Penn State dominates reeling Michigan football team, 35-10
Two-thirds of the way through the season, this is your Michigan football team. It’s better than last year, but it has holes and youth, and it’s not ready to compete with the heavyweights of the Big Ten.
Michigan scored an easy touchdown on the game-opening drive Saturday, then couldn’t get out of its own way, committing four turnovers in a convincing 35-10 loss to 13th-ranked Penn State.
After starting 4-0, the Wolverines (5-3, 1-3) have dropped three straight conference games and sit ninth in the Big Ten standings. “I’m obviously disappointed in our performance, but I’m not discouraged,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I’ve said many times to you all, we can’t beat ourselves with turnovers and mistakes and things like that. You play a good football team like Penn State and you have some of those mistakes, it’s going to snowball on you.” Starting quarterback Tate Forcier threw a late interception, and backup Denard Robinson lost two turnovers, one interception and one fumble, giving him seven in limited action this year. Carlos Brown also fumbled deep in Penn State territory, and Michigan took a safety on a snap that sailed out of the back of the end zone. The Wolverines have nine total turnovers and a minus-eight turnover margin in losses this month to Penn State and Iowa, the Big Ten’s highest-ranked teams. “Turnovers,” Brandon Graham said when asked what separates Michigan from the league’s best teams. “We want to get beat at our best, and if we don’t beat ourselves it’d be closer than that.” Save for a dominant opening drive, Michigan wasn’t in Penn State’s league Saturday. The Wolverines gained 70 yards on that first possession, capped by Brandon Minor’s 1-yard touchdown plunge, then managed just 180 the rest of the way (with 61 of those coming on an ill-fated final possession). Penn State, meanwhile, racked up 396 yards of offense in slippery conditions, and quarterback Daryll Clark tied a personal best with four touchdown passes. Clark finished 16-of-27 for 230 efficient yards, Graham Zug had three touchdown catches - two on the same play call against linebacker Stevie Brown - and Evan Royster added 100 yards rushing on 20 carries.
Tight end Andrew Quarless also scored on a 60-yard pass. “Just a bad day,” Graham said. Forcier, who practiced fully this week for the first time in a month, had a rough go, too. He was sacked five times, went more than a quarter between completions in the first half, and finished 13-of-30 passing for 140 yards. Still, the true freshman said he doesn’t feel like he’s regressed as a quarterback. Forcier led game-winning drives against Notre Dame and Indiana, but has completed less than 50 percent of his passes since. “I can say it a thousand times, I think we’re beating ourselves,” Forcier said. “Just reads that I’m not making that I need to be making. A lot of it’s preparation and a lot of that’s on me. I just got to prepare myself better for next week.” Michigan will become bowl eligible with a win next week over Illinois, the worst team in the Big Ten. Rodriguez said he doesn't expect any finger-pointing despite his team's rough October - Michigan is 1-3 this month with its lone win against FCS Delaware State. And Graham said he's not worried about the season spiraling out of control from here. "It’s all about where you finish," Graham said. "People are not going to remember this right now, they’re going to remember how you finish. That’s the goal right now. We got to finish, and that’s the concentration. That’s it." Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.