Notebook: Penalties, slow starts and more

Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 9:01pm

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Alexis Rankin/Daily

To Nico Collins, it was as perplexing on the re-watch as in the moment.

He saw the ball in the air on Saturday, readjusting to the slightly-underthrown deep ball, hauling in what appeared to be a momentum-shifting 45-yard reception down to the Penn State 10-yard line. Exactly what the doctor ordered for an offense looking to respond to a red-hot Nittany Lions start.

Then he saw the flag. Offensive pass interference. Catch nullified. Momentum drained.

“Oh yeah, I saw it in slow motion. It was terrible,” Collins said. “ … He was pulling on me. I was kinda pulling on him. We were both competing for it … but (the call) was on me. Can’t complain about it.

“It can kinda be hard, cause a play like that is very explosive. If we had got that, we’d be down on the 15-yard line in a position to score. So we gotta go all the way back from where we was.” 

It was one of two offensive pass interference calls on Michigan during the game, the types of 50/50 plays that are easier to single out in what ended a razor-thin, one-possession game. In the end, the Wolverines were flagged eight times for 48 yards, while Penn State had five penalties for 58 yards. That relatively even distribution did little to quell complaints.

“There were some (bad calls), definitely,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “You have the human reaction of what your human reactions are and sometimes it's not fair.  I've said for a long time, the only fair is the county fair. Respect it. You can be disappointed sometimes. 

“Looked at those, make no excuse and move onward.”

Kwity Paye breaking out

With any defensive end, the sacks and tackles-for-loss are what catch the casual fan’s eye. Junior Kwity Paye certainly is no exception.

His dominant 2.5-sack performance against Iowa laid the foundation for what appears to be a breakout season. And yet, to defensive line coach Shaun Nua, those are hardly the only notable football traits he possesses.

“I don’t know if he can grow even more with how well he plays the run,” Nua said. “He’s confident, and just doesn’t panic with all the RPOs and all the bluff that tight ends will have, the split zone, he just doesn’t panic. He knows exactly when they’re trying to kick him out, and when they’re not trying to kick him out. He’s always in his gap with great pad level and hands inside. So plays with great, phenomenal base. You’ll hardly see him on the ground. And then when he gets a pass rush, he can convert fast. He’s doing a great job.”

Paye and sophomore Aidan Hutchinson — self-nicknamed “salt and pepper” — have entrenched themselves firmly at the end positions, each offering versatility in their skillsets. In addition to his praise for Paye, Nua called Hutchinson a “complete player”, noting the duo’s ability to flip spots at any given time and fill each role.

Together, they’ve allowed Michigan’s defense to hardly skip a beat after the departures of Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich from a season ago.

Slow starts persist

In the aftermath of last week’s 21-0 blitz in the first half, Michigan has spent the week reflection on the trend of starting slowly in big games. Over the course of eight different top-15 matchups in the last two seasons, the Wolverines have been outscored 117-83 in the first half, including a 21-7 deficit to the Nittany Lions and a 28-0 deficit to Wisconsin, both this year.

The answer to the two questions on everyone’s mind? No, the players don’t have one central rationale for the slow starts. Yes, they know they’ve got to do better.

“We can’t keep letting that be a trend,” said senior offensive lineman Ben Bredeson on Monday, “falling behind and having to come back. There (are) times when we got to start fast.”

Saturday, No. 8 Notre Dame comes to town. That would seem like an apt time to start fast.