Keyvone Lee is RB1
All season Penn State has struggled to find their number one running back. Noah Cain has struggled while appearing injured and to be lacking confidence, John Lovett has been inconsistent while dealign with drops and poor pass protection, and Devyn Ford has been mostly MIA since getting injured against Iowa.
That leaves sophomore Keyvone Lee. Entering play on Saturday Lee had already been Penn State’s best running back this season. Saturday afternoon, he solidified himself as RB1 for the Nittany Lions.
Entering the game Lee was averaging a team best 5.1 yards per carry this season. Against the Wolverines Lee rushed for 88 yards on 20 carries (4.4 YPC) and was by far Penn State’s running back. Lee ran with confidence, moved the chains, carried defenders at times, and, for the most part, found positive yards. Unfortunately, he exited the game earlier due to injury. But, if healthy, Lee is RB1.
Finishing drives was an issue that proved to be costly
For the most part the Nittany Lion offense did a good job of moving the ball on Saturday afternoon. They certainly moved the ball well enough to be able to muster enough points to win this game. What they did not do a good job of, however, was fishing drives, and this issue started in the first quarter.
Penn State completely dominated the first quarter and easily could have led 10 or 14 to zip after the first quarter of play, but only led 3-0. This was due to filling to finish drives. Their first drive saw them drive down inside the Michigan 10, only for an inability to pick up a Michigan blitz causing Sean Clifford to not have time to hit an open Jahan Dotson for a touchdown. Instead, they settled for 3.
Their next drive the Nittany Lions saw things stall out at the 2-yard line. On 4th and goal, they lined up to attempt a field goal only lot attempt a ridiculous fake field goal that nearly resulted in 6 the other way. Penn State should have just lined up and gone for it there. If not, just take the points.
Penn State had a drive that went deep into Michigan territory only to result in a missed field goal. After starting a drive at the Michigan 16-yard line with the game tied at 14 midway through the 4th quarter the Nittany Lion offense could not go anywhere and were held ot a field goal.
Penn State left at least 6-10 points on the field on Saturday afternoon and it came back to bite them. The Nittany Lions scored a touchdown and kicked three field goals, the Wolverines score three touchdowns. Touchdowns win football games.
Special teams were a rollercoaster
For much of the season special teams has been a strength for Penn State. Saturday afternoon their special teams were a true rollercoaster ride providing both good and bad moments. Unfortunately, these bad moments played a role in the loss.
Jordan Stout continued to punt the hell out of the ball averaging 51 yards per punt on his four punts. He also was successful on three field goal attempts, however, he also missed a field goal attempt.
This was not all for Stout and the special teams, though. On Penn State’s opening drive Stout completed an 18-yard pass to Curtis Jacobs for a first down on a fake punt attempt. This helped set up Stout’s first field goal of the day.
Of course, there was also what will be the most talked about play of the game... the fake field goal. Leading 3-0 and facing a 4th and goal from the Wolverine 2-yard line Penn State lined up to attempt a field goal... the Nittany Lions faked the field goal and it resulted in complete disaster. Following a Stout fumble the Wolverines started the drive at their own 31-yard line. Not only did this potentially cost the Nittany Lions points but also flipped field position, Penn State started the ensuing drive at their own 2-yard line, which may also have cost them points.
It’s fair to question the coaching staff
There is no denying that James Franklin has done a lot of great things at Penn State. That said, it is also fair to question a lot of his coaching decisions this season and, specifically, Saturday afternoon.
The decision to attempt that fake field goal was one of the worst coaching decisions I have ever witnessed. Period. Franklin deserves to be raked over the coals for that decision not just due to it leaving points on the field, but also due to the way it flipped field position and potentially cost Penn State points on future possessions as a result.
Early on in the game it became clear that Lee was emerging as the guy at running back. Yet, they continue to try and force feed Lovett, even has drops plagued Lovett. Lee should have gotten more touches earlier in the game.
Late in the game when the Nittany Lions needed points trailing 21-17 they targeted Cam Sullivan-Brown and Malick Meiga who entered the game with 5 combined catches on the season. Even with Michigan giving their attention to Jahan Dotson and Dotson playing banged up at that point they needed to target Parker Washington, KeAndre Lambert-Smith and the tight ends. Throwing to Sullivan-Brown, and this is no knock on CSB, on 4th and 2 and the game on the line just can not happen.