Michigan dropped a 42-13 decision to the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday Night Football in a game that proved the future should be now for the program.
The team is now 2-2 in conference play and tied for 4th place in the Big Ten East with Rutgers (who comes to Ann Arbor next weekend). Any shot this team had at a conference title and New Year’s Six bowl are out the window and the 2018 season should be what they prepare for now.
Here are the takeaways from the loss in Happy Valley:
Punched in the mouth early
Michigan went down 14-0 within the first five minutes of this game, creating an uphill battle for the rest of the night. However, they were able to get the deficit to 14-13 shortly before halftime before letting Penn State walk right down the field and extend it to 21-13.
David Long’s interception turned the tide of the game early on, as the Nittany Lions were on their way to a 21-0 lead. Saquon Barkley is every bit the runaway favorite for the Heisman Trophy that he has been hyped as and Trace McSorley had a great game against one of the best defenses in college football.
The offense did not help out the cause early on and did not move the ball en route to the 14-0 deficit. This did not look like a team that was ready to play until Long’s pick.
O’Korn was better, but not the answer
Believe it or not, John O’Korn played one of his better games on Saturday night. He made some solid plays with his legs despite what the box score will show (14 rushes, -3 yards), but he was abused all night long.
It had to be him as the guy that played under-center in this game. It seems like we will see Brandon Peters soon, perhaps as early as next week against Rutgers, but it simply would have been detrimental to his progress to throw him out against the No. 2 team in college football on the road at night.
Don Brown’s worst game at Michigan
This was a game where Michigan had to pack its defense to pull off an upset and they simply did not do enough. Going down 14-0 early was extremely disappointing and then once the team got within one point, the defense crumbled again and let Penn State walk right down the field before the half.
Perhaps the most egregious error of the night was continuing to matchup Mike McCray, Michigan’s least athletic linebacker, up on Barkley. He was burned a few times and it cost the Wolverines.
The Wolverines had problems against the best team they have played this season by far and it showed in the end on the scoreboard. This is a young unit and one would expect them to learn from this moving forward.
Don Brown is a great coach, but his team had its worst night under him in this contest.
Michigan’s shot at a Big Ten East title went down in flames with this loss, which is where the Michigan State game really hurts them. Now, it is time to hit the reset button and play for a strong finish as a springboard into 2018.
One of those things should come in the form of making a change at quarterback. For as much as Brandon Peters has been clamored for this season, it now feels like the appropriate time to make the switch assuming he is up for the challenge.
The Wolverines now have a three-game stretch that will see them play two home games against Rutgers and Minnesota before traveling to Maryland. It could be a good opportunity for three wins against teams they should beat while giving their young guys a chance to get their feet wet moving forward.
From there, you cross your fingers and hope and pray that they can split one of the two final games against Wisconsin and Ohio State.
One final thought
Jim Harbaugh is going to catch a lot of heat for this game, some of it warranted, some of it not.
It is completely okay to be underwhelmed with this team this year. In year three of this staff’s hold on the program, to not improve every week is disappointing. They are still searching for a signature win and have yet to deliver on the big stage, unless you want to count the Wisconsin game.
Harbaugh is making $9 million a year, which was a necessary and worthy price tag to pull him from the NFL and he is worth every penny to the program. With that comes the expectations that Nick Saban and Urban Meyer have, which is completely acceptable and warranted.
He took a pedestrian Brady Hoke roster and made them 20-6 over the last two seasons, which is commendable despite a rough end to last season. However, the fact remains that Harbaugh is 6-5 in his last 11 games and this team is not improving every week and there are still glaring holes on offense.
Tim Drevno, Pep Hamilton and, yes, Jay Harbaugh need to be looked at closely in terms of if upgrades can be made on the coaching staff. The offensive line is poor, the wide receivers cannot get open and are not being put into positions to succeed, and the running backs cannot hold onto the football and contribute in pass protection.
There are going to be a lot of hot takes and emotions are high, but share your thoughts in the comments below.