At the beginning of the season, Penn State had the nation’s top scoring offense as the Nittany Lions had scored at least 45 points in their first four games. Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders were one of the nation’s best quarterback-running back duos and were looking to take over the Big Ten. Things have changed since the conference opener against Illinois as the Penn State offense struggled mightily against Michigan in a 42-7 loss on Saturday.
McSorley completed just five of his thirteen passes for 83 yards with an interception and had negative rushing yards for the first time this season. He struggled to get away from the Michigan pass rush as the offensive line could not stop Chase Winovich and Josh Uche. The senior quarterback had an opportunity to throw a touchdown to DeAndre Thompkins late in the first half, but McSorley overshot him by five yards.
Tommy Stevens came in for McSorley at times during the second half and had decent success against the Michigan defense. The junior quarterback from Indianapolis ran for a team high 52 yards and a touchdown, while completing three of his four passes for 35 yards. His one incompletion was an ill-advised throw into coverage that Stevens threw right to Brandon Watson who ran 62 yards for a touchdown.
The quarterback play was not the only problem for Penn State as the wide receivers struggled to get open throughout the game. Star freshman receiver KJ Hamler came back to his home state of Michigan and wanted to have a big game against his hometown team. Hamler had only one reception for 20 yards as he struggled to get separation against Lavert Hill and David Long.
Brandon Polk and Thompkins have struggled with drops all year and had three drops against the Wolverines on Saturday. Juwan Johnson did not travel to Ann Arbor, but he has struggled with drops and confidence throughout the season. Jahan Dotson took his place in the lineup and was the best receiver for the Nittany Lions on Saturday as he caught two passes for 29 yards.
Tight end Pat Freiermuth led Penn State with three receptions and 51 yards and he needs to be in the game plan moving forward. His ability to get open over the middle is a huge asset for offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne needs to feature him more in the offense against Wisconsin. Sanders was ineffective against the Wolverines as he had a season-low 14 yards on seven carries.
The offensive line struggled to create rushing lanes throughout the game, but to give the Big Ten’s fourth leading rusher only seven carries in a big road game does not make sense. Sanders needs to be more involved in the game as his ability to break tackles at the line of scrimmage helps the Penn State offense run effectively. If he can find early success against Wisconsin on Saturday, the Nittany Lions will have a successful day on offense.