Steve Deace

Michigan seemed to do just fine against Penn State on Saturday night. It was itself that it couldn't overcome. 

Though the stat sheet says otherwise, the final score is all that matters. And in a 28-21 loss to No.7 Penn State, the Wolverines proved once again Napoleon was right about trying to fight two-front wars. Especially on the road. 

There will be lots of apologist talk about Michigan's gritty, gutty comeback from the 21-0 hole it dug itself, and that's true for the most part. But that's also like claiming you're a hero because you rescued yourself from the one-car accident you caused. All that matters is the Wolverines couldn't get out of their own way long enough to take a game Penn State was willing to give them. 

The end result is a second conference loss, which likely means the school's longest championship drought will continue. The long-awaited trip to Indianapolis continues to elude them. The brutal -- and sadly mostly true -- memes about the Jim Harbaugh era will continue to hover. 

There's no point re-itemizing that list of lamentations. Michigan fans know it chapter and verse now, but in case they forgot any there will be plenty of national media trolls...err...pundits who will gladly serenade them with the ghoulish chorus on loop in the days ahead, as basketball season blessedly beckons. 

If you would've told Michigan fans before the game the Wolverines would have more than 400 yards of offense while holding the Nittany Lions to less than 300, and nearly double Penn State in first downs, every Michigan fan would've predicted a paradigm-shifting victory. Instead, what they got was another in an endless stream of paradigm-confirming defeats. 

That paradigm is this: Michigan wins every game, except the ones that matter most when it matters the most. 

This was cemented in another shaky first quarter that ended up deciding the game. The Wolverines had to call a timeout to avoid a delay of game on the first play of the game. What followed in a boondoggle first fifteen minutes was two offsides penalties and a false start. If Michigan were simply competent in the first quarter, it likely would've won this game. 

Now you know why the Wolverines have been out-scored in the first quarter on the road against ranked teams, 63-3, under Harbaugh. No, that's not a misprint. It's one of the most tragic statistics in Michigan football history. For it signifies a stunning lack of poise from its players, and preparation from its coaches. 

By the time Michigan stopped pointing the proverbial gun at itself, it was buried, 21-0, midway through the second quarter. 

But then the Wolverines mounted an impressive scoring drive to get on the board, and followed that with a defensive stop to get the ball back before the half. When that drive stalled at the Penn State 40 on 4th-and-6, Harbaugh decided to go for a field goal from Harrisburg rather than go for it -- one of several perplexing game management decisions. 

Like Josh Gattis calling an inside zone run into a blue wall on 3rd-and-4 on a third quarter drive that had promise, before that play call predictably went nowhere. Like Don Brown leaving a 218-pound safety in man coverage against Penn State's most explosive player, which resulted in what ultimately turned out to be the winning touchdown. 

However, give the Wolverines credit for battling back, and they had the ball with a chance to tie it in the final minutes, until Ronnie Bell was guilty of the fifth drop by a Michigan receiver. This one in the end-zone on 4th-and-goal. 

A frustrating end to what was a breakout performance on a national stage by Bell, who dropped a very catchable ball after some creative gun-slinging by Shea Patterson. And that was the story of Patterson's night. He wasn't perfect, but he was more persistent and productive under pressure than he has been all season. He played well enough for the Wolverines to win this one. 

Yet in a cruel twist of fate, his vaunted wide receiver corps too often let him down on the night he was finally on. Just as the Michigan defense let down on the final possession and permitted Penn State to run out the clock, rather than give their offense the ball back one final time on the night they were finally a threat to make it count.

Once more, Michigan doesn't make the plays championship programs make, which is why it's not a championship program. 

How many times in recent years have Michigan fans seen their offense unable to run out the clock with a late lead? Then they were forced to watch a former Michigan prep star, K.J. Hamler, dart for the game-clinching first down. 

There seems to be no end to such indignities inflicted upon the Michigan fan-base. If the football gods believed such a traditionally spoiled group required some humbling after decades of victors valiant, they made their point long ago. It's just punitive torture porn at this point. 

At halftime, Harbaugh told ABC's sideline reporter this was going to be "Michigan's finest hour." It almost was. 

