Michigan fell to 2-4 on Saturday to Penn State, who picked up their first win of the season (1-5) by a final score of 27-17. Here are takeaways from today’s game in Ann Arbor.
McNamara’s injury hampers his play and leads to predictable play-calling
Cade McNamara appeared to injure his shoulder early on in the game, and wasn’t the same thereafter. To McNamara’s credit, he went into the locker room, got a shot, and was able to come back after missing a couple drives. Once McNamara came back, there were an abundance of play calls that featured short throws, which the Penn State defense was right on top of. Penn State wasn’t respecting McNamara’s arm strength and instead of playing back, they were teeing off on any underneath throw. McNamara only attempted a couple deep balls on the day, and he was either off on them or underthrew his target.
McNamara was vocal and energetic a week ago, this week he was in visible pain and his posture was sunken a bit. It took everything he had to just get through the game. Joe Milton wound up relieving Milton late in the 4th, but it was too little, too late at that point.
McNamara was 12-of-25 for 91 yards, was predetermining his throws, and wasn’t seeing the field as well as he had against Rutgers. It’s hard to criticize his performance much, because he was hurt and is clearly tough for even coming back in the game.
Ben Mason should be utilized more
Michigan’s offensive line doesn’t exactly overpower their opponents and they need all the help they can get. That help can come in the form of fullback Ben Mason if they choose to use him more. When Mason has been on the field this season, the offense usually has had success. His presence in the red-zone leads to scores. He can block with brute force, he can catch as well. Michigan doesn’t line up under center much, they don’t utilize much of a pistol formation of an h-back, but in the name of doing what’s best for the unit, Mason has to be on the field more the last two weeks of the season.
Michigan’s defense and Don Brown prove no one wrong
The entire coaching staff has been getting heat, and the heat will only crank up from here, but nobody has been criticized more than defensive coordinator Don Brown. For whatever reason, it just isn’t working in any which way on the defensive side of the ball. One of the lower ranking units in all of college football, Michigan gave up big gainers on the ground and through the air. Quarterback Sean Clifford ran with ease at times to the tune of 73 yards and an easy 29-yard rushing TD. True freshman Keyvone Lee rushed for 134 yards and a TD. Freshman wideout Parker Washington couldn’t be stopped and hauled in 9 receptions for 93 yards. Michigan couldn’t get PSU off the field on 3rd down enough (8-of-16), they didn’t get the key stops when they were required.
Defensive coaches have mentioned multiple times this season about the unit and their tendency of hesitating, a trend that hasn’t been a quick fix and has lingered on the entire year. The hesitation leaves Michigan defenders flat footed and not in an aggressive mindset that is flying to whoever has the football. And then when Michigan doesn’t hesitate they’re caught overpursuing, leading to open and gaping holes for the opposing offense.
This was as many missed tackles as I’ve ever seen a Don Brown defense give up, and there wasn’t much you can say was fundamentally sound. Jim Harbaugh mentioned they have to do a better job of tackling and setting the edge and that their issues are a combination of things. It certainly is a combination of things, and playcalling is a problem every bit as much as playing with a lack of fundamentals. The defense is the equivalent of a sinking ship with 100 holes that need to be filled. They have two more games to put together one effort they can be proud of, but there’s no evidence to suggest that anything will turn around on this side of the ball.
Haskins continues to be a RB1
Hassan Haskins has been Michigan’s best back all season, and that’s beyond evident at this point. The sample size is definitive. Haskins put together another gritty performance, even with Penn State stacking the box due to Michigan’s inability to generate a passing game. Haskins rushed for 101 yards, 2 TDs, and should be on the field nearly all the time. He gives Michigan their best chance at big gains and consistent intermediate yardage. Haskins has the best balance of break-tackling ability and speed on the roster.
The last two weeks of the season Michigan should try to develop into a run-heavy team. However, it’s kind of hard to play that type of football when your defense keeps giving up points. If Michigan wasn’t playing from behind every game this season, Haskins numbers would look even more impressive. But the running game gets sacrificed when there’s a big deficit on the scoreboard. In my view, Haskins has the potential to be a good running back in the NFL.
Muffed punts are no bueno
Michigan missed three field goals last week, but this time they struggled on punt returns. After Mike Sainristil dropped two passes (one was an off target throw) minutes prior, he was back for a punt return. And it didn’t go well. Sainristil muffed the punt, which hit him right in the chest, and Penn State got the ball. Sainristil was then replaced by Blake Corum, who also muffed a punt but Michigan retained possession that time around.