ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Consider it a case of adding injury to insult.
When Penn State DEEP reserve linebacker Jan Johnson crumbled to the turf in the second quarter here Saturday, it was just another cruel twist for the Nittany Lions. They were already being hammered on the scoreboard in what would become a 49-10 loss to No. 4 Michigan.
But as it turned out, Johnson - a former PSU heavyweight wrestler who was only playing here due to a rash of injuries at linebacker (and one questionable ejection) - was lost for the season with an unspecified injury.
“Our linebacker situation, I don't know that I've ever seen anything like it,” Nittany Lion coach James Franklin said after it was over.
Penn State fans had never seen a lopsided loss to the Wolverines quite like this, either. It was every bit as bad as the final score indicated.
This is our take.
MAN OF THE HOUR
One has to marvel at PSU RB Saquon Barkley, who despite getting poor blocking all game managed to crank out 59 rushing yards and 77 receiving yards. Put another way, the Lions had 191 total yards. Barkley was involved in getting 136 of them.
Senior S Malik Golden had 11 tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. He also had several hard hits. That was good for him. But when a safety posts a team high in tackles, that is never a good sign for the defense in general.
Rookie P Blake Gillikin averaged 45 yards on six attempts. Yeah, we know he outkicked his coverage on the early 61-yarder. But the fact that he did it with a short snap and from deep in his own end zone spoke to how talented this kid is.
Penn State had a holding penalty on the opening kickoff return. Then came a sack and another hold (which was declined) on the first snap from scrimmage. Then came another sack two plays later (leading to Gillikin's aforementioned punt). Really, the Lions never recovered from the awful start.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh used the running game (49 carries for 326 yards and six TDs) to ravage Penn State's LB-challenged defense.
• The Wolverines won the time of possession battle, 35:49 to 24:11.
• Michigan had one touchdown that covered more than three yards - a 40-yard Karan Higdon blast in the fourth quarter.
• The Wolverines had six sacks. The Nittany Lions had none.
Kickoff man Joey Julius was back at it. When he leveled Michigan return man Jourdan Lewis in the fourth quarter, the crowd at the Big House gasped.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• Penn State kicking a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the Michigan 2 down 28-0 early in the third quarter. Franklin later admitted it was the wrong call.
• PSU calling timeout after lining up in field goal formation on the play we just noted. Then coming out and staying in field goal formation. Not that it mattered in the end, but a complete waste of a timeout.
• The Nittany Lions going for it on fourth-and-5 from the Michigan 42 while down 7-0 in the first quarter. The play (a screen to DeAndre Thompkins) lost four yards. Gillikin has had an outstanding rookie season. So why not give him a chance to pin the Wolverines deep in their own territory.
• The targeting call that caused starting MLB Brandon Smith to be ejected. We get the refs on the field getting it wrong, as it was a bang-bang play. But the replay we saw showed Smith hitting receiver Grant Perry with his shoulder pad, not his helmet. Yes, you can be called for targeting if you "lead" with your shoulder and attack a player's head or neck. But that clearly was not the case here, in our view.
• Franklin saying the targeting calls was correct. We're anxious to hear how he feels about it after getting a better look at replays.
• Penn State coming out slow - on offense and defense - again. Do that against a power program like Michigan and this is what happens.
• Usually sure-handed WR Chris Godwin not being able to get things done until late in the game.
• More spotty tackling from the Lions. Granted, some of that can be chalked up to the inexperience at LB
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE
• True freshman LB Cam Brown saw his first action at LB and came through with 10 tackles.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• LB Jason Cabinda, DB Grant Haley and WR Saeed Blacknall all made the trip but did not play due to unspecified injuries. They were in street clothes on the sideline.
• Injured LBs Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman-White did not make the trip.
• Only five true freshmen made the trip. They included the four who had previously played (P Blake Gillikin, RB Miles Sanders, OG Connor McGovern and Brown) as well as third-team QB Jake Zembiec.
McSorley called this loss “embarrassing.” Will the Lions be able to put it behind them and rebound at home vs. Minnesota next week?