Another game, another day of the same stories you probably heard before. James Franklin's coaching called into question, the special teams disappointing, Penn State having too many missed opportunities to name. Michigan may be the better team, but Penn State had their chances to take over this game. However, no matter how many times the Wolverines stumbled, the Nittany Lions just couldn't take advantage. Still, it's probably best to just jump in right now and get it over with.
Penn State got the start they wanted thanks to a Saquon Barkley run of 56 yards that brought the Nittany Lions down to the Michigan nine yard line less than a minute into the game. John Donovan's offense stalled at the nine, however, with three poorly-blocked runs for short gains and Penn State had to settle for a field goal to open the scoring.
Michigan countered with a touchdown in three and a half minutes, as the Wolverines converted twice on third down to keep their drive moving until an eventual Jake Butt touchdown reception from quarterback Jake Rudock. After this drive, Carl Nassib would no longer be seen on the field, a very sad way to end his Beaver Stadium career.
The Nittany Lions' next drive stalled after a false start penalty on third and eight kept Penn State from moving the chains. However, Penn State was able to intercept Michigan's next drive on a third and 17 as Brandon Bell picked off Rudock for 25 yards. Again, the Nittany Lions were unable to convert on spectacular field position, resulting in a punt from Michigan's 38 yard line.
The teams traded punts through the rest of the first quarter, with Penn State failing to punt the ball with any efficiency. Thankfully, the defense was up to the challenge, and help Michigan in check. The Wolverines took a 7-3 lead into the second quarter.
Barkley started Penn State's first drive of the second quarter with a 15-yard first down run. Michigan extended Penn State's drive by jumping offsides twice to help put Penn State in field goal range. However, Hackenberg was taken down on the very next play, bringing the Nittany Lions back out of field goal range. On third down, Hack tried to throw a long ball to the end zone to Chris Godwin, but the receiver couldn't bring it down. Pasquariello could only net 14 yards on the punt, kicking it into the end zone after the Nittany Lions couldn't convert.
Michigan's next drive stalled on a third and two after picking up a first down, unable to covert on a Rudock missed throw. Barkley was stuffed on Penn State's next drive on a third and seven, putting the Nittany Lions at a 0-5 conversion rate on third downs. Pasquariello again had a bad punt, putting the Wolverines at their 41. However, Michigan could not do anything with their spectacular field position, going three and out after Penn State's defense held on two straight passes.
Von Walker came up big for Penn State on the punt, blocking Blake O'Neill's kick and keeping the Nittany Lions in Michigan territory. Mike Gesicki kept Penn State going with a catch on third and six, good for the Nittany Lions' first third down conversion of the day. Saeed Blacknall finished the drive off with just over two minutes left on a beautiful catch that was reminiscent of Blacknall's touchdown grab in 2014 against Ohio State.
The touchdown gave Penn State a 10-7 lead over the Wolverines, but Michigan drove down the field within the final minutes after looking like they were going to be bottled up by the defense. A 26-yard pass to Amara Darboh on third down and a Jake Butt catch for 18 yards put the Wolverines in position, and Darboh capped the drive with a touchdown on an 11-yard catch and run screen play. Penn State's momentum couldn't keep up with the Michigan offense, and the Wolverines held a 14-10 lead heading into halftime.
Michigan opened their second half drive with the short passing game, which got them to Penn State's 42 with not much trouble. The Nittany Lions did hold the line at the 42, causing three consecutive incomplete passes and eventually taking over at their own seven yard line after a deep Wolverine punt. Michigan's defense clamped down on Penn State, forcing a Nittany Lion three-and-out with only a four yard gain.
Pasquariello's punt this time was much better, going past midfield, but Michigan was penalized for an illegal block in the back to back them up. Anthoy Zettel negated the block in the back penalty on the next play with a roughing the passer penalty, barely avoiding a targeting call with a hit that got Rudock in the chest instead of the neck.
The Nittany Lion defense held after the penalty, but a muffed punt from De'Andre Thompkins gave the ball right back to Michigan at the Penn State nine yard line. Three straight runs for the Wolverines resulted in a Michigan touchdown, putting the visitors up 21-10 with 6:07 left in the third quarter.
Penn State had some assistance on their next drive, picking up 30 yards in two plays on two Michigan penalties. The first was a 15 yard hands to the face penalty on a Barkley run. The next got Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverine sideline incensed on a pass interference penalty where both receiver and defender looked to push each other, but Michigan was the only party called. Hackenberg sustained a sack on second down, and was slow to get up, prompting Trace McSorley to take over under center. McSorley threw the ball away on third down, and Michigan took over on a punt.
The Nittany Lions stalled Michigan's next drive thanks to Brandon Bell's strip sack of Rudock, and Penn State took over at Michigan's 46 yard line, with the third quarter drawing to a close. Michigan almost had an interception on a deep ball intended for Godwin, but brought up a fourth down for the Nittany Lions. After a timeout, Hackenberg fired a dart down the center of the field to Godwin, connecting for 38 yards to put Penn State down on Michigan's three yard line to end the quarter.
However, it was all in vain, as Hackenberg missed two throws and Barkley was taken down for a loss of three, resulting in a field goal for the Nittany Lions to make it a one possession game. The Lions trailed 21-13 with 14 minutes to play. Michigan started their next possession with a 13-yard illegal block penalty that dropped them from their 26 to their 13. Penn State forced a three and out with only one complete pass from Rudock on first down for eight yards.
Again, Penn State stormed down the field looking to score a touchdown thanks to decent field position at their 37. Two Michigan penalties on an offside and defensive pass interference later, they were at the Wolverines' 33. Barkley lost four yards on second down, but Hackenberg picked up the first with his legs, running down to the 20 for a fresh set of downs. A catch by Barkley on first down brought the ball to the Michigan six yard line for a first, but after three unsuccessful attempts to get the ball in the end zone, James Franklin opted to kick the field goal instead of going for six.
Michigan finished the game with a five play drive that took just under three minutes that sucked the air out of Penn State's tires. The Wolverines benefited from a 55 yard Jourdan Lewis return on the kickoff that got them to the Penn State 40 yard line. A pass interference call helped move Michigan down to the Penn State six yard line and a one yard De'Veon Smith scoring lunge finished off the game's scoring, with 5:12 left.
Penn State had one last chance on their final drive, but another sack on Hackenberg and a failed fourth down conversion sealed the deal for Michigan's 28-16 win.
Three Completely Unrelated, Probably Useless Thoughts
1. No matter the score or level of competition, Penn State versus Michigan does not look right under the light of day. Night games or bust, honestly.
2. For weeks now, or basically since the beginning of the season, Penn State has failed in the special teams game. The muffed punt by De'Andre Thompkins feels like the second in as many weeks and was this game's turning point, no question. The punting game is also shaky, with Pasquariello missing on big yards more than hitting them. Field position can make or break a game, and while Penn State has other problems as well, their special teams are making things difficult for both the offense and the defense.
3. Penn State seemed to be caught in a loop all game. Despite starting multiple drives with excellent field position and marching down the field to within touchdown range, the offense stalled completely. The play-calling once again was predicated on angling for big plays, and not much else. Rather than go for intermediate passes, deep balls were called. Instead of trying to pick up three or four yards on an inside run, a laterally-developing play was called, and was subsequently blown up for a loss. Michigan gave Penn State numerous chances to get back in this game, but between a failure to develop drives that weren't aided by Wolverine penalties and a horrific display of efficiency (or lack thereof) in the red zone, the Nittany Lions never took advantage of those chances.