Michigan 28, Penn State 16
White-out notwithstanding, Penn State (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) couldn’t capitalize on errors by its opponents and gifts from officials as they lost to Michigan (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) 28-16. This Michigan win, coupled with the Ohio State loss to Moo U., sets up next week’s twin battles for the right to represent the East in the Big Ten Championship game.
All but one of the contestants in next week’s Penn State vs. Michigan State and Ohio State vs. Michigan games will have a shot at the Big Ten Championship, each having a single conference loss except, of course, Penn State with three.
It wasn’t as if Penn State wasn’t given enough chances to capitalize on Michigan errors. However, they could only muster field goals when push came to shove. The single Penn State touchdown was a pleasing thing to watch, when Michigan super safety Jabril Peppers overshot Saeed Blacknall who hung back to catch a blooper thrown by Christian Hackenberg that looked like a Stu Miller moon ball. It brought the score to 10-7 in Penn State’s favor with two minutes left in the first half.
The Penn State lead stood for less than a minute and they would never lead again, as Michigan answered by driving 70 yards for a touchdown that gave them a 14-10 advantage. The Nittany Lions could muster only two field goals in the fourth quarter while Michigan scored a touchdown in each quarter to give them a 28-16 victory.
Hackenberg finished the day with a miserable 13-31 performance for a mere 137 yards. He was badly dinged on one play and had to leave the game, but returned shortly. After his offensive line allowed four sacks and countless hurries, he looked shell-shocked in there — at the very least, uncomfortable.
Hack’s receivers were pretty well covered the entire game. One pass interference call that went against the defense could have easily gone against the Penn State receiver, but such as it was, Penn State could only muster a field goal as the gifted drive stalled in the red zone.
The running game couldn’t get cranked up against Michigan’s front seven. Saquon Barkley wound up with 15 carries for 68 yards, but 56 of those yards came on the second play of the game when he broke a run right up the gut for a long one. At that point, we thought Penn State would be able to run on Michigan and the offensive line, better known as the Five Traffic Cones, would be able to open up some holes. We were wrong. I think there were only two decent holes for Barkley all game long.
Third down conversions and red zone issues plagued Penn State yet again. As if their horrible third down conversion rate wasn’t already bad enough, they didn’t even live up to that benchmark as they converted only three of fourteen — a paltry 21.4%. They’re now 27.6% for the season, which is good enough for 126th in the FBS, with only 3-8 Kent State (25.9%) behind them. That suuuuuuuuucks.
Open field tackling by the vaunted Penn State defense once again was deficient. When the stats show that most of the tackling is done in the secondary, you know that tackles are being missed.
Michigan, not noted for its offense, was able to gain 343 yards, 256 of which were through the air. Jake Rudock looked very comfortable and composed in the pocket, a contrast with Hack. Rudock might not have the upside potential of the Hackster, but he sure has the ice water in the veins thing needed for the NFL. But I digress. Rudock was 25-38 for 256 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
Michigan’s rushing was unspectacular against the Penn State front seven, De’Veon Smith having had 13 carries for 39 yards. The long run of the day for the Wolverines was a 20-yard end-around by wide receiver Jehu Chesson.
Penn State made fewer mistakes on the field than Michigan, but those they made were costly, and the Wolverines converted them into points. Penn State was only a field goal behind in the third quarter when freshman DeAndre Thompkins fumbled a punt into enemy hands at the 9 yard-line. A Michigan touchdown quickly followed. That turned out to be all that was needed for the Wolverines to win.
While the whited-out crowd of 107,418 did its job, one has to wonder whether they didn’t do a job on the home team as well as the opposition. Michigan was penalized 13 times for 117 yards, but never had to call a single time-out on account of the crowd, whereas Penn State had several questionable time-outs resulting from slow play calling and lousy communication. Seemed like the law firm of Franklin, Donovan, et. al. couldn’t quite operate at game speed.
The play calling suuuuuuuuuuuuuuucked, once the plays came in. Penn State set the tone in the first series, after the game’s one and only great run by Saquon Barkley, when called Barkley’s number three straight times from the Michigan 9, for a net gain of three yards.
It was great to see the officiating favor Penn State for a change, but that makes the loss all the more frustrating. Nevertheless, watching Jim Harbaugh getting pissed off to the extent that he ripped off his jacket was priceless.
One thing you have to say about Harbaugh is that he can get a team cranked up and on the same page, in contrast with what was happening on the opposite sideline, which looked disjointed and clueless, at times.
Penn State sure as hell had opportunities, but they came out uninspired and unmotivated. It was clear by watching body language on the field which team was committed to victory. As usual, Penn State’s lack of team leadership and deficient coaching were all too apparent. Christian Hackenberg was seen pouting on the sidelines instead of being inspirational. It seemed obvious to me that he was at odds with James Franklin several times during the game.
A surfeit of individual talent exists on this team, especially among the departing seniors and potential NFL draftees. It is a shame that they’ve underachieved because of leadership and coaching issues. Hats off to the seniors, though, for sticking with it through thick and thin — mostly thin — during the past four years. These are guys who I’d want on my team anytime.
Penn State has not won against a ranked opponent in the James Franklin era. It’s not going to happen next week, either. One would think that even by chance, with enough breaks, the Nittany Lions could have pulled off at least one upset in the past two years.
I’ll be back with a preview and prediction for the regular season ending Land Grant Trophy game against Moo U. at East Lansing. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET. The line has not yet been established.