Time Of Possession Battle Played Huge Role In Penn State’s Loss To Michigan

You don’t see a defense allow five touchdowns and play relatively well in the same game often, but No. 14 Penn State football managed to do just that in Ann Arbor.

The Nittany Lions got smoked by No. 5 Michigan, losing by a final score of 42-7. However, the defense’s performance was admirable considering the context of the game. Jim Harbaugh’s team had the ball for 37:56 of the game’s 60 minutes, including 30:37 of the game’s first three quarters.

Penn State’s offense simply couldn’t stay on the field much during the game outside of a possession that lasted 5:45 in the fourth quarter. All of the Nittany Lions’ other series were shorter than 2:48, and nine of their possessions were shorter than two minutes.

As a result, the Nittany Lion defense was tasked with spending way too much time on the field. Michigan had 12 total offensive series in the game, and six of them lasted at least 3:28. One of those possessions ended in a touchdown after an interception was returned to the 12-yard line, and the others were either ended by three-and-outs or the halftime whistle.

Michigan’s unsuccessful drives even chewed up plenty of clock and wore out the Nittany Lion defense. The Wolverines moved the ball 31 yards on eight plays in 3:51 of play in the first quarter, but the drive ended without a score thanks to a turnover on downs at Penn State’s 40-yard line.

“Our defense has played way too many reps the past couple weeks,” head coach James Franklin said postgame. “We have to give our guys the best chance to put this game behind us and move forward.”

Senior linebacker Jan Johnson said that the defensive unit should be held responsible for the amount of time spent on the field because it missed opportunities to make crucial 3rd down stops.

“We weren’t getting those three-and-outs that we needed,” Johnson, who led the Nittany Lions with 10 tackles against the Wolverines, said. “It’s our fault that we were on the field that long. It may have worn us out a bit, but at the end of the day, we have to make those stops.”

Johnson went on to praise the defense’s performance through the first three quarters of the game, especially considering it came out and made two consecutive stops out of halftime. He said that the final score of 42-7 wasn’t necessarily a fair assessment of the defense’s overall performance.

The Nittany Lions’ discipline was generally better on Saturday. They were flagged just four times for 35 yards, but one of those penalties came on a potentially game-changing play. Nick Scott blocked the Wolverines’ first field goal try of the game, and Garrett Taylor scooped it up and returned it all the way to the end zone for a touchdown.

There were several fouls on the play, but one of them was an illegal block below the waist against Penn State. Michigan also took an illegal block below the waist penalty on the play on top of a bench penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, so the Nittany Lions were given the ball on their own 35-yard line instead of scoring seven points.

“It’s 14-0 at half, but that field goal block that got called back makes it 7-7,” Johnson said. “That changes the whole entire football game. That changes all the calls, everything from their calls to our calls.”

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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