Michigan 'fought really hard,' but second-half rally falls short at Penn State

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

State College, Pa. – Michigan came close. Close.

If there’s a silver lining for the Wolverines, it’s that they came close. But as the cliché goes, close isn’t good enough.

Penn State running back Journey Brown (4) runs for a first down during the first half.

In No. 7 Penn State’s hostile Beaver Stadium, before 110,669 Saturday night in a whiteout, Michigan, which trailed 21-0, had a chance to tie the score with just less than two minutes left. But a drop in the end zone in the final minutes left the Wolverines on the losing end. Penn State converted a late third down to seal the win and remains undefeated after a 28-21 victory.

“I thought our team played with great character, great effort the entire night both sides of the ball and special teams,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Fought really hard.”

BOX SCORE: Penn State 28, Michigan 21

Michigan, ranked No. 16, is now 1-10 against top-10 teams under Harbaugh. The Wolverines’ lone win, 14-7, came against Wisconsin in 2016. The Wolverines are 5-2 overall, and 3-2 in the Big Ten, including a loss at Wisconsin a month ago. They play Notre Dame in a night game at Michigan Stadium on Saturday.

“Anytime you’re down 21-0, especially at Penn State, white out, I was proud of our guys,” quarterback Shea Patterson said. “Defense held them to one touchdown the whole entire second half and I just loved the way our offense fought back.”

The Wolverines spotted Penn State a three-touchdown lead after being gouged by three big plays, then scored late to go into halftime, 21-7. Michigan’s defense held Penn State to 80 second-half yards, but gave up a 53-yard pass from Sean Clifford to K.J. Hamler for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

Michigan’s offense, plagued by receiver drops in the first half, didn’t wilt. The Wolverines nearly tied the score with just less than two minutes left on fourth-and-3 at the 3-yard line, but a dropped pass by Ronnie Bell in the end zone was the Wolverines' undoing. A visibly crestfallen Bell was consoled on the sideline by his teammates.

“Ronnie’s a fierce competitor,” Patterson said. “He’s being pretty hard on himself right now. But that doesn’t take away the fact he made a great plays tonight to put us in that situation. We’re just going to love on him. Maybe I could have ran it in. It’s just on to the next week.”

Patterson was 24-of-41 for 276 yards and had 12 carries for 34 yards and a touchdown. Freshman running back Zach Charbonnet had 81 yards on 15 carries and scored twice. Nico Collins led the receivers with six catches for 89 yards, while Bell was second with five catches for 82.

Michigan outgained Penn State, 417-283. The Wolverines had 141 rushing yards with two backs getting the bulk of carries along with Patterson’s 12. Hassan Haskins had 13 for 28 yards, but Charbonnet was the primary back and seemed to get stronger in the second half with nine carries for 51 yards.

After giving up those three chunk plays in the first half, Michigan's defense stiffened and opened the second half holding Penn State on its first three series, including two three-and-outs. The Nittany Lions had 16 yards in the third quarter.

While the Michigan defense did its job holding the Nittany Lions, the Wolverines narrowed the deficit to 21-14. They had a well-executed, 65-yard, eight-play drive that featured Charbonnet. He had five carries for 45 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown to match his 12-yard score in the first half.

But in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Hamler, a Pontiac-native, made Michigan pay, scorching the defense on a 53-yard reception to build a 28-14 lead.

“We didn’t have the right defense,” Harbaugh said. “Players didn’t get the call, so we didn’t have a post safety.”

The Wolverines were unfazed and responded with a 75-yard, nine-play drive, and Patterson scored on a 1-yard plunge on fourth and 1 to pull Michigan back within a touchdown, 28-21, with 8:48 left in the game. Patterson kept the drive alive on third and 4, hitting Ronnie Bell for a 35-yard completion to the Penn State 6-yard line. The next play, an incompletion to Tarik Black, drew a face mask on Penn State.

Michigan’s defense forced another three-and-out, when linebacker Cam McGrone sacked Clifford for a 5-yard loss on third and 19.

Patterson and the Wolverines started their next drive at the Penn State 47-yard line with just less than seven minutes left. Patterson got a critical fourth-down conversion on a 6-yard pass to Collins, then on third and 6 found freshman tight end Erick All for a 10-yard pass to the Nittany Lions’ 7-yard line. Michigan went for it on fourth and 3, and Patterson found Bell in the end zone but the would-be tying touchdown was dropped with Lamont Wade on the coverage.

“I thought offense did a lot of really good things tonight,” Harbaugh said. “Offensive line pass protection was really good. I thought Shea had a really good night throwing the football and receivers making catches. Chipped away at the running game and got that going, as well. I thought the defense played really well in the second half. A lot of good things to learn from and grow from.”


Twitter.: @chengelis