Football

Michigan scored on just three of eight trips into Penn State territory in Saturday's loss.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ronnie Bell stood in the middle of Penn State’s end zone, Shea Patterson’s pass floating toward his outstretched fingertips. A few yards away, Nick Eubanks started to raise his fists in celebration, because, somehow, Michigan’s season had a lifeblood.

Michigan's defense gave up a pair of long touchdowns Saturday night.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The door opened and the noise from outside streamed in, fans lingering in the bowels of the stadium, still singing, “We are Penn State!”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is now 0-8 as an underdog in his five years at Michigan.

This wasn’t another 35-14 blowout at Wisconsin or another 62-39 shellacking at the hands of Ohio State. This was a vulnerable Penn State and a Michigan that seemed to click into place as the game went along. Where the Wolverines seemed completely overmatched in those earlier contests, Saturday merely felt like a missed opportunity.

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Penn State, buoyed by an early 21-0 lead and atmosphere unlike many in college sports, held on to beat Michigan, 28-21, as the Wolverines’ furious comeback came agonizingly short.

The Penn State whiteout is one of the best-known environments in college football.

As much as any single game in college football, the Penn State whiteout is a spectacle. This year’s edition — Penn State-Michigan on Saturday night — was announced way back in April, when college football is the last thing on most fans’ minds.

Freshman running back Zach Charbonnet was part of a 161-rushing yard first quarter against the Fighting Illini.

As the 11.5 yards per carry in the first quarter against Illinois showed, the Wolverines' run game is getting there. As the 3.9 yards per carry after that showed, it still has a ways to go.

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Position switches in football are relatively common, but what happened to Hassan Haskins is much more rare. The redshirt freshman doesn’t remember exactly when, but he knows that sometime last year, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called him in for a meeting and told him that instead of running back, where he was recruited, his bests fit was at linebacker. But after a season of learning how to play viper, Haskins switched back to his original position.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has a chance to make sure this year isn't a repeat of Michigan's 2017 performance against Penn State.

It’s hard not to see the parallels. Again, Michigan is 5-1 in mid-October. Again, there have been a series of less-than-convincing wins — double-overtime at home against Army, 10 points at home to Iowa, and most recently, Illinois pulling within a three-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter. Again, the game is in prime time, with College Gameday in Happy Valley, and there will be a white out.

Senior linebacker Josh Uche had five tackles for loss against Illinois.

Uche contributing at a high level now is more important than ever, because unlike last year, Michigan doesn’t have Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich to fall back on. Where Uche’s production felt like a bonus in 2018, it’s now a necessity.

For Uche — and his teammates — it also feels like an inevitability.

Senior running back Tru Wilson fumbled in a key spot against Illinois.

What happened next, the Wolverines working their way out of trouble to win, 42-25, does little to hide one of the overarching issues of their season. After Saturday, they have fumbled 17 times, ranked 126th of 130 in the FBS, and lost nine. After six games in 2019, they have lost triple the number of fumbles they did in 2018 while passing their overall total in turnovers from the previous year.