Sports USA

Michigan football’s near comeback both encouraging, frustrating

CLOSE

Michigan DL Kwity Paye and OL Cesar Ruiz explain what went right and wrong in the 28-21 loss at Penn State on Saturday, Oct. 19, 201
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For Michigan football, it was all right there.

A chance to complete an improbable comeback. To keep its Big Ten title hopes alive. To beat a top-10 team on the road and dispel the notion it couldn’t win in these situations.

All the Wolverines had to do was make one more play, in the biggest, most pressure-packed situation they’ve faced this season.

And for a brief moment, it looked like they had. 

Then the ball hit the turf.

[ U-M cursed by the football gods again after tempting fate vs. Penn State ]

Michigan was one 3-yard catch on fourth-and-goal from having a chance to win Saturday at then-No. 7 Penn State, a game in which the Wolverines dug themselves an early 21-point hole. If Ronnie Bell — who has made a slew of plays for U-M this season — had hung on to that pass, the Wolverines could’ve tied the game with a PAT. They would’ve had all the momentum in front of a nervous and subdued crowd. A win suddenly would’ve been very possible.

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

After the 28-21 loss, Jim Harbaugh praised his team’s character. He was proud of how the Wolverines fought back from that early deficit. He thought they played with great effort.

They certainly took a step forward in the second half Saturday. They fought hard and proved they have enough talent to hang with a top-10 team in a hostile environment. They were on the wrong end of some calls and no-calls.

More: U-M drops to No. 20 in USA TODAY coaches poll; Notre Dame up to No. 7

All of that is true. 

But so is this: If Michigan had played the entire game the way it did in the second half, it would’ve been celebrating a defining road win. Its Big Ten title hopes would be alive.

Which is why, for U-M fans, Saturday’s result must be encouraging yet frustrating at the same time. 

In the final two quarters (and even late in the first half), the Wolverines did plenty to win the game. The offense piled up yardage and put together three quality drives to end the game. The defense was stout, forcing five straight punts while mostly limiting Penn State’s offense, aside from a 53-yard touchdown catch by star receiver KJ Hamler.

There were a couple of “what-if” plays. Bell’s missed touchdown in the end zone. Hamler’s touchdown, on which Harbaugh said the defense didn’t get the right call. A 1-yard run on third-and-4 from the 50 that ended a promising six-play, 40-yard drive.

Stock watch: Shea Patterson plays best game of season

Michigan played winning football in the second half.

It most certainly did not in the first half. 

The first two quarters were characterized by the mistakes familiar to anyone who follows this team. On the first play of the game, the Wolverines were forced to burn a timeout. The receivers dropped five first-half passes. There were four penalties, including three offside calls. The special teams unit made a couple of blunders and consistently lost field position. 

“It was nothing that they did,” linebacker Khaleke Hudson said. “It was not that they out-schemed us or anything. I feel like it was just our mistakes that we made ourselves. Things we know how to do, and we just messed up.”

The mistakes added up. Penn State connected on two consecutive shots to score first, with a 37-yard completion followed by a 17-yard touchdown. On the ensuing drive, a failed Wildcat run on third-and-3 put the Wolverines in a fourth-down situation in which they couldn’t convert. The next play, Ricky Slade (who had 28 carries for 59 yards entering the game) burst up the middle for 44 yards, setting up a touchdown that was made easier by two offside penalties inside Michigan’s 5. 

The topper: a 25-yard slot fade to Hamler that gave Penn State a 21-point lead with a little more than seven minutes left in the half.

“We gave up some key explosive plays in the beginning, and it came back to hurt us,” linebacker Cam McGrone said. “A game like this, with a team as good as this, we can’t allow any explosive plays. We did that.”

It wasn’t entirely the defense’s fault. The offense failed to support quarterback Shea Patterson’s strong play and scored only once before halftime. 

U-M grades: Awful start, but 2nd-half improvement notable

But the Wolverines eventually responded. The defense buckled down. The offense put together an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive that was the beginning of a 21-7 run to end the game.

It was almost enough. 

There are no such things as moral victories, and this once-promising season is close to lost. 

The offense took a step forward and displayed some potential against a top-ranked defense. There are things the Wolverines can take from the second half and build on. At the very least, they seem to be closer to finding themselves as a unit than they were a month ago, when they lost at Wisconsin, 35-14, and said things were close to clicking.

The defense has played much better since that debacle and limited Penn State to just 283 yards. 

Michigan could use Saturday’s loss to become a much improved team during the rest of the season. 

The only problem is that it might be too late. It’s going to be difficult to win the Big Ten East, especially with how well Ohio State has played and Penn State’s possession of a head-to-head tiebreaker. The playoff is out of reach.

As in 2017, when the Wolverines suffered a 42-13 loss at Beaver Stadium, their season is now on the brink, thanks to Penn State. 

How that team and this season’s got to that point is different. 

But the result is still the same.

Just not enough.

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.

CLOSE

Jim Harbaugh says Michigan showed great character and “fought really hard” in 28-21 loss at Penn State, Oct. 19, 2019 in University Park, Pa.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press




Source link

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close
Close
%d bloggers like this: