Final Score: 21-28, Michigan loses by 7 to Penn State SP+ Projection: Penn State by 8.2 (+1.2) CD Projection: Michigan by 1 (-8)
WEEK 8 RECAP @ Penn State
I’m going to keep it brief. Michigan is good enough to win these games on the road. Michigan played well enough to win this particular game in a white out vs. Penn State. However, Michigan still has not learned how to step up in big moments. I’m reminded of another gut wrenching moment that spurred Jim Harbaugh to declare “…this will put steel into our spine.” That is what is missing. Not effort, these kids played their guts out, and left everything in Happy Valley. But they need big time players to make big time plays in the biggest moments. With two Big Ten losses, it is time to re-calibrate the season goals. The Wolverines no longer control their own destiny in terms of a conference title. If the Michigan players and coaching staff can bounce back from this heart break, a rivalry win at night in the Big House might help make everyone feel a little better. That would show a spine truly made of steel.
The Wolverines put together a dominant performance @ Illinois, but turnovers and lack of energy on both sides of the ball in the third quarter still made fans very anxious.
NEXT UP: @ Penn State: 6th, 24.4
PREGAME SP+: Penn State by 8.2, Michigan Win Probability 32% The Michigan-PSU series has swung wildly from year to year with the home team winning by an average of 34 points in the last three seasons. Michigan won 28-16 @ PSU in Jim Harbaugh’s first season at Michigan.
Michigan Offense (53rd) vs. Penn State Defense (10th) Various sports media outlets generate wide discussion around the “Most Tortured Fan Base” pretty regularly. Fan negativity really garners attention and gets consumers talking. The volume and intensity of fans’ negativity really ramp up when results do not match the fans’ established expectations. This phenomenon made it very hard to evaluate the 2018 defense after the OSU mess. It makes it very hard for fans to evaluate the 2019 Wolverines’ offense. We know there are flaws, but we expected much more fire power at this point in the season. For me, I still maintain optimism that we will see late-season growth from the offensive unit. I don’t expect to see #SpeedInSpace throw a coming out party at night in a Happy Valley white out. However, I do believe they are capable of making critical explosive plays against a very good Nittany Lion defense. The key will be maximizing their scoring opportunities because they likely will be few and far between.
Michigan Defense (3rd) vs. Penn State Offense (10th) The Wolverines’ defense dismantled Penn State 49-10 in 2016. The Nittany Lions adjusted and utilized new offensive wrinkles for Saquon Barkley in 2017 as they exploded for 42 points. Last year Don Brown stayed awake late into the night to design his counter attack, and nearly shut out Penn State. For this season, the first central question will be: who has processed the available film and data into the better game plan? The second question will be: which group of players will execute better and make plays in big moments? Michigan will crank up the blitz machine to ensure redshirt junior QB Sean Clifford is under pressure on every pass. PSU offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne knows this. He will try to utilize plays that get slot WR KJ Hammler into the space voided by blitzers. Don Brown knows this, and he will change up coverages to anticipate where Clifford’s pressure release valve will be. In my mind, the victor of this chess match will determine the winner of the game.
PREDICTION: Uncharacteristically poor special teams performance also contributes to the Wolverines’ overall performance. In the SP+ rankings Michigan’s special teams unit has plummeted to #62, down 58 spots since the Rutgers game. Even the play of the game @ Illinois, a blocked punt by Jordan Glasgow, was counteracted by a 70 yard Illini punt to Michigan 1 yard line. Statistics and history suggest the special teams performance will improve and push Michigan back up into the 30’s in SP+ special teams ranking. This week would be an absolutely perfect time for the third phase to show up big and put points onto the board. Michigan 21 Penn State 20 (PRESEASON Michigan 31 Penn State 17)
“Have you ever had to talk to the person you love most? To tell them it’s going to be all right, when you know that it’s not?”
Two-Face (Harvey Dent)
Phil’s Game Grades
So Michigan was cruising along up 28-0 at halftime and then roof fell in…only to wake-up in the 4th quarter to make it appear like a more comfortable win then it was…
Offense- The first half looked like a Michigan clinic on running the football, but the wheels fell off until a 4th quarter surge put the game away. Another bad turnover gave Illinois life…The Wolverines are 126th in nation in lost fumbles (only one team has lost more).
Defense – The Michigan defense allowed Illinois to score 18 points between 0:55 of the 2nd quarter and 12:50 of the 4th quarter. This was the first start for redshirt freshman QB Matt Robinson.
Special Teams – The wind played havoc with the kicking game but field goals weren’t needed in this game.
Coaching – Michigan needed an easy win, they need to get backup players some reps in the 4th quarter. Instead a disappearing act in the 3rd quarter only raised more questions about the focus of this team.
Comments – The first half of the season is over. Next up is a 6 game gauntlet unlike any in recent Michigan football history. Michigan’s 5 wins are versus teams with a combined 12-14 record, the next 6 teams they play are 27-9. Those games include 3 teams who are ranked in the top 10 nationally and an instate rival who would like nothing better than to upset the Wolverines at home (again). Michigan’s offense and defense have been inconsistent from game to game and even quarter to quarter.
Each of the next 6 games will be a measuring stick for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines. There is nowhere to hide and nowhere to run but straight through the fire…