The Wolverine’s tripped to Penn State’s Happy Valley for an important Big Ten confrontation with a Legends division competitor. The Lions tripped them in the 4th overtime in the longest football game in Wolverine history.
The Wolverines squandered several quality opportunities to win the game, and in the end, the offense could not produce a timely TD, or a FG, to win the game, and the defense couldn’t prevent the winning score, a four-yard rushing TD. This game was the Wolverines for the taking, but they botched the taking, and they will be taking a 1-1 Big Ten record into next week’s Indiana game.
After the absence from Michigan’s schedule during a couple of devastating years for the Lion’s program, the Wolverine returned to a now happier valley, for the first of what is to be an every year meeting between these storied programs. It was a spectacular win for the Lions, and a spectacular loss for the Wolverines.
PSU football is fast recovering from the blow the program took with the fall from grace of the legendary Joe Paterno three years ago. Fired a short time before he lost a terminal battle with cancer, many of his astounding number of college football wins were vacated. He strove to, and was expected to be the coach with the most wins in college football history.
The lack of available scholarships will soon be restored due to the recent largess of the NCAA, who restored them ahead of its earlier declared time line. Why? As inscrutable as a blond bombshell avoiding revealing her true hair color, why the NCAA does things the way it does is often obscure. Was it concern for the student athlete or fear of lawsuits? The Bowl sanctions remain.
The Lions played their Bowl game before 107,000 Saturday evening, providing its fans with an improbable and memorable win, and the Wolverines with the same kind of defeat. After the game Coach Hoke said about losing in OT: “If you let it take a toll it will”.
The Lions avoided defeat in regulation by producing a gritty 80-yard drive to tie, erasing what had been a 10- point 4th quarter M lead. A beautiful Robinson catch enabled the PSU TD by putting the ball at the Michigan 2, and they scored easily. The extra point then tied the game to send it into overtime. Brendan Gibbon’s subsequent effort to nail a 52-yard field goal to prevent the OT and secure the win in regulation was well directed, but fell short.
M failed to score a TD in four overtimes, managed two only field goals, and could not cash in on all its opportunities in regulation or the overtime. Frank Clark twice made outstanding defensive plays, once in the first half, which he returned 26-yards for six, and in the second OT, Frank recovered a fumble which provided a stunning opportunity for victory. But a makeable FG was missed wide by Brandon Gibbons.
They had several sterling and surprising opportunities to win the game, but could not manage the task while Penn State did.
The steady tutelage of Coach Bill O’Brien, last year’s National Coach of the Year, is rapidly reconstituting the torn and suffering program. Now they have a classic victory over the Wolverines to enhance their standing.
No need to repeat the well-known story of JoPa’s fall from coaching grace, except to say that he was some football coach, but unfortunately, he evidently was not an effective administrator in certain highly important areas.
The Wolverines had stuck Coach Paterno and Penn State fans with some memorable defeats, and they have returned the favor when they could in this short series. The series sits at 10-7-0. Let’s conveniently forget about losses for a moment, and remember three superb Michigan wins instead.
There have been Michigan moments in the series. I will never forget the Henne to Manningham end zone catch that helped deep-six the Lions undefeated season in 2005. Late in the game it was an improbable decider. M won 23-21. Henne snapped a perfectly executed pass to Manningham who caught it in the South end zone running at full stride for six, before you could say JoPa.
This ruination of a perfect Lion season still gnaws at the gizzards of some of the Blue White Illustrated denizens, as Saturday’s game will gnaw on us.
Those Lion’s fans are hyper fanatic. This group formulates and harbors fabulous conspiracy imaginings at the drop of a referee’s flag. Stuff such as the Big Ten wants Michigan to win, so the refs oblige, at the expense of the league newcomers etc. There are extensive variations on a theme, but their central tendency seems to be a taste for victimization. This was before the sanctions.
There was the convincing “Judgment Day” victory in 1997 at Beaver Stadium. That was a big part of an undefeated season, and earned the Wolverines part of a National Championship. The only low spot that day was the loss of Dadrion Taylor, who sacrificed his football career by laying a tremendous lick on a Nittany Lion running back. Dadrion never played football again. Neither did the Penn State full back. The game ended with M winning 34-8.
The first game in which M and PSU met in Happy Valley in 1993, where Coach Paterno stubbornly tried to prove his running game by attempting four runs into the M defensive line from the PSU one yard line. Failing, but persistent, he kept trying again. Twice the QB and twice his running back were repelled.
But all that is little immediate consolation to the Wolverines or their fans in view of the Saturday’s outcome. Fresh wounds hurt.
There were questions before the game whether the Wolverines could run the ball effectively? The answer is yes, if the rusher is Devin Gardner. He remains M’s most reliable rusher. He rushed for 121-yards on 24 attempts.
The running back position still struggles. While Fitz Toussaint got some runs when they were needed, for the most part he was stymied, especially on first down, again and again. Such hyper conservative calls at crunch time are perplexing. This football team cannot produce a power running game. It obviously does not have the offensive line to do so. Taylor Lewan missing the second half and the OTs was a downer. This was a contributory factor of course, but the OL struggled even with him in the line-up. The results of six games prove a below average Big Ten power running game. Derrick Green was not a significant factor in the game.
