The handwriting on the wall regarding this season’s results is now becoming clearer and clearer with this ungainly 31 to 41 loss to the Lions.
As happened last year, the slide to the bottom of the Big Ten has begun, on the wheels of a familiar defensive scenario. The defense can?t stop the run or the pass to give Michigan?s Denard led, and fairly potent offense, its fair number of chances.
This was a game in which the Wolverines should have been competitive. For example, Penn State was last in the Big Ten in third down conversions but we made them very successful, at least for a day.
Penn State had been struggling offensively and defensively until the Wolverines came to town. The Wolverines let them convert third and longs at will. Saturday the Lions were 10 of 16 on third down conversions. Penn State QB Matt McGloin was a first time starter, and frankly our inept defense made him look like an experienced All American. He had a very nice game.
Denard was nicked early and Tate Forcier replaced him for a few plays, but DRob recovered and had an outstanding effort in toting 27 carries 190-yards for three TDs. He hit 11 of 23 passes for 190-yards and 1 TD, and had a total of 381 total yards. UM had 422-yards, PSU 435. M had 190-yards passing and PSU 250. The Wolverines actually outscored the Lions in the second half, but it was too little too late. The game was not as close as the statistics indicate. Michigan never really seemed to be in control.
Denard set a Big 10 record for QBs. He has 1,287-yards.
Before the game it was almost universally thought that the Wolverines would be able to effectively compete with PSU, but in fact they simply did not compete effectively defensively. Denard did his job, producing several drives ending in TDs that should have put Michigan in position to be there at the end of the game, but silly penalties as well as sporadic defense hurt. Although I thought the late hit call that RR was yelling about extensively late in the last half was a cheap call, mistakes, short KO?s, a critical fumble, and opponent?s runbacks again highlighted the tiresome play of some aspects of the special teams.
Jeremy Gallon miscued deep, and set up an ensuing PSU TD drive from the resulting field position gift. His nice runbacks, including a 47-yard return in the 3rd quarter, could not quite compensate for that damage. Broekhuizen hit a 37-yard FG. Hagerup handled the KOs for the first time, with mixed results, but had a 55-yard punt.
Most of the onus for Saturday?s loss belongs directly on a defense that is not improving, consistently allows long drives, too often seems confused, doesn?t looks well coached, consistently misses tackles, makes heady plays to provide third and long, and then fails to stop a run or a pass to allow the opposition?s drive to continue. It seems to have earned and deserves its place at the bottom of the Big Ten barrel. They have given up thirty points or more to all their Big Ten opponents, whether their offense is good or bad. But I don?t have to describe the Wolverines defense to you, you have seen the results for yourself all season long. For this game they have earned another D.
The defense seemed to play harder after Rodriguez waded into them in the second half on the sideline, with a very animated entreaty. Mike Martin spent much of the game on the sidelines because of injury, as did Jibreel Black. That couldn?t be more unlucky for an already thin unit.
They made several changes over the bye week in the defense. Ray Vinopal was moved to safety and Cam Gordon to spur. Vinopal had six tackles, but was “Roystered” a couple of times. Although they both made some plays, unfortunately the overall results were not much improved as the previously anemic PSU offense put up four TDs in the first half and 41 for the game.
PSU deferred and M received the ball but stalled and PSU produced a 14 play, 71-yard drive that was a prototype for the afternoon. Royster ran it in from four and it was rapidly M 0-PSU 7.
After a 15-yard Martel Webb reception, Denard traversed 32 yards for a score and it was 7 up after a 9 play 80-yard drive.
PSU returned the KO forty yards and in 5 plays covered 56-yards with Royster recording a 1-yard TD. M 7-PSU 14.
DRob was hurt at the end of the quarter, and Tate took a few snaps.
M hit a 37-yard FG. M 10-PSU 14.
PSU produced another long drive of 11 plays which covered 74-yards, scoring on a 1-yard McGloin run. M 10-PSU 21
Gallon fumbled the KO on his own two, and PSU subsequently drove 37-yards to another TD in 4 plays, scoring on a 20-yard pass. M 10-PSU 28. The game was out of hand at the half.
PSU opened the 2nd half with a 10-play, 67-yard drive for a 32-yard FG. M 10-PSU 31.
Denard threw a 62-yard scoring pass to Koger to complete a 5-play 80-yard drive. M 17-PSU 31.
Another PSU 80-yard drive with a 5-yard rushing TD really hurt and made it M 17-PSU-38.
Michigan scored twice more to on short rushes by Denard to make it M 31-PSU 38. but it was not enough
Special teams helped seal the Wolverines fate at this critical juncture by allowing a 30-yard KO return. PSU executed a sucessful fake punt to continue possession and capped the scoring with a 42-yard FG. M 31-PSU 4 and the day was done.
This loss leaves the Wolverines in an undesirable position that should have been avoided. Of the five games they had left on Saturday, the PSU game appeared the most winnable, with the possible exception of Purdue, and it is lost.
So now logic indicates that they will only have one more victory available (Purdue), or maybe two (add Illinois). When and if the Wolverines win another they game they will have established some Bowl eligibility.
Maybe the Wolverines can take Illinois at home next week if Denard and Molk are healthy. Perhaps. But don?t count on it as Illinois is playing some good football right now, and Michigan is not playing well in all three phases of the game. Zook let his entire staff go after last season and it seems to have produced some results. They will be a formidable challenge for Wolverines fresh from a three game losing streak, even if some say Illini statistics show the Wolverines should prevail. So did PSUs.
Last year?s Illinois game was a loss that helped put the final stamp of disaster on that season. The same scenario seems to be looming again with gathering momentum. Someone will have to spike the Kool Aid to restore a lot of optimism after Saturday?s Happy Valley excursion.
I thought 7 and 5 at the start of the season and it is still possible even if Wisconsin and Ohio State are so much better teams that victories over them seem out of reach. But the chances are getting whittled down each week
The Wolverines will return to greatness sooner or later. It will be worth the wait. But the wait continues.