Michigan football team's defense collapses in 41-31 loss at Penn State
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - They switched players to different positions. They worked on fundamentals during an extra week of practice. They even put newcomers onto the football field.
None of the changes could disguise the fact the same old Michigan defense showed up Saturday night.
In perhaps its most disappointing performance of a season littered with them, the Wolverines allowed a walk-on quarterback starting his first college game to rip them apart in a 41-31 loss.
It’s not the first time that’s happened.
In 2008, Purdue quarterback Justin Siller, starting his first game ever, shredded the Wolverines for 266 passing yards and three touchdowns while carrying for 77 yards and another TD in a 48-42 Boilermaker win.
That Michigan loss officially ended the team’s 33-year postseason streak.
The Wolverines hoped to start a new streak in 2010, and entered Saturday’s game in Happy Valley searching for their sixth win of the season, one that would make them bowl-eligible for the first time in the Rich Rodriguez era.
Instead, the defense remained the team’s Achilles’ heel, as it has since that dreadful 2008 season.
In 2008, the defense ranked ninth in the Big Ten, allowing 366.9 yards per game. In 2009, it finished ninth again, allowing 393.3 yards per game. Entering Saturday’s game, the defense ranked last in the Big Ten, allowing 441.0 yards per game.
It got worse Saturday.
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin did his best impression of veteran Big Ten passers Kirk Cousins and Ricky Stanzi, picking apart the Wolverines for 250 passing yards and a touchdown on 17-for-28 passing. Running back Evan Royster awoke from a season-long slump and ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
On the day, the Nittany Lions amassed 435 yards.
Right from the start, McGloin looked like trouble. He directed a 14-play, 71-yard drive on Penn State’s first series that took six minutes off the clock and culminated in Royster’s 4-yard touchdown run.
Denard Robinson responded, answering with a 32-yard touchdown run that tied the game at seven. But the Nittany Lions came right back, turning to Royster for a 1-yard score on the next drive that put them ahead for good.
During the bye week that preceded the game, Michigan (5-3 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) stressed fundamentals on defense.
Then on Saturday night, in front of the only prime-time audience the team will see this season, the Wolverines started Ray Vinopal at free safety for the first time this year, moved Cam Gordon from safety to the hybrid linebacker position and played Quinton Washington on the defensive line.
He just switched from the offensive line to defense last week.
The throw-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach couldn’t stop the Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-2), who ended a two-game Big Ten skid.
At one point early in the fourth quarter, Rich Rodriguez brought every defensive member of the roster onto the field and implored them to make a stop.
Overall, the defensive performance wasted a fierce comeback from the Wolverines offense.
Despite trailing 28-10 at halftime, Robinson rallied the team and directed the offense to touchdowns on three consecutive possessions from the mid-third quarter to early fourth.
A 60-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Koger started the thaw. Then Robinson scored himself on 1- and 4-yard runs to make it 38-31 with 9:34 left in the game.
But Penn State’s Collin Wagner kicked a 42-yard field goal on the ensuing possession and the Nittany Lions stopped Michigan on fourth-and-eight play with 4:08 remaining to essentially clinch the win.
Adding insult to the wound, Wagner carried for a first down on a fake field-goal attempt with 3:43 left that let the Nittany Lions kill the clock.
Robinson finished with 27 carries for 191 yards and three touchdowns, and completed 11 of 23 passes for 190 yards and another TD, his best performance since the Indiana game.
In the end, it wasn’t enough.