The following is the next in a series of fictional game stories predicting the outcome of Michigan’s 2017 football season.
Undefeated No More
Penn State rebounds to ‘upset’ Wolverines
State College, Penn. – According to the rankings, No. 12 Penn State upset 5th-ranked Michigan at Beaver Stadium on Saturday night, although the seemingly all-knowing oddsmakers said otherwise.
Those fellas in the desert actually had the Nittany Lions favored, and it turns out they were right (as usual). Penn State used the emotion of a raucous “white out” crowd to get off to great start, and then held off a furious comeback to knock the Wolverines from the ranks of the unbeaten.
With its 33-27 victory, Penn State is now back in control of its own destiny in the Big Ten East heading into next week’s trip to Columbus.
“I think the bye week really helped our team refocus after that loss to Northwestern,” said Penn State Coach James Franklin, who notched his first victory over Michigan. “It gave us as coaches time to remind our team how those guys took it to us last year, and that we’re gonna need to be much more physical to take it to them tonight.”
Last season, the Wolverines suffocated Penn State in Ann Arbor. Jumping on the Nittany Lions early and then never letting up. But this season it was Penn State’s turn to set the tone early on. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 24-6 lead at the half, thanks to a balanced offense that kept Michigan’s defense off-balance. As well as early struggles from Brandon Peters, who was making his first road start at quarterback in place of the injured Wilton Speight.
“We used more of me in the run game tonight then we have all season so far,” Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said. “We ran a lot of zone read, and we ran a lot of it away from (Rashan) Gary with a check-with-me system. It really surprised them in the first half, and both Saquon (Barkley) and I found some nice running lanes.”
Franklin said he told his coaches during the bye week to simplify things, and that he thought they got caught trying to be too cute in their loss in Evanston.
“Sometimes we as coaches get caught up in preseason hype as well, and when you bring back all the weapons we did you tinker a little too much,” Franklin said. “So instead of adding wrinkles during the bye week we took some away and simplified things. We basically ran the same play about 15 times in the first half, with only a check-with-me based on their pre-snap alignment.”
Peters did lead two scoring drives in the first half, both for field goals. But he also threw an interception and fumbled from the result of a blindside sack. Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh decided his team needed a spark at halftime, so he opened up the playbook and went to more of a spread passing attack.
“They clearly had decided we weren’t going to run the ball on them like we did last year, and we probably stuck with it longer than we should have,” Harbaugh said. “That’s on us as coaches. We tried to protect Brandon in a tough environment, and then in the second half we just decided to let him loose.”
Peters threw three touchdown passes in the second half to Tyrone Wheatley, Tarik Black, and Grant Perry. The latter coming with just over a minute left to bring the Wolverines within four points, but with no timeouts left Michigan was forced to try the onsides kick. The kick went out-of-bounds, and the Nittany Lions went into the victory formation to close it out from there.
“I’m really proud of the way we came back, and as Coach said in the locker room we still control our own destiny,” Michigan offensive lineman Mason Cole said. “But our margin for error is narrower that’s for sure.”
Harbaugh said Speight should be ready for next week’s home game with Rutgers, and whichever quarterback has the best week of practice will start.