It happened again. For the third time in three straight seasons the Penn State-Michigan match-up has resulted in a lopsided score. In 2016 in Ann Arbor, Michigan embarrassed a struggling Penn State team 49-10. A game that the Wolverines kept their first string in until the final whistle blew. Last year you could say that Penn State got revenge, rolling over Michigan in Beaver Stadium to win 42-13. Yeah, the Nittany Lions played until the final whistle but did not keep starters in until the game was over. This season Michigan trampled Penn State on their way to a hopeful College Football Playoff birth. Michigan took the lead in the back-and-forth series this week with a decisive 42-7 win. With this match-up on-going, what’s the answer for Penn State?
It has been a high scoring chess match over the last three seasons, with the home team taking the advantage. Michigan was the better team this time. They looked ready to play and had an answer for the things Penn State threw at them, which wasn’t much. The Nittany Lions didn’t have any answers on Saturday. A trend that has continued since the blown lead against Ohio State in week five.
What’s the answer for Penn State?
This fan base is rattled. The talent is there. A senior quarterback that has broken many school records and been an undoubted leader for three seasons. A running back in Miles Sanders that has grown into his role and stepped out of Saquon Barkley‘s shadow. A defense that is young, but has improved drastically and shouldn’t be expected to play at such a high level when they rarely get a break.
Even with the bright spots, the issues are paramount. The offensive line is still inconsistent, even after gaining depth. There is no creativity in the play calling on offense, it is predictable. Not much changes week to week. I will not sit here and call out players because I believe in this team and I believe in the players, but a change needs to be made somewhere. I also won’t call for anyone to be fired, but maybe the coaching staff is where the change needs to come from.
Nittany Lions fell prey to the Wolverines
Everyone heard it all week, Michigan is on a revenge tour. They feel like they were disrespected last season by teams in the Big Ten, but they didn’t play well last season. Just like Penn State didn’t play well this week. It happens.
Michigan had possession of the ball for nearly 38 minutes. That means the Penn State defense was on the field for 38 minutes. That is too long for any defense to try to hold up. In the very short post-game press conference, James Franklin admitted that the defense has had to do too much lately, stating, “Our defense has played way too many reps the last few weeks.” I think everyone can agree with that.
I previewed this week that defense would be the key to this game. Michigan Defensive Coordinator, Don Brown, said that the loss last year in Beaver Stadium kept him up at night. Everyone knew he was coming in with a game plan. He came in with a very good one. Senior defensive lineman Chase Winovich played exactly as expected. He had two tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, and a fumble recovery. Rashan Gary came back with a vengeance this week after missing three weeks with a shoulder injury. Gary had two tackles and a quarterback hurry.
The real defensive stars for the Wolverines continued to be linebackers Devin Bush and Josh Uche. Bush led the Michigan defense with seven tackles. Uche had his best game of the season, finishing with three tackles, two sacks, and two tackles for loss.
McSorley asked to do too much?
Trace McSorley was held to just 83 passing yards and negative rushing yards for the first time ever as a starter. He was clearly still bothered by the injury that occurred a week ago against Iowa. It was evident when he slid for a first down, that was called short, instead of cutting to the left like he normally would. Further, the offensive line did not help him early on. Michigan had five sacks in the win. It is unknown what he showed in practice this week, but maybe the coaching staff should have made a call to sit him this week for a healthy Tommy Stevens. Hindsight is 20-20, so it is easy to say that now, but what if he would have come out and not missed a step? Would we be questioning the decision to let him play? It is unknown.
McSorley has sacrificed himself time and time again for this team over the last three seasons. We all know that he is a fighter so he won’t go down easy. Giving up is not in his nature, but when he was slow to get up in the second half it makes you wonder. How much can superman take?
What’s the answer for Penn State? There are a lot of questions to be asked in the Nittany Lion locker room this week. What happened to the team that played so well against Ohio State in week five?
Wisconsin comes to town
The Nittany Lions return home to face Wisconsin. Wisconsin already got their stop on the Michigan revenge tour and also suffered a loss, 38-13. The Badgers will enter Beaver Stadium with an advantage on Saturday after beating Rutgers this week 31-17. Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns in a win against the Scarlet Knights. Although, Alex Hornibrook has struggled as of late. The quarterback only had 92 passing yards and no touchdowns against a 1-8 Rutgers team.
Questions remain, but some things are for sure
Penn State has a chance to get back in the win column against an equally struggling Wisconsin team on Saturday, but it will take the week to see if McSorley is good to go. The senior signal caller only has two more chances to play in Beaver Stadium, so it is unlikely that he will stay off the field.
Some things are for sure this week though. The coaching staff needs to take a long hard look in the mirror and figure out what changes they need to make. The leaders on this team need to bring these young guys together and tell them about two seasons ago when this exact loss occurred because Penn State then went on an eight-game win streak to get to the Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl. Obviously, all of these things are out of reach now, but there are three regular season games and a bowl game left. Now this team must play for each other and for the few seniors, like McSorley, that will be leaving the Blue and White behind soon.