UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Free Press sports writer Orion Sang rates No. 16 Michigan football on a scale of 1 to 10 after a 28-21 loss at No. 7 Penn State:
As with the defense, it was a tale of two halves. The Wolverines scored once in the first half. Then they came alive. Michigan’s offense showed glimpses of what most expected it to be. Receivers were given a chance to make plays in space. The run game gained yardage. And quarterback Shea Patterson, helped by an offensive line that gave him time, played his best game of the season. The Wolverines’ second-half performance is a blueprint for success moving forward, as the offense gained 248 yards on six drives and reached the red zone on three consecutive possessions to end the game. But the first-half struggles can’t be ignored.
[ The Michigan football team we waited for finally showed up … too late ]
Michigan’s defense allowed 282 yards on 12 drives, not including the final possession where Penn State knelt the game out. Of those 12 drives, eight ended in punts — including the penultimate possession, when Michigan’s defense forced the Nittany Lions backwards into a three-and-out that gave U-M’s offense prime field position for a potential tying drive. But it was those other four drives where the Wolverines lost the game. Michigan gave up too many explosive plays and too often found itself in unfavorable matchups against speedy receiver KJ Hamler, who caught six passes for 108 yards and two scores. The Wolverines showed fight in battling back and shutting down Penn State in the second half. But, as with the offense, the mistakes were too much to overcome.
Special teams: 4
The unit’s first-half performance was characterized by two mistakes and a tough situation. Punter Will Hart couldn’t keep a punt from Penn State’s 47 out of the end zone, which meant Michigan netted a measly 27 yards of field position. Later, a fumbled kickoff return started the offense at its 14. And before the half, Jake Moody was asked to attempt a 59-yard field goal — a tough distance for NFL kickers. His attempt came up well short. What cost Michigan the most, it seemed, was the field position exchange. Time after time, Penn State’s punt unit — led by star punter Blake Gillikin — pinned Michigan deep. The Wolverines were also lucky to avoid major damage on kickoff coverage; Hamler had one 100-yard touchdown return brought back by holding, although a sideline interference penalty on Michigan spotted the ball at Penn State’s 45.
Again, a tough game to evaluate, because the two halves were completely different. At the start, Michigan looked completely unprepared. There’s no other way to explain the miscues in all three phases. It looked like the Wolverines were going to be blown out. But they weren’t. Michigan’s staff deserves credit for the adjustments made in the second half. Aside from a missed call on defense that led to Hamler’s second touchdown, the coaches put the Wolverines in a position to succeed. And they nearly came back because of it. There’s some positive to take from the loss going forward. Of course, it was still a loss, and Michigan now has two conference losses. If they had played the way they did in the second half over the entire game, the Wolverines probably would’ve won.
Fans: Your turn to grade Michigan’s performance vs. Penn State
Contact Orion Sang at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.