Five Things We Learned: Michigan

Story posted September 25, 2016 in CommRadio, Sports by Patrick Johnsonbaugh

Penn State’s 49-10 loss to the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday was an ugly affair that left fans hopeless from early on. From the Jabrill Peppers early punt return to the Miles Sanders fumble at the end the game, things never went the way Penn State wanted it to. The Nittany Lions fell behind early, 21-0 in the first quarter, and didn’t get on the board until the middle of the third quarter with a 21-yard field goal. Overall, the Lions were just simply outmatched from the opening kickoff until the last whistle. Here are five things to take away from the conference-opener loss:

1. Penn State is incredibly thin at linebacker.

Penn State has affectionately become known as LinebackerU to many around the nation for the talented players that they have produced in the past. Current NFL players like NaVorro Bowman, Sean Lee, Paul Pozluszny, Tamba Hali, and Michael Mauti go to show that the Nittany Lions know how to recruit and coach linebackers.

This year, the linebacking corps is in trouble after injuries to Brandon Bell, Jason Cabinda, Nyeem Wartman-White, and Jan Johnson, plus the questionable ejection of Brandon Smith made things difficult against Michigan. It was clear to see in the box score that the injuries were causing problems as the Wolverines rushed for 326 yards and six touchdowns. Hopefully, the Lions can heal up a little bit over the next week as they get ready to host the Minnesota Golden Gophers next week.

2. The offensive line is still shaky at best.

It was evident from the first play of the game that the Nittany Lions were outmatched against Michigan as the pocket collapsed around Trace McSorley and Michigan defensive tackle Matthew Godin brought him down for the sack. Michigan got to Mcsorley six times on the day and only gave up 70 yards rushing. Going into halftime, Penn State had managed to lose yards rushing as they had -7 yards.

If the Lions would like to compete with the top tier in the Big Ten, they must improve their offensive line play.

3. Jabrill Peppers is really, really good.

Going into Saturday’s game there had been tons of hype surrounding Peppers and everything he could do. One of the biggest questions of the game was whether or not Penn State would kick the ball to him and we got that answer early off in the game.
Following a sack to put the ball on the PSU 1-yard line, the punt team was sent out and Peppers went back deep to receive. Blake Gillikin kicked the ball 61 yards down the middle of the field where Peppers dropped the ball initially, but had more than enough time to pick it up, make a few people miss and return the ball all the way to the 9-yard line. The only thing that kept Peppers out of the end zone was a shoestring tackle by Gillikin.

Peppers went on to play almost every position on the field and make an impact at all of them.

4. Third down is again a huge problem.

Penn State came into the game ranking 121 in third down conversion rate and this game did nothing to change that.

The Nittany Lions went 2-12 on third down and 2-3 on fourth down. Saturday’s problems did not have so much to do with play calling and had more to do with struggles in the early downs. Getting put into third and long situations makes it difficult to convert no matter the play call.

Making sure to work to get to manageable third downs will surely help the conversion percentage and help keep the Nittany Lions in contention for more wins.

5. Penn State isn’t ready to compete with top tier teams.

High hopes for the Nittany Lions coming into the season were led by the amount of talent on this team. The problem with all this talent is how young it is. Penn State is a team loaded with young players who are not quite ready to make an impact just yet.

True freshman Miles Sanders is a prime example. Sanders did work on kick returns and even got a few carries towards the end of the game. It was clear to see that Sanders was having difficulty adjusting to the speed of the college game, and even coughed the ball up late.

Penn State may not be ready to compete with the Michigans and Ohio States of the world yet, but within the next year or two Penn State could make the jump to the next level.

Patrick Johnsonbaugh is a freshman majoring in Journalism. To contact him, email