Takeaways From Penn State’s 18-13 Loss to Michigan
Penn State’s 18-13 loss to Michigan was more of the same for the Nittany Lions: the offense struggled, and the defense couldn’t make enough plays at the end to cover up for the offense’s weaknesses.
Here’s what we learned from the loss:
The offensive line is historically bad
There hasn’t been an Penn State offensive line this bad in recent memory. Christian Hackenberg was sacked six times, and under pressure on almost every passing play. The offense only gained 54 yards on the ground, and 214 yards total. There isn’t much more I can say that hasn’t been said, so I’ll keep this short, but I’m scared for Hackenberg’s safety against Joey Bosa and the Larry Johnson coached-defensive line of Ohio State in two weeks.
James Franklin knows his line is bad, and put pressure on the unit after the game. “We’ve got a lot of work to do in a lot of different areas. We really do. We knew we were going to have some challenges up front, but there’s been enough talk about that. We have to start getting better, and we have to get it fixed.”
On that note, Hackenberg isn’t 100% to blame for his struggles
There’s been talk among fans that Hackenberg may be in a “sophomore slump” or that the young quarterback may be “regressing.” But these fans need to cut him some slack. When a quarterback has such little time to throw the ball, he’s going to struggle.
Yes, his interception was a terrible decision — he threw across the field, across his body, running away from his receiver as he was being chased by Michigan’s line — but there isn’t much a player can do when he’s being hounded by Michigan’s front seven all night. Franklin put it best after the game, when he said Hackenberg “starts falling into bad habits because he’s getting hit too much, he’s getting sacked too much, he’s getting too many pressures in his face.”
“We’ve had a hard time protecting all year long,” said Franklin. “We have a pretty talented quarterback, and we haven’t been able to protect him. [We gave up] six sacks, and a lot more pressures and hits than that.”
The defense was the only reason Penn State kept this game close
Other than the Michigan touchdown where safety Ryan Keiser misplayed the ball in the air, the defense was Penn State’s better half tonight. The Nittany Lions sacked Devin Gardner three times, and Anthony Zettel’s interception in the second quarter led to Penn State’s only touchdown.
“I thought our defense played solid,” said Franklin. “We weren’t able to get off the field on a bunch of third-and-long situations, which was valuable [for Michigan]… But [Anthony Zettel] got his second career interception, both of them against Michigan, and this one led to a touchdown, so it was a big play.”
Franklin is not good at managing the clock
With under two minutes remaining, Penn State had a 4th-and-32 from its own three yard line. Franklin and his staff decided that the only option was to intentionally take a safety. The only problem was, when the decision was finally made, the play clock was about to run out. Instead of taking the penalty, which would have put the team back just over a yard, Franklin decided to burn one of the team’s two timeouts.
Franklin tried to justify using the timeout after the game, saying, “Obviously we wanted to take the safety. We made the decision a little bit late, so we took the timeout in that situation to make sure we can take the safety.”
This makes no sense, and in a situation where a team is behind, timeouts should be used to stop the clock, not to prevent a loss of a yard the team was already planning on giving up.