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Ann Arbor, Mich. --There's no two ways about it. Penn State's 18-13 loss to Michigan here Saturday night was brutal.
The Lions averaged just 1.5 yards per carry as their grind game continued to struggle. Penn State didn't lose the turnover battle but it didn't win it against a team known as one of the worst turnover margin teams in the country. It was 0 for 3 on third down, outgained 256-214, and had just one chunk play of 25 yards or more compared to Michigan's two.
That final stat could be construed as the difference, in a sense. The Wolverines biggest chunk play, plus other notable plays, are broken down below.
Michigan's first big play
Penn State led 3-0 after a successful if not touchdown producing drive Saturday night. Lions head coach James Franklin had talked about the need to score touchdowns, not kick field goals, in the red zone ahead of the clash. The Lions kicking one in the first quarter would prove costly all of 2:51 after it happened.
Because six plays later, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner would lob a pass to receiver Devin Funchess that appeared to be hanging up long enough for Lions' safety Ryan Keiser to either bat it down or intercept it.
Instead, Funchess ran away from corner Trevor Williams and in front of Keiser for an all-the-sudden easy 43-yard catch and score to give the Wolverines a 7-3 lead.
Penn State would ultimately kick two field goals in the first quarter from the red zone.
Second quarter answer
Penn State's defense played well enough to win Saturday night. There is no question about that.
Yet, after the game, its players, including linebacker Mike Hull and tackle Anthony Zettel, thought they should have, and could have, done more.
Allowing 16 points (the other two came on a late safety) should have allowed PSU (4-2) to win. But if it wants to nitpick, a stop sure would have been beneficialearly in the second quarter.
Penn State took a 13-7 lead at the 11:58 mark of the second quarter when quarterback Christian Hackenberg drilled DaeSean Hamilton in the end zone for a 10-yard score. The six point spread only lasted 6:50, though.
Michigan had gone three and out on its two drives previous to that score. But its third drive following the touchdown pass to Funchess was the charm, as Gardner marched Michigan 48 yards on a 11 plays in a grueling drive that lasted just under seven minutes before Matt Wile's 45-yard field goal pulled the hosts within a score at 13-10.
Penn State's fake punt
To James Franklin, it seemed like the right idea. It just never had a chance to work.
The Lions head coach dialed up a fake punt from the Michigan 37 with just over eight minutes left to play in the third quarter facing 4th and 11. Punter Chris Gulla had not been punting well (he finished with 33.4 yards per punt) and so the Lions seemed unlikely to pin the Wolverines in rather than boot it for a touchback.
It didn't work. Michigan was wise to the call, putting 10 men at the line of scrimmage. The ball was direct-snapped to Lions' corner Grant Haley, who sprinted right before an unblocked Mike McCray dropped him for a two-yard loss 13 yards from the first-down marker.
"We've been working on the fake vs. that look all year long," Franklin would say after the game. "We didn't block it, we didn't execute it very well."
Penn State had started its first two drives of the third quarter at its own 38 and 42. After the fake punt, though, the field position changed. The best starting field position the Lions had after that was its own 25, and twice it started inside its own 10.
The Hackenberg INT
Not much of an explainer is needed here. The game-tying field goal was set up the series following the failed fake punt.
Penn State was facing 3rd and 4 from its own 28 (remember: the fake punt changed the field position battle). Hackenberg, as he had been so often on this night (and this season) was flushed to his right, back peddling, and faced too much pressure when he inexplicably decided to heave a cross-body, cross-field pass intended for Chris Godwin.
It never got there, as Michigan's Jourdan Lewis picked it off, leading to Wile's 42-yard field goal three plays later.
A play Penn State's defense would like back: part two
Michigan faced a 2nd and 10 from near midfield on what was ultimately the game-winning drive. Gardner dropped back, and Penn State seemed to have the play well-defended until corner Jordan Lucas hesitated for a moment when he saw Michigan tight end A.J. Williams cut his route.
Lucas was responsible for Wolverine receiver Dennis Norfleet on the play. When Lucas stopped, Norfleet kept going, and Gardner dropped a pass to him between Lucas and Keiser. The latter missed a tackle, and Norfleet rumbled to the PSU 25.
Michigan gained just five more yards after that, but it was enough for Wile to make another field goal, this one from 37 to win the game.
Offsides? You decide
Penn State recovered an onside safety punt trailing 18-13 with 1:41 to play. At least, until a flag came out on tight end Jesse James for being offsides.
Was the call correct? It's tight, as this Big Ten Network video below shows.
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