The underdog Wolverines flew in to Happy Valley with The Wolverines lew in Happy valley Saturday with the full intention of making it UnHappy Valley football-wise last Saturday. This was no small task for the Wolverines, as they have had trouble scoring points at times this season. This continued against the Lions, as the Wolverines managed just 128-yards of total offense.
The offense has been consistently inconsistent this season. Scoring in the red zone in particular has often been a challenge for the Wolverines, but this was not the problem Saturday. The Lion defense had the Wolverines’ number, and sacked O’Korn seven times. There were still OL woes in that regard. The M defense yielded 506-yards, and the offense yielded 7 sacks.
M QB John O’Korn, newly minted starter for the Wolverines after Wilton Speight’s injury three games ago, sorely needed a break though game. While he played better this week than last week, 14 points is unacceptable in modern football if you expect to win. O’Korn completed 16 of 28 passes for 166-yards.
He had been struggling in prior games due to a variety of factors, not the least of which, was the play of the offensive line. Another was his penchant for big plays, missing his check downs, and happy feet. Add to that, that he is not particularly adept at getting rid of the ball quickly when rushed.
Sometimes those happy feet are among his best assets. He can athletically avoid the rush sometimes, and has been known to put his shoulder down and try to smash for a first down. He ran well against PSU. He can throw off the run. Because of the many sacks, his rushing yardage equaled a dismal minus three, but he had some nice runs. He seldom is able to throw the ball away, and late in the game lost control of the ball. It was covered by the Lions as review confirmed. This error helped kill any late game scoring, just as the three interceptions at MSU did during M’s late charge there.
Because of his running ability there has been some speculation that Harbaugh’s pro set system does not meet his talents head on.
This should now be confirmation that the Wolverine offense will continue to be problematic against good teams. The OL was often a sieve.
Penn State has not shared M’s kind of offensive woes this season, and again they produced, with two early 1st quarter TDs featuring Heisman contender Saqueon Barkley. His 69 and 15-yard TD runs ruled the first quarter against the Wolverines, and set the tone of the game for a suddenly shaky M defense. The Lions produced 506-yards of offense against the Wolverines vaunted defense.
They feature one of the best QBs in the Big Ten, Lion QB Trace McSorely, and a Heisman Candidate, running back, Saqueon Barkley. Barkley demonstrated that can catch the ball as well as tote it effectively. He scored a receiving TD in the second half. It was a Big Ten highlight catch of 42-yards, that he batted into the air and ran under to secure and take into the end zone.
In seasons past, the Wolverines dampened Barkley’s production Even with the M current defense being one of the best in the nation pregame, or close thereto, they could not do it again, under the lights, in Beaver Stadium, before a frenzied, prime time, “white out” crowd. The Lions were revenge minded. They were all steamed up, after the Wolverines took it to them last year in Michigan Stadium, 49-10. This year they got their revenge 42 to 13.
A plus for the underdog Wolverines, who were an eleven-point underdog, was that the Lions had been generous with TFLs this season. It was thought that the Wolverine’ s defense brought a large supply with them to the now Unhappy Valley, and they put on pressure for much of the game, but not always effectively. It proved out that the Lions had the better supply of sacks, hurries, and TFLs. The defense obviously had its worst day of the season, which was a surprise, and the offense struggled to provide 13-points, which was not a surprise..
M IS A SPECIAL OPPONENT FOR THE LIONS: When the Lions were in their Big Ten swaddling clothes, new to the Big Ten, their fans seemed to favorably tolerate Michigan fans. That has changed I’m told.
Among the causes were events like the Judgment Day meeting in 1997, when the future National Champion Wolverines gave them a fierce beating in their home stadium. Also, there were many wins in the past ten years or so that fervent Lions fans who follow Blue and White Illustrated, could not stomach. They cited biased officiating, and formulated conspiracy theories. The first M /PSU match in Beaver Stadium that I recall featured a PSU first down near the goal to win. In four rushes, the Lions could not punch it in as M held and won. Storied Coach Joe Paterno got the stubbornness award for that game, but not the coveted victory.
M’s Mike Manningham caught a last second bullet from M QB Chad Henne in a stunning play to watch. The Wolverines won, and the PSU faithful reached for their TUMs, appropriate libations, or other solaces. Since Saturday the shoe is on the other foot.
Again, when losing, some of their fans disputed calls and spouted invective regarding the Big Ten, some intimating that they, (the Big Ten), wanted the Lions to lose through manipulation of game officials. There are many good PSU Fans with love of school and the sport. But some seem a little bit overboard at times. Michigan was overwhelmed Saturday by a better football team.
The terrible scandal that toppled their great coach, Joe Paterno off his pedestal, understandably still gnaws at them, increasing their angst.
Since the lifting of the NCAA sanctions, and the entry of current coach, James Franklin, and subsequent to the serious thumping by the Wolverines last year in Ann Arbor, they have turned it around, and they won the Big Ten Championship. I hear part of that was that he adjusted his offensive scheme to his personnel.
Winning the Big Ten Tournament under the play-off system is a feat the Wolverines have aspired to and never accomplished. That was a magnificent PSU accomplishment the Wolverines, can and should envy and emulate.
While MSU was a PSU rival for years, always the Spartans last game of the season, the PSU/M series reaches back only to the beginning of PSU’s participation in the Big Ten, and is studded with M victories. The intensity continues to grow.
WOLVERINES NEEDED A SIGNATURE WIN: Bo had his win over undefeated OSU in 1969, and it gave his tenure at Michigan a tremendous boost that lasted all his career. Jim Harbaugh needs something that approaches that win over a ranked team that has equal or better talent.
Something to make the on-field success rise to the level of Harbaugh’s off field success. Something to make this young team believe they are both capable and extraordinary. They shouldn’t have let this opportunity evaporate, as it had all the necessary makings with the 17th ranked Wolverines butting heads with the Number 2 Lions. They came a long way from a signature win Saturday as the defense as well as the offense struggled big time.
THE WOLVERINES WERE OUTCLASSED OFFENSIVELY, DEFENSIVELY, AND ON THE SIDELINES: It was all there for the taking, but the Wolverines were simply outclassed by the determined Lions as the offense again struggled, and the usually reliable defense was sometimes at a loss. They could not contain either McSorely or Barkley early or late, and fell to an early 14-point deficit.
A much-needed interception helped the Wolverines to briefly close the gap in the second quarter. A little surprise zone coverage instead of man to man paid off, as M’s Long caught the ball, and advanced it 25-yards, giving the Wolverines their best field position till then. The ensuing Higdon TD made it 13-14, as Nordin missed his first extra point. It was 13-14 as the half waned, but the M defense could not protect the Wolverines’ interests, and gave up a TD before the half closed, making it 21-13 at the half.
Essentially this case was closed at the half. The Wolverines did not quit trying, but they had a barren second half score wise.
The Penn State second half scores were on a 13-yard McSorely run, to make it 13-28, the great, acrobatic Barkley 42-yard catch made it 35-13. The scoring was capped by a 9-yard McSoreley run, and it was final at 13-42.
MOVING ON: While it is probably that any Wolverines aspirations toward a Big Ten title are gone with the winds of Saturday’s loss, it is apparent that there is still much work for the Wolverines to accomplish. Tough games, meaningful games, signature games, are still to come. The character of this team will have to come to the forefront to rebound. It is the coaches job to see that they bounce back.
That lowly Rutgers is next could be a trap. The Knights are coming off two wins so they might make it a spat, but M’s defense should shatter them. Will the offense score enough points so that some understudies get a little time?
FINAL THOUGHT: In comparison to the Wolverines offense, the Lions offense looked hyper smooth while both passing and running to scores. Play calling was effective. Their read option runs by McSorely after delayed fake handoffs were smoothly deceptive, and were greatly effective, as supported by 506-yards of offense against the Blue. McSorely ran 11 time for 76 net yards, with a long of 23, and 3 TDs. Their tall receiver Hamilton was outstanding. They hacked M’s vaunted defense apart, early and late. Their play calling was outstanding.
I don’t like PSU very much, and always will, and I never thought James Franklin was at the top of the coaching heap, but they are a very impressive football team at this point, and looked like they are the Number two team in the country last Saturday.