appeared all that was needed was a punt by O’Neill to lock up the win for Michigan, or at worst give the ball to the Spartans with just enough time for a Hail Mary pass.

Instead, the punter bobbled the snap and dropped it, and Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson picked it up and rumbled 38 yards for the game-winning score with no time on the clock in one of the wildest finishes in years. In fact, it was the first time an FBS game ended with a defense or special teams game-winning score with no time left since the famed "Kick Six" game, when Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a missed field goal more than 100 yards for a touchdown to beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30, 2013.

MICHIGAN STATE MIRACLE!

"If you go for it, you leave them with a Hail Mary opportunity," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters after the game. "We could protect and throw a long pass. We ran through the scenarios and felt like the best decision was to punt. They didn’t have any returners. It was a matter of punting it. We messed up."

"I just told (O’Neill) that we’re behind him," Michigan kicker and backup punter Kenny Allen told ESPN.com after the game. "We’re going to look at film and stuff, and we support Blake through everything. That’s the type of team we’re going to be."