A loss is a loss. I predicted a 20-9 loss, which was obviously incorrect. It ended up being a 42-13 loss. Remember when Michigan beat Penn State 49-10 last year? The Nittany Lions went on to win the Big Ten. Obviously, a 42-13 loss hurts at the time, but so do close losses. The bottom line is that Michigan is 5-2, and this game was confirmation that Michigan doesn’t have it this year. It was said all off-season – you don’t lose that many players to the NFL and go right back where you started. Michigan lost its top two wide receivers, one of the best TEs in the country, three senior starting linemen, and basically 11 starters on defense. And this year, they’re already down the #1 QB and the #1 WR. No rational person was expecting a Michigan win in Happy Valley at night, so let’s not overreact.
Hit the jump for more on the game.
John O’Korn played okay. O’Korn is capable of playing better than he did against Indiana last week, obviously. We saw it against Purdue, and we saw it against Penn State. He finished 16/28 for 166 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. I read somewhere that there were four balls dropped, and there was an egregious drop by Donovan Peoples-Jones on an otherwise well executed tunnel screen. Grant Perry, Khalid Hill, and Zach Gentry also had drops that I remember. So we’re basically talking about 8 out of 28 throws that weren’t catchable, and zero of them were in danger of being intercepted. The lost fumble was mostly on Karan Higdon, who set up way too deep and got blown up – not by a linebacker or defensive end, but a cornerback. There were a couple times where he held onto the ball too long, but of the 7 sacks, several were on other guys – Higdon, Mason Cole, Henry Poggi, Patrick Kugler, and . . .
. . . the play calling. When you have 6 yards to go and four receivers go out on routes, there’s no reason to have three of them running routes at 15 yards and just one available at the sticks. Michigan can’t pass protect that long. Michigan was very conservative on the first two offensive drives, with runs up the middle and passes on third down. Furthermore, the jet sweeps, end arounds, reverses, misdirection screens, etc. either aren’t being executed well or simply aren’t being called. There’s very little creativity in the offense. Where are the halfback passes, the throwbacks, the double passes, the Statue of Liberty passes, the Wildcat plays, etc. that seemingly every other team uses for a little bit of a spark here or there? Virtually the only pizzazz Michigan uses at any point is a jet sweep or – wait for it – a fake jet sweep. Pep Hamilton and Tim Drevno need to hop on Youtube or Hudl and rent some creativity.
DON BROWN HATE. I said in my game preview that Saquon Barkley would beat Mike McCray for a long touchdown, and it happened. It almost happened twice. McCray can’t cover elite running backs on wheel routes, and Barkley is probably the best running back in the country. He couldn’t cover Barkley last year, nor could he cover Dalvin Cook or anyone else with speed. He’s a 6’4″, 248 lb. middle linebacker. It’s not that McCray sucks – it’s that he’s overmatched. He’s flat-out incapable of doing that thing that he’s being asked to do.
Let me restate something from last off-season: Why isn’t McCray the MIKE? He’s a Mike, but he’s not the MIKE. Normally, you want your middle linebacker to be the big dude in the middle, and McCray fits that bill (6’4″, 242). Meanwhile, you normally want your weakside linebacker to be the faster guy who can make plays all over the field and cover backs out of the backfield, and that seems to fit the mold of Devin Bush, Jr. (5’11”, 222 lbs.). Lots of people have praised Bush, and he has indeed played well at MIKE. But I also believe he would be playing well at WILL. I have to question why Don Brown and the coaching staff wouldn’t make that switch in the off-season, or at least as an adjustment in the game.
DON BROWN ARGH. I’m not in love with Michigan’s safeties as cover guys, and that reared its ugly head this week when Michigan put Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnel on Penn State’s top receiver, Daesean Hamilton. He caught 5 passes for 115 yards. Good for Penn State for recognizing the mismatch and having the talent to make Michigan match up that way, but Michigan should have man coverage adjustments where they can put safeties on the outside guys and corners on the slot guys if someone like Hamilton ends up in the slot. You can run zone coverage, invert the coverage, change personnel, etc., but putting Metellus and Kinnel in man against Hamilton is akin to putting McCray on Barkley.
Were penalties an issue? I’m not going to blame the refs in a 42-13 game (though they could have easily been blamed in last year’s loss to Ohio State). However, I find it rather difficult to believe that Penn State could go an entire game against one of the best defenses in the country and only commit 1 penalty for 10 yards.
DON BROWN LOVE. I still love Don Brown. It’s a pick-your-poison situation in some cases, and I don’t think Michigan would have won this game even with Bush at WILL, McCray at MIKE, Lavert Hill shadowing Hamilton, etc. Penn State is too good/Michigan is too deficient to expect something else this season. Unfortunately. A tip of the cap goes to the Nittany Lions.
I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’. I don’t think any of Michigan’s running backs have staked a claim for a permanent starter role, even if Karan Higdon ran for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns last week. Penn State was bottling up Higdon (15 carries, 45 yards), while Ty Isaac (6.0 yards/carry) and Chris Evans (4.2 yards/carry) were performing better on a per-carry basis. Michigan should be going with the hot hand, yet Higdon had 15 carries and the other two guys combined for 10.
Congrats to David Long on his first INT. Long returned his first career interception for 25 yards to give Michigan a spark before the offense took over on the first TD drive. Long is quietly having a very solid season.
Michigan is still on track. For that 8-4 season that many expected. I still expect Michigan to lose against Wisconsin and Ohio State. I think 7-5 and 9-3 are both possible, too.
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