Michigan AD Jim Hackett urges angry fans to lay off punter Blake O'Neill

ByDan Murphy ESPN logo
Sunday, October 18, 2015

ANN ARBOR, Mich. --Michiganinterim athletic director Jim Hackett issued a public letter Sunday afternoonurging Wolverines fans to support their team after Saturday's last-second loss.

Fifth-year punter Blake O'Neill received a number of hate-filled mentions on social media Saturday night after making a mistake that led to a touchdown on the final play of a 27-23 loss to rivalMichigan State.

"I'm asking that our community not lose this game twice by condoning thoughtless comments," Hackett said in the letter. "... Today I awake to the shocking reality that our community who care so much about this program would send hurtful, spiteful and vicious comments to one of our students. To be clear, such comments come from a small minority, none of whom are reflective of our institution."

The overwhelming majority of Michigan fans, former players and teammates supported O'Neill and expressed empathy for him and understanding regardingthe way the final play unfolded, and they combined to shout down his detractors.

"I just told him that we're behind him," Michigan kicker and backup punter Kenny Allen said shortly 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."

O'Neill bobbled a low snap on a punt attempt with 10 seconds left on the clock, then fumbled the ball as he attempted to salvage a kick. Michigan State sophomore Jalen Watts-Jackson picked up the loose ball and carried it 38 yards for a touchdown as the clock expired.

O'Neill averaged 44.6 yards per attempt on his previous seven punts Saturday, including an 80-yard kick that was down at the Michigan State 2-yard line.

The final play helped hand Michigan (5-2) its first Big Ten loss under coach Jim Harbaugh and helped the Spartans stay unbeaten (7-0) on the season.

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