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MnB staff roundtable: what a win at Penn State can do for UM’s morale

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Only way to counter a white-out is marking up the scoreboard

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Penn State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The rest of the season starts in front of a white-out crowd Saturday night.

Eep.

Michigan couldn’t score the entire third quarter against Illinois, and things were going to fall apart had the defense not gotten a critical turnover. A familiar script. This isn’t sustainable, limping through a game, trusting the defense to save it down the stretch. The inability of Michigan ball carriers to hang onto the dang ball has turned into a chronic problem, not an anomaly, and that is easily traceable to coaching. A team serious about competing for a championship doesn’t commit moronic personal fouls either, which is also easily traceable to coaching.

Penn State is not a world-beater, but this matchup still feels lopsided because Michigan has shown us nothing indicating improvement week-to-week. A lot of that doubt goes away with a real road victory, but I’ve seen this movie before, especially during the Harbaugh tenure. Last week a couple of us were hopeful the switch was going to be flipped, but time is running out. Michigan has yet another chance to show something different, but do any of you see it happening?

Take that and run with it...someone needs to find the cure for Michigan’s troubles, and we might as well try to uncover the solution…

Daniel A: I’m not particularly excited for this weekend. I mean, I know that I’m not alone in thinking this is going to be another blowout loss. It has all the makings of one. What’s wild is Michigan’s most competitive national game away from home in their last three attempts was the debacle against Ohio State. You can say the Sugar Bowl doesn’t count, but much of the starting roster that’s around today played in that game… and got clobbered. Then they got clobbered again in Madison. Notice a trend?

Am I sold on Penn State? Absolutely not. I think that if this game was in Ann Arbor, Michigan would probably win. But Jim Harbaugh’s teams have been absolutely dreadful away from home in these big games. Injured Shea Patterson has been only a couple ticks better than John O’Korn was in 2017, and we all saw how that worked out.

Crap, guys. I really cannot think of something I’m excited to see. The defense could dominate them, and it would barely check a box for me. They did last year before Ohio State dropped 60 on them. I have no expectations for the offense. I just…. Someone change my mind

Jared: There does exist a world in which Michigan could win this game. Stranger things have happened in the history of college football. That being said, the primary concerns with this team have been mental fortitude and turnovers, neither of which will be easily resolved in one of the top 5 most difficult environments to play in. If things start going south early, this could get out of hand.

If Michigan is going to make a game of this, the most important thing they can do is pack that defense we saw against Iowa. If you can keep this a low scoring affair, Michigan will absolutely be in this game until the very end. If the offense is asked to win a shootout, I can’t imagine anyone has any confidence that they will be able to deliver. The blueprint should be simple; ride Charbonnet and Haskins as far as they will take you, play great defense, and take care of the ball. Michigan has 17 fumbles this year already, and Harbaugh has famously underperformed on the road against quality opponents. Dylan McCaffery could be a wildcard in this game if Shea struggles, keep an eye on that. My heart wants to believe that we will find a way, but my brain is bringing me back down to earth.

Dan P: As a fanbase, we have become overtly negative about this football team because the Michigan Wolverines are not the powerhouse for which we had all hoped. Let’s not forget that this team beat a top-15 ranked opponent two weeks ago in Iowa, and surely have the capability to do so again this week.

Harbaugh may not have a great record against ranked opponents on the road, but I think a lot of people; and especially people within the Michigan fanbase, have already thrown in the towel on this game in Happy Valley and the season altogether.

Like Michigan, Penn State hasn’t proved anything this season. Their only quality win is also a close defensive battle over Iowa (just like Michigan). They too have an inconsistent offense (just like Michigan), they’ve beaten down on terrible football teams (just like Michigan) and they had a scare against Pitt (just like Michigan had a scare against Army).

Really the biggest difference between the two teams is that Michigan has a bad loss to a solid opponent on the road against Wisconsin. Under the same circumstances, I have no doubt in my mind that Penn State would be in the same boat.

Both teams will be looking for that signature win that will keep their 2019 season alive. Michigan knows that with a win in Happy Valley they are closer to trying to play a meaningful game against Ohio State at the end of the year and maybe even having a smidge of hope at winning the East. If they lose, the season is basically over, and that is BEFORE they face the three most important opponents on their schedule.

A loss on the road to Penn State would surely end all hopes of a Big Ten Championship, and would likely mean a 9-3 or 8-4 season at best this year. A win would mean another week of hoping that the Wolverines could keep fighting through one of the most difficult stretches that any team in the country will face this season.

I want the games down the stretch for the Wolverines to be meaningful, and a win against Penn State will increase those odds. A loss will only spew more negativity.

Kevin: I share all of your guys’ ambivalence toward the rest of this season. The team just looks...flat. Not fully operational by a lot. It’s not a good sign that Harbaugh was dangerously close to losing to Lovie Smith. Had visions of Brady Hoke losing to Randy Edsall, and I’d argue that Maryland team was decent. Weirdly, Michigan’s red zone offense has been solid (when they get there), but all these other things (S+P rank, yardage averages, various defensive thresholds) have been very average...and it’s an indication of a symptom of the offense not playing to the scheme. What happened to the QB reads, the intermediate passes designed to make third down manageable, the literal speed in space. Hesitation kills momentum, and the on-field product is born out of unwillingness to commit to the system. If they find themselves down multiple scores like they did in 2017, the mountain will be too high to overcome, and we’re left with that lingering doubt that anything will get better the rest of the way.

At the beginning of the year, I and others were adamant that this regression can’t happen this year, but here we are. Michigan is on the knife’s edge, but the good news is they control which way to fall.

Can we at least just not with the fumbles this week, though? That’s going to be my mental cue that will set off alarms that they’re not serious about trying to win. I’ve seen children playing flag football with more ball security discipline than Michigan’s guys. Isn’t that something that gets taught in the first week of camp? There’s a lot that can go wrong in an environment like what they’re going to see on Saturday, but no quicker way to amp up a hostile crowd than losing the football.

At least give yourself a chance to work out the kinks while keeping it interesting instead of the usual implosion that forces me to change the channel repeatedly in the second half...