Michigan takeaways: Officials' calls leave Jim Harbaugh curious
Five takeaways from The Detroit News' Angelique S. Chengelis after Michigan's 28-21 loss at Penn State.
Harbaugh vs. officiating
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has questioned officiating before, but turned his response to a question about the final fourth-down play into a not-so-subtle point about the officiating. He may have drifted that direction wanting to take the attention off receiver Ronnie Bell after he dropped the touchdown pass by pointing out what he thought were discrepancies. Michigan was penalized eight times for 48 yards and had six penalties in the first half. Penn State was flagged five times for 58 yards.
“It will be interesting to compare some of the different scenarios in the game in terms of the calls,” Harbaugh said.
He questioned a holding on cornerback Lavert Hill that led to a touchdown and suggested contact on Bell on the last play should have been called.
There had been a call on center Cesar Ruiz for ineligible receiver downfield, and Harbaugh referenced a play when a Penn State lineman broke up Brad Hawkins attempt at an interception.
“Some of our receivers were getting tackled there last couple plays of that drive,” he said. “Be interesting to see the lineman downfield, the one they called on us that took off a touchdown compared to the one — especially the one that stands out in my mind was (defensive back Brad) Hawkins going for an interception and the guard knocking it away. There’s a few."
Harbaugh also referenced an offensive pass interference on Michigan’s Nico Collins that negated a big pass play and that the officials missed one on Penn State’s first score.
“OPI (offensive pass interference) they called on us versus the OPI I thought should have been called on them their first touchdown,” he said. “As far as the calls, the officiating goes, it would be interesting to compare some of those.”
O-line gets offensive
This was easily the best overall performance by the Michigan offensive line. Quarterback Shea Patterson had plenty of time to throw and the run game, especially in the second half, had room. Michigan rushed for 141 yards, including freshman Zach Charbonnet’s 81 yards and two touchdowns against the Nittany Lions’ fourth-ranked defense.
“I think we played one of our best games the entire season as a whole,” Ruiz said. “We studied our film. We knew the blitzes, we studied the blitzes. We studied each and every defensive lineman, linebackers, and we were able to get the one up on a lot of things. Protection was phenomenal today. Run game, we were moving people off the ball.”
But can the line maintain? It’s only getting tougher these next five games starting with Saturday night's home contest against Notre Dame.
Two kickers are better than one. That’s been the mantra this season as the Wolverines have used a rotation of Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin that seems to make sense only to the coaches. Michigan has missed its last four attempts, including a puzzling 58-yard attempt with 51 seconds left in the first half.
Nordin, who is 0-for-3 this season, has the stronger leg of the two, but two of his misses have come from 55 and 58 yards, hardly gimmes for any kicker. But Nordin, according to Harbaugh, was “working through something physical” and was not available, so Moody got the call. His attempt was short.
“I thought we could make it,” Harbaugh said. “It was right at that line where we could make it and it’s a long field goal, but it was that or go for it on fourth down. Jake made a heck of a kick, just came up a yard or two short.”
With Michigan gaining momentum late in the second half, the defense made a mistake. Penn State's speedy receiver KJ Hamler went 53 yards for a touchdown on a pass from Sean Clifford and safety Josh Metellus never had a chance. Why the blown coverage that gave Penn State a two-touchdown lead with 13:14 left in the game? Harbaugh said the Wolverines didn’t have the right defense in. The players, he said, didn’t get the call from the sideline. “So we didn’t have a post safety,” Harbaugh said. It’s fine to question the officiating, but that’s just as egregious.
Hands, hands, hands
Speaking of egregious, the dropped passes, particularly in the first half, were punishing. We’re not talking about the Bell drop in the end zone, which has been discussed plenty — and we’re all pretty sure no one could possibly feel as awful about that than he does — but three drops by Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins and a late first-half drop by Bell. During an 11-play drive after Penn State scored the game’s first touchdown, Peoples-Jones and Collins each had a drop.
There wasn’t one receiving touchdown at Penn State, and Collins finished with six catches for 89 yards, while Bell had four for 71 yards and Peoples-Jones had five for 46 yards. Receivers aren’t going to catch everything, but an offense on the road can’t afford that many.