But that's what Michigan football is these days -- almost was. 

Comments (18)
No. 1-11
dieseldub
dieseldub

I did see positive improvement at least. Embarassing first half, but the second half were what this team should be doing from the first minute of the game on. Huge advantage on yards by the offense, just not converted into enough points.

DPJ dropped a couple. Ronnie Bell looked great... until the most important moment of the whole game. Patterson actually looked pretty competent overall. I at least have to admire the comeback attempt. This game was a lot closer than I thought before the game... and during the first half.

I could make excuses about (even Urban Meyer said something about this) how long it takes to adapt to a new spread offense for teams and players that aren't used to it. But then we look at LSU, who have completely changed who they are from last season as well on offense and they're right in contention for a playoff spot.

Why is it they can coach up so much faster and adapt to a new offense than Michigan? That's the real question.

I still want to see if things can continue to develop in a positive fashion, but the players have little to play for other than beating rivals at this point. I fully expect another OSU loss and bowl game loss (with once again a few seniors and others declaring for the draft sitting the inconsequential bowl game out).

Wish we had more players that had the fighting spirit and will to compete no matter what like Winovich did last year. Fighting through injury, a senior declaring for the draft, still showed up to the bowl game. Very few show that level of dedication and appreciation for their school anymore.

Maybe next year.... again... Anyone tired of saying that?

LP4
LP4

What a courageous effort. Just let Jim's contract run out and quietly turn the page to the same 9-3 and 10-2 expectations. Nothing will change much, esp if we beat MSU and OSU.

Dlvegawolf
Dlvegawolf

Excellent article!

MORandy
MORandy

Maybe to show Jimmy that we the fans and media think about the press conferences that Jimmy proclaims that the offense is hitting its stride, finest hour bs, and plenty more to list and not show up. Show him that we are sick of him saying all kinds of bs just to say something. Until we see the production on the field match his bs he says during the week, who cares what he talks about. Maybe having an empty room of reporters will get him to see that we are not listening to him but want to see action on the field first not calling a time out to start the game because nobody on the sideline has a clue about what play to run.

BlueForMichigan
BlueForMichigan

I just wanted to add. They are magicians at half fixing issues and making adjustments. Why? What is in their preparation during the week that they miss in preparation so badly during the first half? What film are they watching? They come in so unprepared on both sides of the ball on the road time and again in the first half it's shocking! Second half they're competitive. Its like it takes them a half to recover from the home teams initial punch in the mouth or something.

ih8ttun
ih8ttun

Welcome to the John Cooper era part deux ! Team looks fantastic getting off the bus but then they have to actually play a game and it all falls apart. Coach sounds great at the microphone with well worn platitudes that mean nothing , "This will be our finest hour". They let a 170 lb WR push the pile for two yards on the most important play of the game. I hope they give your coach the Bobby Dodd award this year since he is on the watch list (is that a travesty or just the other schools saying, "Let's nominate JH then they will have to retain him for another year or two." Enjoy your spring practice in Greenland or Brazil and your annual trip to the Polan Weed-Eater Bowl or the Who Gives a S-it Classic hosted by the Rotary club of Bismark ND, at which your captains will decline to participate. You've earned it.

scottify
scottify
  1. refs early (horrible luck for UM to have to play out of a hole early on
  2. horrible interception (UM +1) that lead to a PSU short field TD
  3. dropped balls, but especially possible game tying drop in end zone late in gm

If one of those 3 doesn't happen we are looking at a much more probably victory.

dbrutherBlue
dbrutherBlue

Officiating hurt UM too. Don Brown makes me miss Lloyd Carr’s bend don’t break defense

BlueForMichigan
BlueForMichigan

A perfect article to sum up the "almost was" football program. It is pure torture to watch this team in big games.This has to be driving Jim Harbaugh crazy! Can't win the big one on the road for 5 years! Wow! Nice comeback but they Still have a problem getting embarrassed in the first half of big games on the road.

Matt7
Matt7

You are neither a talented or clever writer. You are just a fat, dorky, overemotional dweeb.

Jeff1
Jeff1

Michigan's best game of the season.


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