The offensive line was not overwhelmingly effective at any time, but most certainly not effective in the “power” running game. It appears that the spread offense is more effective for them, and the power running game is still but a dream. Fitz had 27 carries and 42 total yards, and 27 net yards. He lost 15, and had a long of 12. All this was against an ordinary Penn State defense.
Devin Gardner was often hurried, and was intercepted twice in the first half, to complete a terrible half of football. Devin also fumbled on a great defensive whack on the ball. The responsibility for the turn overs was Devin’s. He was an outstanding offensive weapon at times with his arm (15 of 28 and 240-yards with 3 TDs), and at all times with his legs, but the mistakes helped prevent going home with a W in spite of his good plays. Many times his mistakes come on third and long. They sometimes happen because first down runs are smacked down forcing the third and longs. But it is his responsibility to make the play.
Devin Garner found his two favorite receivers, Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon. Funchess went over the 100-yard mark for the second straight time. He nabbed a 59-yard TD pass, and the 37-yard TD for 122-yards on 4 catches. Gallon caught 7 for 95-yards and a TD.
I still wonder why there is no full time quarterback coach dedicated to working full time with the QBs, one that is not in the box during games, as a hybrid quarterback/offensive coordinator must be, but on the side line cajoling, counseling, directing, during games. Devin’s two interceptions aided Penn State immensely with two short field TDs in the first half, and enabled PSU to take a commanding lead by the half, 21-10.
While the defense held the anemic PSU running game to 44 net yards, this was not the best performance of the season for the defense. The hurry up offense of the Lions bothered the Wolverines. They did force some turnovers, but could not hold an advantage in this game, with red zone efforts that failed too often. Examples are PSU’s last drive of regulation and their last drive in the 4th OT for the win.
It definitely was not the best performance of the year for the coaches. Play calling was bad. I have to question the wisdom of pounding Fitz Toussaint into the line for a loss or no gain on so many first downs and at crucial times. Also, plays coming from this offense are often predictable by formation and down.
Surprisingly, the defense was not prepared for the Lion’s hurry up defense on more than one occasion.
Coach Hoke’ decision to pooch punt in lieu of a long 52-yard field goal attempt seems questionable as Wile’s pooch gained about 15-yards. A successful 52-yard FG could have won it. Then Michigan’s defense didn’t hold. PSU achieved a tie in regulation, enabled by a heady 37-yard Allen Robinson catch at the two, with Robinson out leaping Blake Countess. The Lions rammed it in from there. Also there was a critical delay of game penalty, which should never have happened.
Lion Freshman Christian Hackenberg hacked up the Wolverines defense. He hit 23 passes of 44 thrown for 305-yards and for 3 TDs and two interceptions. He was sacked 4 times.
An interception by PSU permitted a subsequent 12-yard scoring pass. M answered with a 59-yarder to Funchess, and it was 7-up. Gibbons hit a 47 yarder. M-10-PSU 7.
Another M interception, fumble. Hackenberg threw a 20-yard TD pass. Then a 24-yard TD pass. M-10, PSU-21 at the half. Its looking grim for the Wolverines.
The Wolverines forced TOs on their first two possessions of the second half.
Frank Clark immediately came out swinging, and rumbled 24-yards with a fumble recovery. 17-21. Gibbons hit a 23-yard FG and it was 20-21. A Ramon Taylor interception and return to the PSU 26 set it up. PSU answered with a 45-yarder. Now it was 20-24. Jeremy Gallon collared a 16-yard TD pass to put the Wolverines up 27 to 24.
Funchess made an outstanding play by catching a 37-yard TD pass. M-34, PSU-24. Then PSU a hit a 43-yard FG, and scored on a one yard run. M-34, PSU- 34 at the end of regulation.
OT (There were 4 OTs)
Michigan won the toss and elected to play defense. Gibbons 40-yard FG attempt was blocked. In the second OT, each team hit an FG. Gibbons hit a 25-yd FG and the Lions answered with a 36-yarder. It was knotted at 37 each. In the third OT Frank Clark recovered a fumble before PSU scored. Gibbons missed a 33-yard FG attempt that was hit left. In the 4th OT, Gibbons hit a 40-yarder to make it 40-37. Then PSU running back Belton ended the scoring with a one yard TD run. It was finally over. Final OT: M-40, PSU-43.
While a 5 and 1 overall record is highly laudable, it looks like the Wolverines still have a huge amount of work to do. They need to improve offensively, defensively, and on special teams.
Critical penalties still plague them. While one call seemed iffy, they compiled 7 penalties for 62-yards.
It seems that the Wolverines are still uncertain of their offensive identity. The power running game by running backs is mediocre. The bend but not break defensive scheme let them down. Penn State had good red zone performance, and converted many short yardages, and Hackenberg ate up the secondary at critical times.
Jake Ryan played a little and was effective in his limited role. Hopefully he will aid the pass rush yet this year.
Overall, this was a dismal experience for the Wolverines, and it will be interesting to see how they respond. I believe that they will learn and will prosper yet this year, but to what degree it is hard to tell.
Whatever the results, they will do their best, but the future does not seem as bright for them this year as it did as they continue to struggle. The heart of their Big Ten schedule is still before them. The challenges just seem bigger now. They will have to grow to meet them.
This loss remains what it is, simply one loss, however irritating.