Michigan football: What we learned vs. Penn State, what to watch vs. Rutgers
Harbaugh addresses the media after the Michigan Wolverines lost to No. 2 Penn State, 42-13.
Looking back at what happened in Michigan’s 42-13 loss at No. 2 Penn State and a look ahead to Saturday’s Big Ten home game against Rutgers:
What we learned vs. Penn State:
The offense is what it is: Michigan’s offense scares no one, but you probably already knew that. The pass protection was a disaster once again as Michigan allowed seven sacks. And when John O’Korn does have time, there’s just not much of a threat for anything in terms of an explosive downfield play. He put up 166 yards on 28 attempts, which isn’t terrible, but it’s not good either. The entire passing game is just in over its head at this point. A quarterback switch to Brandon Peters might make fans happy for a minute, but it’s also not likely going to be the solution to all of Michigan’s woes.
Defense exposed: Against athletic receivers in the slot, Michigan struggled big-time with its man-to-man coverage Saturday. Safeties Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnel did not have great games, but others also struggled with inside release technique at the line of scrimmage. Penn State is really good and Michigan won’t likely see an offense this talented again until it plays Ohio State. But there’s vulnerability over the middle in this defense and other teams know it.
Just not there: Michigan’s just a flawed football team right now and while the Wolverines are still 5-2, things are definitely pointed in the wrong direction with regard to the 2017 season. Michigan seems to have lost some of the edge Jim Harbaugh brought with him in early 2015 as this is not a tough football team in any area at the moment. Not physically, not mentally, not at all. Michigan knows what it wants to be, but doesn’t know how to get there right now. This team has problems and there are no easy answers.
Up next: Rutgers
Matchup: Rutgers (3-4, 2-2) at Michigan (5-2, 2-2)
When: Noon Saturday.
Where: Michigan Stadium
TV/radio: BTN; WWJ-AM (950), WTKA-AM (1050).
Line: Wolverines by 23.
Know the foe: Rutgers isn’t the team Michigan destroyed 78-0 a year ago. The Scarlet Knights are far from what anyone would consider to be a good team, but they have won two in a row now after wins against Illinois (35-24) and Purdue (14-12). This is still, by most measures, one of the worst teams in the Big Ten in terms of overall talent. The Scarlet Knights have the worst offense in the league at 301 yards per game and a defense that has is improved, but still ranks 11th in the Big Ten with an average of 384.1 yards allowed per game. Michigan should be a heavy home favorite, but the Scarlet Knights should also be better than the team that was decimated in New Jersey a year ago.
Three things to watch
The quarterback: Michigan now has two Big Ten losses and not much hope with regard to the league title race. So, now the question: Does Jim Harbaugh start to take a deeper look at what he has for the future at quarterback with redshirt freshman Brandon Peters or does he stick with fifth-year senior John O’Korn? Peters obviously hasn’t earned Michigan’s trust enough to start but, at some point, the Wolverines have to see what this guy can do in a real game. O’Korn’s only here for five more regular-season contests. Peters, in theory, could be a quarterback of the future. Do you start working him in now?
The offensive line: Will Michigan look at making another shuffle up front offensively after a brutal performance with its pass protection? Again, the running backs weren’t innocent here either as Jay Harbaugh’s crew continues to be inconsistent with its pass protection duties. But Juwann Bushell-Beatty was routinely beaten off the edge on passing downs and just never looked comfortable. Bushell-Beatty – like most everyone on this line – is a better run blocker than he is a pass blocker but, at some point, guys have to start doing both. Is a shuffle worth it? Or would it be just movement for movement’s sake?
A response: Harbaugh talks all the time about having “steel in the spine” and being a tough football team mentally and physically. On Saturday, Michigan had none of that, as the Wolverines were completely and totally humbled in what may have been their worst performance during Harbaugh’s tenure. Now, we’ll find out how this team responds. Michigan has now been punched in the mouth by an in-state rival and absolutely obliterated by a Big Ten East foe that’s on the rise. At some point here, Michigan’s going to have to respond. The Wolverines are 6-4 in their last 10 games. That’s nowhere near good enough here.
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.
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