Penn State falls to No. 12 Michigan 26-18, missing seniors on Senior Day.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Senior Day did not go as planned for Penn State coach James Franklin and the rest of the Nittany Lions on Saturday. After losing senior safety Jordan Lucas for the season last game, it turned out that senior defensive end Carl Nassib was not fit to play neither. Both players, alongside a White Out Beaver Stadium crowd, watched their team lose to No. 12 Michigan 26-18.
The absence of both sidelined players helped Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock complete 25 of 38 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns against the top Big Ten passing defense. The Wolverines (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) only allowed two sacks against a Penn State (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) team that came in averaging a nation-best 4.2 sacks per game.
“My heart hurts for these seniors,” Franklin said. “This is the last time that they’re going to play in Beaver Stadium and they’re leaving not on a positive, so it breaks my heart for those guys.”
Nassib, leading the nation in sacks, could not give it a go for the Nittany Lions. After taking a few snaps on the Michigan opening drive, the defensive end could not overcome an injury to play for the rest of the game. Nassib also missed the final drive at Northwestern that led to a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
Franklin said the coaching staff limited Nassib the entire week in practice in hopes of having him for the game, but once Nassib saw the field, Franklin thought it would be in everyone’s best interest to pull the senior defensive end.
Christian Hackenberg, possibly playing in his final game at Beaver Stadium too, finished 13 of 31 for 137 yards and a touchdown. As has been the case since his arrival at Penn State, the quarterback took some hard hits, and got back up each time. Some slower and more gingerly than others. But he did it, every time.
“He’s took a pounding the last year and a half,” Franklin said. “The fact that he has not missed a game, or really missed a series, is impressive. No one is going to question Christian Hackenberg’s mental or physical toughness, but we have to get our run game protection more consistent to help him out.”
Efficiency ended up being the difference between the two teams. While Penn State converted on all three trips inside the 20, those trips only produced nine points via three Tyler Davis field goals. Meanwhile, Michigan converted three of its four trips into touchdowns.
The third down conversion woes continued for Penn State today. Both teams faced 14, Michigan converted seven, Penn State only three.
“Give credit to Michigan, that’s a good football team and they made fewer mistakes than we did today,” Franklin said. “You got to get off the field on third down more consistently. I thought we were doing some good things defensively but you’ve got to get off the field on third down more consistently.”
Saquon Barkley shot through a gap for a 56-yard run on his first carry of the game. The freshman also took a carry 15 yards at the beginning of the second quarter. Outside of those two runs, his other 13 carries went for a net minus-3 yards.
“You’ve got to be able to score touchdowns in the red zone,” Franklin said. “We were not able to run the ball consistently today, whether it was traditional runs or wildcat, we were getting knocked back into the backfield, by the time the ball carrier got the ball it was somebody in his face.”
With 13 minutes left in the game, Brandon Polk took a carry sweeping towards the end zone on second and goal but was stopped at the at the Michigan 1-yard line. After an incomplete pass, the Nittany Lions opted to take the points, cutting the lead 21-16 with a 16-yard field goal from Tyler Davis.
“At that point, we had a hard time when we got down there (to the red zone),” Franklin said of the decision to not go for it on fourth down. “We had a bunch of big plays that got us down there and then we had a hard time punching it in so at that point we felt like that was in the team’s best interest.“
Senior linebacker Von Walker blocked a Michigan punt that set the Nittany Lions up on the Wolverines’ 43, which set up the first Penn State touchdown. The blocked punt was the first by Penn State since Mike Hull had one in 2012 versus Ohio State.
Hackenberg capped a six-play, 49 yard drive tossing a high arching ball to the end zone that found Saeed Blacknall, who made the adjustment to cut back against Jabrill Peppers and make the 25-yard touchdown reception with 2:01 left in the first half.
The score placed Hackenberg atop the all-time Penn State career passing touchdowns list with 46 in his three years. He is tied with Matt McGloin on that list.
The Wolverines would quickly answer, however, driving 70 yards up the field in 1:12 minutes to take a 14-10 lead into the half.
Although the loss eliminated Penn State’s remote chances of playing in the Big Ten championship, the Nittany Lions can still affect who represents the East division as they travel to No. 9 Michigan State (10-1, 6-1 B1G) to close the season against the Spartans for the second consecutive year.
Marley Paul is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @MarleyPaul22.
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