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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — If the Michigan football team had gone for the field goal instead of opting to punt late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 43-40, four-overtime loss at Penn State, would it still remain among the ranks of the undefeated?
Given that kicker Brendan Gibbons went 4 for 7 on Saturday, that’s tough to speculate. Hindsight, however, is 20/20, and Wolverines coach Brady Hoke defended his decision in the wake of his team’s first loss of the season.
But, he added, “if we could pooch it down there and have them starting at the 20 instead of the 34 or 35-yard line, I like those odds a little better.”
A 52-yard field goal would have given UM (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) a 10-point cushion with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter. Or it would have placed the Nittany Lions on their own 35 instead of their own 20. Yet the final minute of the loss exhibited one of the Wolverines’ shortcomings this season: an inability to execute.
“The biggest thing you take from it is, that we had all kind of opportunities at every position,” Hoke said. “As coaches we had opportunities. We’re in this together, and we all have to make sure we’re taking advantage and executing when those opportunities come.”
Instead, Christian Hackenberg’s 1-yard touchdown with 27 seconds left forced overtime, helped Penn State wipe out Michigan’s 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and set up the longest football game in Big Ten history.
“We practice two-minute situations every day,” Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien said of the final drive of regulation. “That one that we had at the end of the game, we practiced that just the other day. I think it was 50 seconds left in the game, and we had the ball from our own 25 or 30 yard line. We knew there were specific plays we wanted to run there, and we just needed the line to block well, and they did. We were able to come up with some big plays.”
The Wolverines fell out of the Associated Press top 25 poll after its first loss of the season and must regroup for Saturday’s home game against Indiana (3-3, 1-1). They have to find consistency in their running game; quarterback Devin Gardner ran for 121 yards on 24 carries but running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green combined for 28 yards on 30 carries.
They have to again juggle an offensive line that’s already been shuffled twice since the bye week. After Saturday’s loss, Hoke did not speculate or offer information on the medical status of Taylor Lewan, who was injured in the first half and taken to the locker room for further evaluation, in part because of the crowd noise at Beaver Stadium, considered one of the Big Ten’s loudest stadiums.
Mike Schofield replaced Lewan on the line, but Michigan made two more replacements on the offensive line in the second half, lifting right guard Kyle Kalis and left guard Chris Bryant.
And now, the Wolverines have to strengthen their ability to close the door in close games.
“It’s hard just to lose the first game, as a senior class and as a team,” said Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon, who finished with seven catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. “But we’re not going to let this turn the rest of the season. We’ve still got a lot of football to play. It hurts, but we’ve got to move on.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.