Michigan vs. Penn State: 10 Things We Learned from the Wolverines' Loss

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIOctober 12, 2013

Michigan vs. Penn State: 10 Things We Learned from the Wolverines' Loss

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    Team 134 dropped to 5-1 after losing 43-40 to Penn State (4OT).
    Team 134 dropped to 5-1 after losing 43-40 to Penn State (4OT).Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    Winning through the first six weeks covered Michigan's deficiencies. 

    They were there, but victories had a way of sweeping them under the rug. 

    But after Saturday's 43-40 quadruple-overtime loss to Penn State in Happy Valley, the Wolverines' problems have to be addressed and analyzed. 

    They crept their way to a 5-0 (1-0) record, but Nittany Lions freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg found a way to give Team 134 its first loss of 2013. 

    This slideshow will examine 10 lessons that the Wolverines' thrilling but disappointing loss to Penn State taught the masses. 

Have to Adjust in Crunch Time

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    Although it was unbeaten heading into Happy Valley, Michigan hadn't been great with the game on the line during previous weeks.

    Take the 28-24 win over Akron, for example. If not for an uncalled interference on Zach D'Orazio, the Zips may have won that game.

    Just yards from paydirt, D'Orazio absorbed contact on the final play of the game, causing him to barely miss what would have been the game-winning catch. 

    The Wolverines defense bent in the second half Saturday against Penn State, but blown coverage of a well-known weapon was the root of the issue. 

    Allen Robinson was capped for most of the game, but not when and where it mattered most: late in the fourth quarter and along the sidelines. 

    The junior receiver entered as the Big Ten's leader with 621 yards. He added 40 to the total when he made a magnificent grab along the left sideline, just a half-yard from the end zone. Luckily for Penn State, quarterback Hackenberg charged in the game-tying score (34-34). 

    Robinson, who had five catches for 84 yards, shouldn't have been in one-on-one coverage. Special emphasis, especially with about 30 seconds to play, should have been placed on a player who is arguably the finest wideout in college football. 

    Michigan got lucky in the past. Saturday, it was burned by a prolific athlete known for such exploits. 

The Defense Needs Jake Ryan

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    Michigan needs Jake Ryan at 100 percent.
    Michigan needs Jake Ryan at 100 percent.Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    Jake Ryan has been cleared, and he played sparingly during the Penn State game. 

    The Wolverines need him more than ever. Thus far, it's appeared that Michigan fosters a four-man defense: Frank Clark, Jibreel Black, Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor.

    Each of the four made plays against the Nittany Lions, but names such as Brennen Beyer and Desmond Morgan were hardly called. Given the magnitude of the game, Michigan could have used a concerted effort from everyone, an all-hands-on-deck approach. 

    That's the case each week, obviously, but going to Happy Valley is different than going just anywhere. It's beyond hostile, and the Wolverines did a poor job of fighting the crowd and executing on defense. 

    Clark helped keep Hackenberg at bay in the second half with a key sack in the third quarter. Black also pressured the young star.

    But that was about it. Michigan didn't get much from anyone else. 

    Countess was decent, but he was exposed at least twice. Both were throws to Robinson, who made each catch. At 6'3" and 210 pounds, Robinson used his size advantage over Countess to Penn State's benefit. 

     

Change at RB Is Needed

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    Fitz Toussaint took a huge step back vs. PSU.
    Fitz Toussaint took a huge step back vs. PSU.Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Fitz Toussaint had 27 carries for 27 yards. 

    Yeah, one yard per carry during the first road test of the season. Teams that can't run on the road can't win on the road. 

    Not in the Big Ten. 

    The Wolverines must be afraid of a two-back system. At this point, that's the only logical explanation given the information that's available. 

    Is there something wrong with Thomas Rawls or DeVeon Smith? Why isn't Derrick Green being used more often? This point is made each week, and until it's fixed, it'll be a staple of the "10 things" pieces this season. 

    Michigan has no faith in Gardner's arm, that much is clear. But it can't move the ball on the ground. 

     

Christian Hackenberg Is the Future

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    Christian Hackenberg held his own vs. Michigan.
    Christian Hackenberg held his own vs. Michigan.Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    He made a few mistakes and threw a pair of interceptions, but true freshman quarterback Hackenberg proved that Penn State has a "franchise" player. 

    The former 5-star recruit was rated as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback of 2013 by 247Sports. 

    His 304 yards and three touchdowns were more than enough to warrant the hype, too. Hackenberg is here. He's for real. And he carved up one of the Big Ten's better secondary units. 

    And he was somewhat sloppy while doing so. 

    The Big Ten needs a quarterback to carry the conference. Hackenberg is a prime candidate for the job. At 6'5" and 220 pounds, he's got an Andrew Luck arm and Peyton Manning size. He's the definition of a Big Ten pro-styler. 

Blake Countess Is the Secondary

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    Other than Blake Coutness, Michigan DBs haven't been consistent.
    Other than Blake Coutness, Michigan DBs haven't been consistent.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Well, other than Taylor, Michigan's secondary seems to be a one-man show, and that's Countess. 

