Anthony Zettel and Angelo Mangiro just stared at the scoreboard during their final moments as Penn State football players in Beaver Stadium. Fellow senior Carl Nassib didn’t seem to know where to look, so he alternated between glaring straight ahead and then down at the ground.
PSU (7-4, 4-3) had just dropped a 28-16 decision to Michigan on Senior Day, and before leaving the field the Nittany Lion veterans had to endure the routine of singing the alma mater along with their teammates.
This relatively new tradition appears to be great after wins. After losses, not so much. And after Senior Day losses, well, it seemed kind of cruel and unusual.
“My heart hurts for these seniors,” PSU coach James Franklin said a short while later. “This is the last time they’re gonna play in Beaver Stadium, and they’re leaving not on a positive note. So it breaks my heart for those guys.”
The veterans were apparently so disappointed by the loss that only one of PSU’s four senior starters — cornerback Trevor Williams — showed up in the media room. So it was left to younger players to field questions about the loss and the remainder of the season — which includes a road trip to Michigan State next week and then a bowl.
“We didn’t get it done today, and it hurts and sucks,” QB Christian Hackenberg said. “And we all feel that. But we’ve got two more.”
Here is how we saw the game playing out.
MAN OF THE HOUR: Difficult to imagine how out of hand this might have gotten if not for Lion LB Brandon Bell. He picked off a pass and returned it 25 yards. Later he had a strip sack and recovered the fumble himself.
CLOSE SECOND: WR Chris Godwin had three receptions for 51 yards, including an impressive 38-yard catch and tough run on fourth-and-9 at the end of the third quarter. It kept PSU in the game.
CLOSE THIRD: S Marcus Allen had 12 tackles for the Lions.
TURNING POINT: Penn State’s dreadful special teams struck again. After cutting the Michigan lead to 21-16 midway through the fourth quarter, K Joey Julius had (another) short kickoff. Jourdan Lewis returned it 55 yards to the Lion 40, setting up a short field for the Wolverines to score the clinching touchdown.
SOLID STRATEGY: Wolverine coach Jim Harbaugh had QB Jake Rudock stick to high-percentage passes. Rudock was 25 of 38 for 256 yards, two scores and one pick.
NUMBERS GAME: Penn State was 3 of 3 in the red zone. But they were all field goals. Michigan was 3 of 4, and all three were touchdowns. That’s your ball game.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: Penn State’s offensive line continued its late-season regression, giving up four more sacks and allowing Hackenberg to be hit constantly. It is never a good sign when you are making personnel changes up front in the third quarter of the 11th game, which is exactly what PSU did when it replaced starting LT Paris Palmer with Brendan Mahon.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Von Walker was a bright spot for PSU here, powering through would-be blockers to snuff out Blake O’Neil’s second-quarter punt. It set up State’s only TD of the game.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• Penn State’s poor clock management. This staff must be getting close to a record for burning timeouts at the worst times. Franklin said it was due to player mistakes. But sooner or later the coaches have to be accountable for this stuff.
• Penn State running ANY slow-developing plays vs. Michigan’s excellent defense. The slow-developing pass plays caused Hackenberg to take a beating and the slow-developing runs allowed the Wolverines to swarm TB Saquon Barkley.
• More poor tackling from the Lions, especially the defensive backs. Got to wrap up those ball-carriers.
• PR DeAndre Thompkins gift-wrapping a score for Michigan by muffing a punt at his own 9. The Wolverines recovered and tallied a TD three plays later for a 21-10 lead in the third quarter.
• Special teams coach Charles Huff — as Joe Paterno would say — going into rapture after Walker’s blocked punt. Listen, we have NO problem with coaches showing appropriate enthusiasm on the sideline, particularly after a big play. But as bad as the PSU special teams have been this year, we’re not sure it makes sense to go kind of crazy after one really nice play.
HIDDEN HERO: K Tyler Davis was 3 of 3 on field goals for the Lions. Sure, the long was 24 yards and sure one was tipped and fluttered through the goal posts. But counting PATs, Davis accounted for 10 of State’s 16 points.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: P Dan Pasquariello averaged only 37.5 yards per kick. But he limited dangerous PR Jabrill Peppers to two returns for nine yards.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• The stadium eventually filled up with a sellout crowd of 107,418.
• Nassib played only a couple of snaps before being sidelined with an injury he sustained in the Northwestern game.
• Not only did Malik Golden start in the place of injured safety Jordan Lucas, but he also wore Lucas’ No. 9.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: Will Penn State win another game this season?