Michigan was handed its first loss of the season this weekend by Penn State in four overtimes, 43-40.
And while it's hard to say any team really deserved to lose, there are a few stats that say, well, Michigan really deserved to lose. Ball security, consistency, third downs -- they’re all areas in which the best teams excel. And Michigan didn’t.
FIRST HALF VS. SECOND HALF VS. OVERTIME: Maybe quarterback Devin Gardner was rattled by the scene at Beaver Stadium. Maybe he was in a bit over his head. Whatever it was, it took him a while to get into any semblance of a groove with his arm.
His only touchdown passes of the day came in the first half, but that was also the half in which he threw two picks and lost a fumble. Through the first two quarters he was 6-of-12 for just 88 yards. On average, that’s just 7.3 yards per pass play. And if Devin Funchess’ huge 59-yard TD haul is taken out, that average drops to just 2.6 yards per pass play.
So should it come as any surprise that the Wolverines went into halftime down 11 points? Not at all. But, in the second half Gardner improved to 7-of-12 for 134 yards, averaging 11.2 yards per pass play, and Michigan took an 11-point advantage for those two quarters, forcing overtime.
But in overtime, when the Wolverines really could’ve used a miracle throw or two (or really, just one or two more completions), Gardner completed just 40 percent of his passes (2-of-5) for 18 yards. The Wolverines failed to get into the end zone and ultimately, after four overtimes, the Nittany Lions did.
This is a completely new trend for Gardner. The redshirt junior has shown that he does get more comfortable during games. He has thrown less in second halves this season, but his yards per passing attempt increase from 7.6 to 10.4 in the final 30 minutes. Also, he has eight first-half interceptions as opposed to just two second-half interceptions.
THE TURNOVER BATTLE: Gardner’s first interception happened at the Michigan. Penn State cornerback Jordan Lucas was able to return it 14 yards before being tackled by Jeremy Gallon. But from that point, it took Christian Hackenberg only three plays to get his Nittany Lions into the end zone and give them a 7-0 advantage.
Gardner's second interception would prove to be just as costly. This time it happened at the Michigan 38 and was returned 18 yards by Anthony Zettel. It took Hackenberg only one try at the end zone this time: The freshman sent a 20-yard strike and put the Nittany Lions on top, 14-10.
Later in the second quarter Gardner was sacked for a loss of 13 yards and lost the ball on his way down. Luckily for Gardner, his defense forced a three-and-out and the Nittany Lions weren’t able to capitalize -- at least on the scoreboard -- for this Gardner mistake.
THIRD DOWNS: A few weeks ago, Gardner referred to third downs as the “money down.” I guess that makes Michigan broke as the Wolverines were just 4-of-18 on third downs.
Of the four third downs Michigan did manage to convert on, Gardner had to pull out some big plays. He completed passes to Funchess and Drew Dileo on a third-and-10 and third-and-4, respectively. And rushed for first downs on the other two (a third-and-11 and a third-and-7).
Penn State managed to help Michigan too, a bit. The Nittany Lions picked up penalties on three of Michigan’s third downs, giving the Wolverines an automatic first down, but Michigan managed to shoot itself in the foot on other third downs -- a personal foul on redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis moved the Wolverines from what could’ve been a third-and-1 in the second quarter to a much less manageable third-and-16.
Also, both of Gardner’s fumbles came on third downs, of which Michigan and Penn State split on the recoveries.
Going into the Penn State matchup, the Wolverines were converting 54 percent of their third-down attempts. However, Saturday’s results of a 22 percent conversion rate drop Michigan to 47.1 percent on the season, ranking seventh in the Big Ten.