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Penn State’s Offensive Line Overmatched By Michigan’s Pass Rush In Disappointing Loss

Priority No. 1 for any offensive line is to keep its quarterback upright and protected.

It’s safe to say Penn State’s offensive line completely failed to do that in Saturday’s 21-17 loss to Michigan. Sean Clifford was hurried early and often, causing complete disruption in the Nittany Lions’ offensive backfield.

Clifford was sacked a season-high seven times, which is a recipe for disaster for any team, especially one that has been one-dimensional for much of the year.

Michigan pass rushers David Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson caused havoc for Penn State’s offense, combining for five of the Wolverines’ seven sacks. Coming in, the Nittany Lions knew the challenge the dynamic duo presented, but evidently, couldn’t slow them down.

“We knew their defensive ends were going to be a problem,” James Franklin said after the game. “We had plans to chip them for most of the day. We had plans to screen them as much as we could. And then obviously, you know, staying with the run game and not going away from the run game.”

“I thought for the most part we battled, but obviously Sean got hit too many times,” he continued. “But those two defensive ends, you can make the argument maybe the best combination of two [defensive ends] in the country.”

Franklin mentioned the run game, which was actually quite effective at times for the Nittany Lions today. Keyvone Lee had a season-high 20 carries for 88 yards on the ground and gave Penn State a much-needed boost on the ground that it’s been lacking all year.

“[The run game] was going, and I liked it,” Lee said. “We just got to keep building on it, keep learning, and keep growing.”

Despite the emergence of a solid run game, Franklin still thinks a more effective ground game was needed in order to take some of the weight off of the passing game and slow down Michigan’s pass rush.

“They have two of the better defensive ends in the country,” Franklin said. “We got to be able to run the ball more consistently so it takes the pressure off of the passing game. We got to move the pocket. We got to have enough things in the package to move the pocket to change the launch point up as well. All those things are really important.”

Besides Ojabo and Hutchinson’s dominance, linebacker Michael Barrett tallied a sack, while linebacker Junior Colson and defensive lineman Julius Welschof each had half a sack. While Ojabo and Hutchinson certainly led the charge, it wasn’t just a two-man show for the Wolverines, whom also had four additional quarterback hurries.

Penn State did lose its starting center, Mike Miranda, during the game, and he didn’t return after departing. However, the struggles up front don’t stem from the absence of one player. It comes down to executing no matter the situation.

“I think at times that we did we did some pretty good things, but we weren’t consistent enough,” Franklin said. “We got to be able to run the ball to take the pressure off of the passing game. And we got to be able to protect when everybody knows you’re going to throw the ball, and we got to be able to run the ball with everyone in the stadium knows you’re going to run the ball.”

Franklin and Co. gave their answers and reasons for the disappointing performance up front. A lot of “coach talk” may have been included there, but it’s quite simple. Giving up seven sacks in a game just can’t happen, and it’s unacceptable.

When your quarterback is hurried that often, it’s a disaster waiting to happen, and it puts your offense behind the eight ball from the start.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a junior majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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