Michigan-Penn State notebook
Michigan beats itself
UNIVERSITY PARK — Michigan’s chance to save its season on Saturday night at Beaver Stadium was denied by a Penn State team that is emerging as one of the legitimate College Football Playoff contenders.
Even in an uncharacteristically poor game from the Nittany Lion defense, Michigan looked generally unprepared from the moment the game started. Jim Harbaugh called an offensive timeout before the first play of the game, probably due to the deafening Whiteout crowd noise.
“We’re 1-0,” James Franklin said. “That’s always the goal. There are a lot of teams around the country that aren’t 1-0, so we’re going to enjoy it.”
The Wolverines deserve some credit, though. Down 21-0 in the first half, they were able to cut the lead to 21-14, then 28-21, which ended up being the final score. Quarterback Shea Patterson was able to string together three solid drives to put up three touchdowns on a strong Penn State defense, but a dropped pass by Ronnie Bell on fourth-and-goal ended the game in shocking fashion.
“He’s been one of the better defensive coordinators in the country for a long time,” Franklin said about Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. “It really comes down to explosive plays against that defense.”
Mistakes were a huge part of Michigan’s downfall. In a game many experts were predicting to be a blowout, the Wolverines held their ground and put up a fight, but couldn’t find their groove.
There are several examples of plays Michigan would like to have back. An example occurred on a crucial third-and-4 in the third quarter. Patterson handed the ball off instead of throwing a wide receiver screen, a play the Nittany Lions had difficulty stopping all night. Michigan was stuffed and was forced to punt the ball back to Penn State.
Then, with Penn State up 21-0, Patterson connected with Donovan Peoples-Jones, but Jaquan Brisker forced the ball out of the receiver’s hands and into the air. The ball was then caught by teammate Corenlius Johnson for a touchdown, but the play was called back for an ineligible receiver downfield.
Even when Penn State tried to give the game away, the Wolverines were unable to capitalize.
Down 21-7 before the end of the first quarter, Harbaugh elected to send kicker Jake Moody out to attempt a 58-yard field goal, which lacked the distance to make it through the goalposts.
On a third-and-11 to open the fourth quarter, Michigan took a holding penalty on an incomplete Penn State pass play to gift the Lions a first down, leading to a 53-yard touchdown pass to KJ Hamler two plays later to take another two-score lead.
The Wolverines were trying to salvage their playoff hopes after a 35-14 blowout loss to Wisconsin in week three. Two losses almost certainly takes them out of the CFP conversation, and most likely removes them from a chance at the Big Ten title.
Michigan will head home to Ann Arbor to take on No. 8 Notre Dame next week at 7:30 p.m.
Top running back still uncertain
Coming off of back-to-back 100-plus yard games, freshman running back Noah Cain saw the field for just five carries; two of them were on the last series of the game trying to run out the clock.
While Cain did have the most rushes on the team by a running back, with Sean Clifford having 11, his absence seemed to stifle the Nittany Lions’ run game. The Louisianian is coming off his two best weeks of the year, so it is unclear as to why he was hardly utilized throughout the game.
“I think he was the second back in,” Franklin said. “I think he did have a lot of opportunities late in the game.”
Many fans and analysts think Cain should be leading the running back depth chart, but Franklin insists that he wants to continue using all four.
“We feel like we’ve got four guys that we’ve got a lot of confidence in and they’re doing really good things,” Franklin said. “Ricky Slade had a good night tonight.”
Slade, a sophomore who has just 59 yards on 28 carries this season, was given the ball three times for a team-high 48 yards. He had a 44-yard run to highlight the evening.
The running back depth chart for the future looks uncertain, so expect to see all four running backs for at least another week or two.
College GameDay returns
Penn State fans on the HUB Lawn rejoiced when Lee Corso put on the Nittany Lion head, picking Penn State to win the White Out game.
College GameDay announced it would be making the trip to Happy Valley last Saturday, making it the third year in a row the show has come to State College to feature a Penn State game. Penn State became the 10th school to host GameDay three years in a row. Prior to 2017, the show had not appeared since 2009.
Fans were already lined up outside the pit on Friday night, awaiting the return of analysts like Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard, and reporter Maria Taylor.
Good Morning America host and Penn State alumna Lara Spencer made her debut as a guest picker, choosing who she thought would win the day’s games. She appeared toward the end of the show alongside Corso and the other analysts. She picked her alma mater to come out victorious.
During the episode, a segment was aired that told the story of defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and the tragedies he endured as a child, losing both his father and brother in separate events. The junior defensive end had five tackles including one solo tackle Saturday night.
In classic GameDay fashion, the Lawn was littered with signs from some clever and passionate Penn State faithful, with many fans taking jabs at the Wolverines and Harbaugh. “Not even Scooby-Doo can solve why Michigan sucks,” one sign read. “This sign has as many Big Ten titles as Jim Harbaugh,” said another. One sign simply pictured an unflattering cutout of Harbaugh shirtless, holding a football above his head.
Penn State improved to 4-4 when hosting GameDay, and 8-12 when featured on the show.
Franklin scoops up another recruit
Penn State had more than 150 recruits in attendance for the Whiteout, showcasing the kind of hostile environment Penn State fans can create.
Before the game began, Penn State received a verbal commitment from three-star offensive guard Nate Bruce.
The 6-foot-4 Harrisburg native is the second player in Penn State’s class of 2021, joining tight end Nick Elksnis.
(Compiled by Max Jordan)