Phil Callihan and Clint Derringer discuss Michigan’s 27-17 loss to Penn State, the dire state of the team, and what the Harbaugh era tells us about Wolverine football.
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WEEK 6 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS
Final Score: 17-27, Penn State by 10 over Michigan
SP+ Projection: Penn State by 1.0 (-9.0)
CD Projection: Michigan by 1 (-11)
Offensively, the Wolverines lost their first-half rhythm when Cade McNamara left the game with a shoulder injury. The broadcast team mentioned that Joe MIlton was also less than 100%, and he was unable to mount a charge. The salt in the wound for this week was Michigan netted 174 rushing yards. In my data set, they averaged 6.5 yards per run play (garbage time & sacks removed). However, they could not sustain drives and continue to move the chains. While McNamara was hurt, Hassan Haskins was inexplicably standing on the sideline. This week, Josh Gattis was unable to scheme his WRs open, and Michigan could only muster a 28% success rate on pass plays.
Defensively, I saw just about what I expected. While the defensive line was boosted by Kwity Paye’s return, the defensive interior could not stand up to Penn State’s mediocre offensive line. The Nittany Lions netted 254 rushing yards, and averaged 5.2 yards per run play in my data set. Michigan needed a big stop after tightening the score to 20-17 in the 4th quarter. The Wolverines were merely an annoyance to Penn State as they marched 75 yards in 5:00 to stretch the lead to 10. I think the defensive staff has adjusted to help mitigate the huge plays against man coverage outside, and that is commendable. I thought holding PSU under 30 would be enough to win, but instead James Franklin has his first win of 2020.
Last week, special teams hurt Michigan with 3 missed FGs. This week, it was 2 muffed punts, one of which resulted in a turnover and a field goal for Penn State. Michigan certainly missed Giles Jackson, who was the latest to hit the injury report. This year cannot end soon enough.
Every problem that plagues Michigan right now is also weighing down the Nittany Lions. The game was in Ann Arbor on a beautiful November day. All the potential excuses have withered and Michigan is left with just one option: acknowledging that they don’t know how to win football games right now.2020_11_28_PennState_27_Michigan_17-1
LAST WEEK RECAP
The Wolverines survived three OTs against Rutgers to win 48-42 on the road. The offense did a near-180 degree turnaround under Cade McNamara. The defense did not.
PREGAME SP+: Penn State by 1.0, Michigan Win Probability 48%
Michigan & Penn State both look radically different than anybody expected before the Big Ten kicked off in October. Michigan has underperformed SP+ expectations on defense allowing an average of 12.8 points more than SP+ projections. Penn State has underperformed on both sides of the ball. The Nittany Lion defense gives up an average of 11.2 more points than projections. Their offense has scored 6.6 points less than projected.
Michigan Offense (44th) vs. Penn State Defense (30th)
Michigan may have answered a couple big questions on offense. It looks like Hassan Haskins will get a larger share of the running back carries going forward. Also, Josh Gattis seemed to have more plays that use post-snap reads at his disposal once Cade McNamara took over at quarterback. Still, the largest question mark still looms: how healthy will the Wolverines’ offensive line be? We asked the same question headed into the Rutgers game, but lost center Andrew Vastardis to injury instead of regaining Jaylen Mayfield or Ryan Hayes at tackle. Regardless, this Penn State defense is also short handed and just gave up 34 points to Iowa (54th SP+ offense).
Michigan Defense (37th) vs. Penn State Offense (34th)
In my mind, this game will be decided in big moments while Penn State has the ball. First, it’s critical for Michigan to get off to a solid start. Penn State has yet to score more than 7 points in the first half in any game in 2020. That includes games against Maryland (67th SP+ defense, PSU 19 points) and against Nebraska (76th SP+ defense, PSU 23 points). Second, the Wolverines need to keep the Penn State quarterbacks uncomfortable. If Don Brown can get back to using havoc and confusion to create turnovers, then the defensive unit could give their offensive teammates a big boost. That may be too big an “IF” statement though, given the injuries stretching the defensive two deep perilously thin.
PREDICTION: Michigan should be able to string together successful offensive plays against this diminished Penn State defensive unit. If I was confident that Michigan would have their best 5 offensive linemen healthy, I would feel much more comfortable heading into Saturday. While we are starting to see a few playmakers emerge on offense, the Wolverines need some young defenders to step forward. I will be looking for DT Chris Hinton, LB Michael Barrett, and S Daxton Hill to be difference makers during crunch time in Ann Arbor.
Michigan 28 Penn State 27 (PRESEASON Michigan 27 Penn State 21)
SP+ Overall: 40th (↓13), 6.8
SP+ Offense: 44th (↓9), 31.6
SP+ Defense: 37th (↓11), 24.7
SP+ Special Teams: 81st (↑2), -0.1
AP Poll: NR (same), 0
Coaches’ Poll: NR (same), 0
CFP Rank: NR
WEEK 5 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS
Final Score: 48-42 3OT, Michigan by 6 over Rutgers
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 19.3 (-13.3)
CD Projection: Michigan by 6 (✔)
Admittedly, it felt weird to be treating a week 5 trip to Rutgers as a must win. But, it absolutely was a must win game for Michigan, and for Jim Harbaugh. They won, and that matters a lot. There were still a litany of errors to correct for this coaching staff, and for these players. But in the end, Michigan finally managed to make some key plays in big spots. This will prove to be a memorable lesson in how to win for these players, especially those with very little game experience.
I hope everyone is prepared for a very fast transfer from the Joe Milton hype train to the Cade McNamara hype train. McNamara looked very sharp after taking over for Milton in the second quarter. He was 27-36 (75%) for 260 yards and 4 TDs. Perhaps more importantly, once the offense forced Rutgers to defend the whole field, the running game was able to find some creases. There is still a lot of work to do to bolster the depth while three of the five starting lineman recover from injuries. Hassan Haskins seems to have stepped forward to gather more carries than the other three running backs. However, Chris Evans had perhaps the play of the game on a 4th & 5 conversion in the 4th quarter. Josh Gattis finally seemed to get into a rhythm for the first time since October 24th in Minneapolis.
On first glance, this game was a lot like the rest of the 2020 performances for Don Brown’s defensive unit. There were still huge chunk plays given up through the air to a Rutgers QB who was averaging 5.3 yards per pass attempt coming in. Rutgers managed 6.8 yards per called pass play tonight against Michigan. There were a few glimmers of hope, however. Early on, we saw a flash of speed off the ball from Chris Hinton. If he emerges as an interior threat, this defense immediately improves. We also saw Dax Hill make a technique correction from early in the game to the end. In the 1st quarter, Dax made a passive play on a deep ball and the WR high-pointed a 43 yard bomb to set up Rutgers’ first score. On the final play of the game, in a similar coverage technique, Dax left no doubt by going up high to snatch his first interception of the season.
Giles Jackson continues to show his propensity for being a playmaker. Today, it was as a kick returner. His 95-yard touchdown return to open the 2nd half was a huge part of why Michigan was able to execute a comeback victory. When Rutgers kicked away from Jackson, Blake Corum was very capable of converting short kicks into good field position also. Michigan was very fortunate that their explosive return game was able to pick up the place kicking. Three missed field goals nearly cost Michigan this game in regulation, and in overtime. One missed field goal was affected by a poor snap, but the other two were clearly pushed right by Quinn Nordin. I expect Michigan’s special teams unit will sink even lower in next week’s SP+ rankings.2020_1122-Michigan-48-Rutgers-42-3OT