STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Life is made of opportunities.
Sometimes you take advantage of them. Sometimes you let them slip through your fingers. And sometimes your opportunity – turns into someone else’s gain.
That was exactly the case with Michigan Saturday night. The Wolverines had countless opportunities to put Penn State away, but in the end, it was the Nittnay Lions who would walk away with the thrilling 43-40 four overtime victory at Beaver stadium.
“We had opportunities throughout the game,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “We had opportunities and missed tackles. We had opportunities to make a play on the ball. We had opportunities to hit a hole a little better. We had opportunities to finish blocks.”
Michigan(5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) had the opportunity to win the game on three separate Brendan Gibbons field goal attempts – one at the end of regulation and two in OT, one was a blocked kick in the second OT -- to put the Nittnay Lions away.
Despite the failed Gibbons attempts, there were other opportunities for the Wolverines to win this game.
Michigan had a 37-27 lead with under ten minutes remaining. U-M’s defense had :50 seconds to hold on and preserve a victory – but couldn’t stop Penn State’s attack. PSU would go 80-yards in :23 seconds to tie the game at 37-37. The defense broke down with a lack of pass rush and was able to defend Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg on the most crucial drive of the game.
Again -- another missed opportunity.
“Well, you got to make plays,” Hoke said. “We got to execute. Would we like to rush the passer better? Yes. At times we did. At times we didn’t.”
The offensive line had plenty of opportunities in the second-half and four-overtime’s to put their stamp on this game. But couldn’t sustain a push, a problem the Wolverines offensive front has failed to do all season long.
“It wasn’t good enough,” said Hoke on the offensive line’s performance. “There was no question. …We better take a hard look at it.”
But can the offensive line be fixed? Who else can step in and fix the problem? If there is a band-aid that Hoke could use, don’t you think he would have used it by now?
Michigan has already shuffled its line in recent weeks and in the middle of the game, U-M offensive line coach Darrel Funk decided to pull newly named starting left guard Chris Bryant for walk-on Joey Burzynski. Michigan was already without its All-American left tackle Talyor Lewan, who left the game with undisclosed injury and had to replace him with redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson.
The line is clearly in shambles.
Can this line sustain? Are they even tough enough for the rigors of the Big Ten?
“I don’t think it’s a toughness thing,” Hoke said. “I think we have a hard time sometimes targeting at times or combing off the block well enough.”
Missed opportunities or not, Devin Gardner put the Wolverines on his back Saturday night.
While it would be easy to point the blame at Gardner and his three turnovers as being one of the main reasons behind Michigan’s defeat. Gardner kept the Wolverines in the this game repeatedly with his scrambling ability and made some clutch throws in the second-half. He would lead the Wolverines in rushing with 121-yards on 24 carries and also threw for 240-yards on 15-of-28 passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“It was really frustrating,” Gardner said afterwards. “A few balls didn’t bounce my way. …We came out in the second-half and wanted to perform. And that’s what we did. Like I said, we didn’t finish and it wasn’t enough.”
It came down to opportunities. And Michigan just didn’t capitalize.
Hoke said fifth-year senior offensive tackle should be alright moving forward. He would not conform if it was a head injury or not.
Michigan had the ball on Penn State’s 35-yard line with under a minute remaining, and decided to go with a Matt Wile punt instead of a long field goal attempt by Brendan Gibbons. Hoke said, “Would we like to execute the pouch better? Sure.”
PSU would go 80-yards in :23 seconds -- needing only five plays -- to tie the game at 37-37.
If you were wondering if they made any halftime adjustments offensively, the answer was no. “Honestly, we started the second-half with the same game plan that we used in the first-half,” Hoke said.
Fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was held to 27-yards on 27 carries.
Hoke on Ryan:
“We tried to keep his play count down a little bit. I can’t tell you exactly how many he ended up having. But really what did after Thursday practice and what we do Friday , cause we do some stuff on Friday. He felt good. He had felt good all week.”
Hoke on the loss: “Well, I think you always work hard anytime. But you lose in overtime, if you let it take a toll – it will.
“I think the biggest thing you take from it is we had all kinds of opportunities at every position. As coaches we had opportunities. And we all our in this together. And we all have to make sure that we’re taking an advantage and executing when those opportunities come.”