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Michigan 21, Penn State 17: Rapid Reaction From Beaver Stadium

Penn State loses a heartbreaker to Michigan after taking a fourth-quarter lead.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State gave up a big fourth-quarter touchdown pass, bringing back memories of the loss to Iowa, in a 21-7 loss to Michigan that ended its two-game win streak over the Wolverines.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara hit tight end Erick Ali for a 47-yard touchdown with 3:29 remaining, crushing the Lions' comeback hopes. Penn State (6-4) had taken a 17-14 lead on its previous series, one that ended with a field goal after a red-zone turnover.

Here's the breakdown from Beaver Stadium.

The turning point

Michigan had zero yards of offense through its first two drives of the fourth quarter and had punted or turned over the ball on four consecutive possessions. Then McNamara found All streaking across the formation uncovered.

All caught the ball at the 40-yard line, turned to find no one (two Penn State defenders bounced off each other) and outraced Penn State's Ji'Ayir Brown to the end zone. A replay upheld the call, giving Michigan the lead for good.

Michigan became the first team to score three offensive touchdowns against Penn State this season.

The transfer portal delivers

Michigan's defensive ends were tremendous, but so was Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie. The senior changed the game with a sack/fumble sequence in the fourth quarter, which teammate Derrick Tangelo recovered at the Michigan 13-yard line. All hail the NCAA Transfer Portal. (Ebiketie came to Penn State from Temple, Tangelo from Duke.)

Penn State's offense, however, couldn't take advantage of the short field, settling for a short Jordan Stout field goal to take a 17-14 lead.

The drive of the season

It wasn't Penn State's longest touchdown drive of the season but it certainly was the grittiest. The Lions converted three fourth downs, including one for a touchdown, and a 2-point conversion to tie the game.

To that point, Penn State's offense had longed for the end zone. It had produced two field goals, one miss and a botched fake attempt (more on that later).

But this series was exceptional. Clifford hit Dotson for a pair of those conversions, then found tight end Tyler Warren in the end zone on 4th-and-2.

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After that, Penn State ran a sharp conversion play, with Clifford firing to Dotson, who was in single coverage on the right side.

Penn State's first quarter of lost opportunity

The Lions controlled every aspect of the first quarter but couldn't translate it to the scoreboard. They outgained Michigan 145-15, won the first-down battle 10-0, ran 27 more plays and held the ball for nearly 12 minutes. And led 3-0 after a quarter they should have scored at least 10 points.

The quarter's turning point occurred after a questionable spot on Theo Johnson's reception near the goal line. Johnson appeared to reach inside the 1-yard line but was ruled out of bounds at the 2. That prompted Franklin to call his second fake special-teams play of the game.

This one went wrong from the beginning. Holder Rafael Checa floated a backward pass to kicker Jordan Stout, who had nowhere to run, got clocked and fumbled, which Checa fortunately recovered.

Franklin had two choices: the chip-shot, 20-yard field goal, or attempt what essentially was a 2-point conversion. Did the memory of Illinois play a role in the decision? There's a fine line between aggressive and obsessive, and this play likely crossed it.

Earlier, though, Penn State's aggressiveness paid off, as Stout converted a lovely fourth-down pass to linebacker Curtis Jacobs. Franklin stuck with the call even after Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called a timeout suspecting the fake.

But Penn State ultimately settled for the first of Stout's two first-half field goals.

The Lions' offensive tackles struggled

Michigan's duo of Hutchinson and Ojabo turned Penn State tackles Rasheed Walker and David Ojabo around, inside out and on their heels. The two shook their heads an awful lot.

Hutchinson and Ojabo had five of the team's six first-half sacks, forced a pair of Clifford fumbles (both of which the Lions recovered) and consistently won the line matchups. In the third quarter, Clifford hit Theo Johnson for an apparent 3rd-and-7 conversion, but Hutchinson was on the ground. Wallace, called for holding for the first time, looked absent of answers.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford recovers a fumble after being sacked in the first half against Michigan. (Matthew O'Haren/USA Today Sports)

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford recovers a fumble after being sacked in the first half against Michigan. (Matthew O'Haren/USA Today Sports)