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31 Random Thoughts on Michigan

Random musings and general discussion on the weekend that was against the Michigan Wolverines

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

The Penn State Nittany Lions and the Michigan Wolverines played a game of American football on Saturday at high noon at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  It was the final home game for this class of seniors.  Unfortunately for Penn State's senior class, the Nittany Lions fell short.  I have some thoughts.  They are randomized below:

  1. There was plenty of concern about the noon kickoff last week.  Lots of worry that this season's White Out would look terrible in the daylight and that many students would have already left for Thanksgiving Break. Those concerns were all for naught.  The crowd looked great (including the student section).
  2. I felt relatively good walking into this game.  I predicted a win on the #BlackShoePodcast and a low scoring affair, but I knew it would be relatively tight.  Unfortunately, things didn't break the way we wished they would (for a variety of reasons), but I think the game played out pretty much as any of us would have expected it to.
  3. Saquon Barkley's first run was magic.  Breaking free into the secondary and cruising 56 yards deep into the redzone was the big break early on that Penn State needed against a stout Michigan defense.  Unfortunately, Truth really needed to hit pay dirt on that run, which leads me to my next random thought, courtesy of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of kicks for Nittany Lion hoops -

  4. Look, I know we've been tough on the play calling this year, but how could the next three plays following an electric run be so unimaginative?  Three straight runs, three total yards.  Not one attempt at play action.
  5. Note to John Donovan - these are the kinds of situations that end up with Penn State fans calling for your job.
  6. Note to James Franklin - these are the kinds of situations that reduce the good will from Penn Staters that you've been able to enjoy for the past two years.  Loyalty to your staff is admirable; they helped you get to the big show.  But loyalty to staff that has been at best ineffective and at worse incompetent is a first class ticket out of the top tier of major college football sooner rather than later.
  7. If you don't believe the last sentence, please give Al Golden a call.
  8. This was, sadly, a common theme throughout the afternoon.  Consider that Saquon Barkley had runs of 56 yards and 15 yards in the first quarter alone (71 total yards on 2 carries), and somehow managed to finish the day with 68 rushing yards on 15 carries.
  9. Wait, what?  -3 yards on 13 carries?
  10. Yes, really.
  11. And yet, this is the reality of this offense.  The defense played outstanding football for much of the afternoon, and certainly all of the first half.  After a pretty touchdown pass between the Jakes (Rudock to Butt), the defense stalled a Michigan offense enough to allow the offense an opportunity to get on equal footing.  The offense, though, struggled to do that.
  12. Speaking of the first Michigan touchdown, I couldn't help but think about how useful Jordan Lucas would have been in that situation.  I don't know whether Malik Golden missed coverage or anything on that play, and I haven't re-watched the game.  All I know is that I'm more comfortable with #9 in the defensive backfield.  You'll be missed, Jordan.  Thanks for all the effort.
  13. We missed Carl Nassib this week.  I know this seems obvious.  I don't know that it had a major impact on the game's result, but I know that we could've used the nation's leading sacker to continue the onslaught.
  14. That said, I was once again really impressed with Torrence Brown.  The redshirt freshman from Tuscaloosa has played well in relief this year, and my untrained eye saw him flash multiple times this past week.  It will be interesting to see his development and his level of play once he is no longer alongside two All-American-caliber defensive tackles.
  15. Brandon Bell was outstanding.  That's been noted here already this week.  The interception was a big play when the team desperately needed it.  He's making plays befitting of that #11 jersey.
  16. Imagine a defense that this week had not only Nassib and Lucas back, but also Nyeem Wartman-White.  I wish we had gotten to see that team play for longer than the first half of the first game of the year.
  17. The last touchdown given up in the first half was insanely frustrating.  Penn State's offense finally made a play to get on the board with a touchdown, there was minimal time left in the half, and miserable tackling gave way to a silly touchdown drive by Jake Rudock that put us behind the 8 ball once again.  7 plays and 70 yards in 70 seconds.  That's just unacceptable.
  18. Clock management, James.  Clock management.  See Random Thought No. 7, first sentence.
  19. Walking into the half 14-10 was frustrating because of the last drive, but within striking distance of the #12 team in the nation was a solid effort.  Walking in 10-7 would, however, have been preferable.
  20. For all of the grief we give this team, they had an opportunity to make something happen and, as usual, disaster struck.  The defense made a big stop to get the ball back, and, of course, Deandre Thompkins fumbles on the 9-yard line.  Make no mistake about it, this was the turning point in the game.  That's a back breaking fumble, the kind that makes this game functionally unwinnable.
  21. I think Deandre can be a true asset.  He has tremendous speed, but at the end of the day, these fumbles are so costly that you have to question whether he's an asset on the field at this point in time.  I know, growing pains and all that, but these are mistakes that should be avoidable for a starting punt returner.
  22. Michigan scoring on the next "drive" wasn't very surprising.  The only thing that was surprising was that it took 3 plays.
  23. I was pleased to see Christian Hackenberg use his athleticism to his advantage last week. There were multiple plays where he sensed trouble, but he was able to escape and make a play when he had nothing with his arm.  That's real growth on his end, and it will serve him well at the next level.  He's not going to be Steve Young or Aaron Rodgers, but being a bit more mobile will allow him to take less major hits.
  24. The pass from Hack to Hamilton that ended up incomplete was an NFL-level throw.  The completion on 4th down to Godwin was a Pro Bowl throw.  This offense has the tools available to succeed.  It needs a better offensive line and a coach that is willing to take advantage of those tools.  In two years, I haven't seen enough of that.
  25. I probably would have gone for it on 4th down when we were on the Michigan 1 down 8.  Worst case scenario, you leave Michigan stranded with their backs to the goal line and the best tackle for loss team in the country in its face.  I don't think it was the worst possible call to bring out the field goal unit.  We had shown little capacity to score in the redzone and were being dominated up front.  We would have had to convert on two straight plays to tie the game.  Given the stats in Random Thought Nos. 9 and 10, that's questionable.  Kick a field goal and you're within a touchdown.  Rely on your defense, make a stop, then get an explosive play to take the lead.  Unfortunately, that's not a terrible strategy given the way our offense functions.
  26. Special teams was an unmitigated disaster, and the punting wasn't even terrible on Saturday.  Giving up that kick return was yet another back breaking play that will give this team nightmares.
  27. Ultimately, we lost to a team that is deeper, more talented, and just flat out better than we are.  I'm not convinced we were "out coached."  This game was more than enough to make me feel like James Franklin can hold his own against coaches like Jim Harbaugh, but significant changes are going to be necessary on the offensive coaching staff.  Recruiting better lineman will, of course, be an enormous help.  Unfortunately, that's not going to stop the unrelenting inconsistency in this offense.  This is not simply a mechanical flaw, this is a design flaw.
  28. Thank you seniors for everything that you've done to keep this program alive.  This is the last class to have played through the Paterno, O'Brien and Franklin Eras.  They've seen more in these four years than most athletes see in a full career.  You will be remembered.
  29. Penn Staters, don't lose hope.  This was a flawed team at the start of the season and remains that way.  Still, these kids play hard and have been prepared to answer the bell every week.  Within the next two years, the fruits of recruiting will bloom and we will be abuzz with talent.  Patience is required and will be rewarded.
  30. We are...