Offensive Line Takes a Step Backward

Penn State lost the battle at the point of attack against Michigan, and as such lost the game. The Nittany Lions gave up seven sacks, saw two QB go out with injuries and were held to negative rushing yardage for the first time under Joe Paterno.

With Penn State needing a touchdown to force overtime against Michigan with 1:44 left Saturday night, the ideal choice under center was not Paul Cianciolo. But the Nittany Lions had little choice.

Their first two options, Anthony Morelli and Daryl Clark, were both injured during the game at Beaver Stadium as the offensive line had little success containing Michigan at the line of scrimmage.

“It's kind of like one of those not-supposed-to-happen type things,” running back Tony Hunt said. “But Paul, he stepped in and stayed calm and handled himself well.”

Despite the return of All-America left tackle Levi Brown from a sprained knee, Michigan's front seven routinely penetrated the backfield and left two quarterbacks in search of a doctor as the Lions lost, 17-10.

Hunt, who had four consecutive 100-yard games entering Saturday's contest, mustered just 33 yards on 13 carries. Penn State as a team finished in the red with -14 yards on the ground thanks to seven sacks. Michigan came into the game as the best rush defender in the nation, surrendering just over 40 yards a game.

Despite all of the sacks, the injuries actually came on positive gains.

Morelli sustained a concussion with 9:34 left in the third quarter on a hit by Alan Branch on a 24-yard completion to wideout Derrick Williams. Clark left the game midway through the fourth quarter after a seven-yard rush; having “snapped his neck [back],” according to head coach Joe Paterno.

The inability to run the ball did allow the PSU to gain 200 yards through the air, but it was not nearly enough.

“As a receiver, I just do what I can do and try to catch the ball when it comes my way,” said Williams, who had a game-high six catches for 67 yards. “It just wasn't our day. They had a great defense.”

Morelli was sacked times five times and Clark twice. Although the Wolverine defense failed to sack Cianciolo, the pressure it generated on the final drive left the third-stringer limping noticeably.

Through Penn State's first six games, the offensive line had yielded just six sacks for 38 yards, the second best figure in the Big Ten. Paterno anticipated that the offense would have a tough time against Michigan, but the extent of the problems was unexpected.

“I thought we'd do better than that, but we'll have to take a look at it,” Paterno said about reassessing the offensive line.

The quarterbacks had little time to throw the ball downfield and with virtually no running room, Penn State turned to screen patterns to hunt, which were the most effective plays for PSU. Hunt was Penn State's leading receiver yardage wise with five catches for 85 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown from Cianciolo to cut the deficit to 17-10 with 3:18 left, and a 31-yard play to set up Penn State's field goal in the first half.

“The guards and center got out in the open field and made some critical blocks,” junior offensive tackle John Shaw said. But they did little else the rest of the game.

Shaw rated Michigan's front four as the No. 1 unit he's seen this year, and Paterno shared a that sentiment. He wasn't sure how much of the night's problems could be attributed to mistakes of the O-line or whether Michigan deserved most of the credit.

“The one place we fell down was the offensive line,” Paterno said. “And I'm not really sure about that one.”


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