Game Grades: Penn State Football vs. Michigan

Story posted November 13, 2021 in CommRadio, Sports by Joe Tuman

Penn State came into its showdown against Michigan with momentum following a victory over Maryland a week earlier.

However, they would suffer their fourth loss of the season against the Wolverines 21-17, despite rallying from a 14-6 deficit earlier in the game.

So, what went wrong for the Nittany Lions? Here are grades for the team after the loss.

Offense: B

Penn State wasn’t atrocious on offense in this game, but they certainly weren’t perfect either.

After a quiet first half that saw Penn State only convert two field goals, the Nittany Lions soon rallied with an impressive touchdown and two-point conversion sequence.

This was later followed by another Jordan Stout field goal, but that was as good as it got for Penn State.

Quarterback Sean Clifford and his receivers didn’t play terribly, but they needed to do a bit more in the first half if they wanted to comfortably secure a victory.

Of course, it was not helpful that the offensive line allowed Clifford to be sacked a staggering seven times on the day.

One positive note for Penn State, however, was its run game.  Keyvone Lee gained 88 yards on the ground, and Sean Clifford also had a solid day scrambling out of the pocket.

Overall, it was a valiant effort in the second half by the offense, but it simply wasn’t enough to defeat a highly ranked opponent like the Wolverines.

Defense: C+

On the opposite side of the ball, Penn State’s defense deserves some credit, but also plenty of criticism.

When the Nittany Lions were down 14-6, it was the defense who stepped up and prevented Michigan from scoring for quite some time.  This allowed PSU to eventually take a 17-14 lead late in the fourth quarter.

One particularly notable play was made by defensive tackle Arnold Ebiketie, who forced Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara to fumble, leading to Stout’s go-ahead field goal.

Despite that standout moment, it is still important to point out that the Nittany Lion defense also allowed three touchdowns, including the game winner.

Allowing Michigan’s Erick All to become so wide open and find an easy path to the endzone in such a close game is inexcusable.

That was perhaps the main reason why Penn State failed to win the game.

For a defense that has had some strong outings this season, but this particular game was not their best effort to date.

Coaching: C-

James Franklin started off calling a strong game against Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. His early decision to convert a fake field goal on fourth down was a strong one.

Franklin also established a strong run game, which proved successful for the majority of the contest.

Yet, Franklin also made some extremely confusing decisions as the game progressed. His designed play that saw Jordan Stout attempting to record a reception and a first down proved disastrous.

His choice to kick a short field goal when a failure to convert on fourth down would have only put Michigan on their own two-yard-line was also a bit head-scratching. 

But perhaps the most mind-numbing call he made was the choice to have Sean Clifford sling for longer yardage on a fourth-and-two that was essentially all or nothing for Penn State.

That play call could also certainly be pointed to as the reason Penn State dropped to 6-4 with this loss.

Amidst the rumors about his future, it surely would’ve been nice for Franklin to earn a big win against a major rival. 

Instead, some may say he is responsible for this crushing loss. 

Joe Tuman is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at