Michigan football cursed by the football gods again after tempting fate vs. Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The margin for error was so thin and Michigan football spent Saturday night teetering along its edge, perversely taunting the football gods to curse it until they eventually did.
For those wanting to distill the Wolverines’ latest result, a 28-21 loss to Penn State, to one play, they likely would pick their final offensive snap. With the Wolverines trailing by seven points and facing fourth-and-goal from the Nittany Lions’ 3-yard line, Shea Patterson dropped back to throw and delivered a pass to the middle of the end zone. The ball hit receiver Ronnie Bell squarely in his hands before it fell through his grasp and tumbled to the turf.
The dropped pass encapsulated the essence of a game defined by pivotal moments with huge consequences that could have gone either way.
How about the holding call on defensive back Lavert Hill that rejuvenated Penn State’s only scoring drive in the second half?
Or the missed signal that caused Michigan to be in the wrong formation on that fourth-quarter touchdown strike from Sean Clifford to KJ Hamler?
Or the decision by Jim Harbaugh to try a 58-yard field goal that fell well short of the crossbar after electing not to advance the ball farther on a second-quarter possession?
Harbaugh spent the aftermath of his latest defeat revisiting all of these scenes, understanding that if one of them went Michigan’s way, the game could have ended in a better outcome.
At one point in Saturday's postgame news conference, he launched into a soliloquy about the officiating, itemizing the calls he believed should have been made and the ones he believed had been missed.
As Harbaugh rued his fate, he seemed uninterested in exploring how he and his team arrived at a point where their season could be compromised by Week 8.
But Michigan got here because it is a flawed team that came into Happy Valley saddled with one conference loss and little room to fail.
“Big games like this, you can’t do anything wrong,” linebacker Cam McGrone said.
Yet the Wolverines made one mistake after another, falling into a 21-0 hole midway through the second quarter. They suffered defensive lapses that allowed Penn State to attack Michigan on vertical routes. They drew up a middle screen that ended in disaster when Patterson threw the ball into Tariq Castro-Fields’ hands, as if he were the intended receiver. They committed eight penalties, some more consequential than others.
Added up, it was enough to make anyone wonder when Michigan really lost this game.
For a second, Harbaugh thought about it when a reporter queried him. But then he dropped an old bromide, hiding his thoughts in the process.
“It just puts steel in your spine to seek improvement, seek to be better than you were yesterday, seek to be better tomorrow than today,” he said.
It all sounds good. But there is a question of whether there is much to salvage in a season that had such high expectations. .
“I’m not gonna sit down and feel sorry for ourselves,” defensive end Kwity Paye said. “We still have a lot of big teams to play — we have Notre Dame, a ranked team, Ohio State, a ranked team. There’s still plenty of opportunity to be able to go out and finish the season great.”
But not long thereafter, Paye acknowledged Michigan had set itself up to have its course altered by a few moments, a small number of critical plays that had major ramifications on the program’s outlook.
“It’s just so hard,” Paye said, “because we were so close.”
Teetering for four quarters on the edge until Michigan was left to put the pieces back together again.