    Countess saved the game in the fourth overtime by deflecting a pass from Robinson. Had another corner been on Robinson, Penn State would have secured the win earlier. 

    That's the bottom line. 

    Without Coutness, who has four picks on the year, Michigan's secondary would be average. Countess alone makes it one of the conference's top units. The Wolverines are still adjusting. Week 8 may not be the best time to rethink things at defensive back, but there really isn't any other choice. 

    Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and secondary coach Curt Mallory must come to a conclusion. Is Taylor the best fit? Should Dymonte Thomas see more action? 

    Will we see personnel changes, or is the secondary experiencing growing pains? 

Devin Is Denard

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    They're one in the same, Shoelace and Devin...
    They're one in the same, Shoelace and Devin...Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Until proven otherwise, Gardner can now be tabbed as Denard Robinson Part 2. 

    Face it, Michigan can't compete without Gardner making plays on his feet, which was Robinson's specialty. 

    That works in some cases, but in others, that's asking for punishment. Running Gardner is a crucial risk. He can't hold onto the ball and is one solid hit away from seeing stars on the sidelines.

    He is in no way durable enough to carry the ball 15 to 20 times a game, yet he continues to get that workload. 

    Gardner had 24 carries for a team-high 121 yards against Penn State. He threw for 240 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. 

    That's not a pro-styler, Hackenberg line. That's a Denard line. That's a Michael Vick line. 

    Michigan isn't fully immersed in the pro philosophy because it doesn't yet have the prototype it needs under center. That is crystal clear. 

Tough Times Without Lewan

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    Taylor Lewan left prior to halftime Saturday vs. PSU.
    Taylor Lewan left prior to halftime Saturday vs. PSU.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    The offensive line completely fell apart after Taylor Lewan exited the game. 

    The senior All-American tackle suffered an apparent leg injury, although sources on Twitter suggested that he also sustained a blow to the head. 

    For the latest on the star's injury, follow this tracker from Bleacher Report

    Now, onto how it affects Michigan. 

    No left tackle, no protection for Gardner, no points for Michigan. It's that simple. The offense will crumble without Gardner, who won't be able to pass and force plays on the ground. It'll be horrific. That's not overdoing it, either. It would be a catastrophe. 

    OK. The Wolverines will score some points. Gardner may be quarterback by position, but Lewan is the real shot-caller on offense.

Star Power Isn't Enough

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    Devin Funchess had 151 yards in Week 6 and 112 in Week 7.
    Devin Funchess had 151 yards in Week 6 and 112 in Week 7.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Devin Funchess had four catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns, one of which went for 59 yards. 

    Jeremy Gallon finished the night with 95 yards. 

    And Michigan still lost. 

    Two of the team's best athletes have two of their better games of the year, and their team can't win. That's an issue.

    Gardner did the right thing in the second half by swinging it short to Gallon. That stalled the defense and allowed time to dial up the deep ball to Funchess. But it's disappointing seeing a three-point loss on the board when two of the Big Ten's best ball-catchers have exemplary nights on the field. 

How Did Allen Robinson Get out of Michigan?

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    Robinson slipped through UM's and MSU's hands.
    Robinson slipped through UM's and MSU's hands.Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    Rivals gave him a 3-star rating, but in 2011 as a senior at Orchard Lake St. Mary's, Robinson didn't receive a grade from 247Sports. 

    Today, he's one of college football's best receivers. He didn't hit his 124-yard per game average Saturday, but he did enough to give his team a marquee victory over a conference foe. 

    Hoke wasn't at Michigan when Robinson graduated high school. It's not his fault that Robinson didn't choose Michigan, but Saturday was a slap in the face, a reminder of the former dormant years of recruiting under Rich Rodriguez

    Hoke is going after guys such as Robinson, who is 6'3" and 210 pounds. For the sake of his program, let's hope that they turn out to be like Robinson, an NFL-ready star who somehow found his way out of the Great Lakes State. 

     

     

Devin Gardner Leaves Michigan Stuck

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    Devin Gardner isn't doing much for fan confidence.
    Devin Gardner isn't doing much for fan confidence.Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    Hoke can't star Shane Morris, a true freshman who, with any luck, could develop into a Hackenberg-like quarterback. 

    As of now, the Wolverines must live and die with Gardner at the helm; he's the only one with enough experience to not completely burst under pressure (although he's appeared close several times). Michigan will win or lose with him, obviously, but the future looks rather blurry after Saturday's loss to Penn State. 

    One loss doesn't alter the fact that Gardner is 8-3 as a starter. Don't forget that. But it does prompt enough to discuss the future of the position at Michigan. 

    Jason Smith of the NFL Network seems to have had enough of Gardner:

    At some point Michigan has to think about sitting Devin Gardner down. He's been horrible for a month now.

    — Jason Smith (@howaboutafresca) October 12, 2013

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81