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ANN ARBOR, Mich. Despite playing with little margin for error, very little, Penn State's defense was in control here Saturday night in front of 113,085 at Michgan Stadium.
That James Franklin's Nittany Lions somehow managed to lose 18-13 to a struggling Michigan team is no reflection on a 'D' that was clearly the best unit on the field.
The Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-2) were playing a team that was ready to crumble, leading 13-10 midway through the third quarter.
It may not sound like much of a cushion, but the Wolverines were 2-4 coming in.
Leading rusher Derrick Green was out with an injury.
Dual-threat quarterback Devin Gardner was being contained.
There wasn't much Brady Hoke's team could do against Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's players.
Not with stalwart defensive tackle Anthony Zettel intercepting a pass that set up a Penn State touchdown in the first half.
Not with Lions middle linebacker Mike Hull, who finished with 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup, doing his very best Sean Lee impersonation.
Penn State's defense had this game in hand.
Michigan finished the game with 256 total yards. The Wolverines averaged just 2.1 yards per rush.
It was up to the Lions' offense and special teams and coaching staff to lose the game.
And that's just what happened.
Two plays killed Penn State in the second half as Michigan scored the game's final 11 points after PSU had taken a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter on quarterback Christian Hackenberg's 10-yard scoring dart to wideout DaeSean Hamilton down the left seam.
There wasnothing coming from the offense, or the special teams, after that TD.
Penn State's bye week produced little improvement from either group, and the Lions' offensive issues were compounded by a limited appearance by play-making wideout Eugene Lewis (three catches, 17 yards) who, strangely, was not injured, according to Franklin.
First, with PSU facing a fourth-and-11 at the Michigan 37 midway through the third quarter, again up 13-10, the Lions attempted a fake punt with speedy corner Grant Haley taking a handoff and running left to right.
He had nowhere to go. U-M had it covered and Haley lost 2yards before he was stopped by linebacker Mike McCray.
Why not punt it and either pin the Michigan offense or force it to start from the 20?
The Wolverines, taking possession at their 39, went three-and-out but the ensuing U-M punt was downed at the PSU 6.
Field position had significantly changed. The Lions were backed up.
And then four plays later, after Hackenberg had connected with tight end Jesse James for 16 yards and a first down, the PSU QB was pressured and forced an ill-advised pass in the direction of true freshman wideout Chris Godwin on third-and-4. It never had a chance. A sack or a throw-away incompletion would have preserved the lead.
Michigan defensive back Jourdan Lewis intercepted the Hackenberg pass at the PSU 32 and returned it 4yards.
The PSU D held, but the hosts converted the turnover into a 42-yard Matt Wile field goal.
The game was tied at 13 with 2:30 to play in the third quarter.
Momentum was on Michigan's side.
The Lions never recovered.
A short punt by PSU Chris Gulla 29 yards positioned Michigan at the PSU 49 and the Wolverines mustered 29 yards in six plays to set up a 37-yard field goal by Wile with 11:24 to play that made it 16-13.
Sadly, that wasplenty.
Here is how Penn State's final four drives after the costly interception played out:
Three plays, minus-3 yards, punt.
Three plays, 0yards, punt.
Eight plays, 27 yards, punt.
Five plays, minus-8 yards, intentional safety.
Nineteen plays in all, 16 yards.
Penn State had one thing going for it Saturday night at Michigan Stadium its stout defense.
It doesn't sound like much, but I think Shoop's defense was playing well enough to protect a three-point lead with a quarter-and-a-half to go.
Penn State needed to play smart with a 13-10 lead.
The Lions gambled on special teams ... and lost.
The Lions' young quarterback, the one with the strong right arm who had been so good late against Central Florida and Rutgers, took a chance on third down and tried to make a play. His decision backfired.
Conservative play isn't sexy but in the Big Ten it can be enough against the right opponent. Like Michigan.
Penn State had this one its defense did and the Lions let it get away.
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