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Penn State offense struggles in 18-13 loss at Michigan

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Penn State was held to 214 total yards and shut out in the second half as Michigan snapped a three-game losing streak with an 18-13 win over the Nittany Lions in Ann Arbor.

ANN ARBOR — In a game against Michigan that started with so much promise for Penn State, it ended with a resounding thud and a recurring problem.

The Nittany Lions led the Wolverines at halftime, but couldn’t muster any scoring in the second half in an 18-13 loss at Michigan Stadium on Saturday night.

Despite the lack of offense in the final two quarters, with 3:44 left to play, the Lions found themselves with the ball down only 16-13.

The team had to go 92 yards to take the lead, but when the drive ended, the Lions weren’t punching one into the Wolverines’ end zone, they were snapping the ball into their own.

After Christian Hackenberg opened the drive with a 17-yard completion to Saeed Blacknall, igniting what could’ve been some late-game magic, the hope was quickly snuffed out when he took an intentional grounding penalty and was then sacked at his own 3-yard-line.

Hackenberg was sacked six times on the evening, exposing an offensive line that has been a glaring problem for the Lions all season.

“The most important thing is we’ve got to protect [Hackenberg],” Lions coach James Franklin said. “We’ve got to keep him upright. We’ve got to keep people off of him.”

With 1:43 on the clock, the only choice coach James Franklin had was to snap the ball over punter Chris Gulla’s head into the back of the end zone and take a safety.

“We took the safety there because based on the time and the situation, that was the only chance we had,” Franklin said.

The Lions then tried an onside kick which they recovered, but it was erased due to an offside call, virtually cementing the win for the Wolverines.

It wasn’t all negatives, though. In the first half, the offensive line opened up holes for Bill Belton—who had 69 yards on the night—and the Lions scored on their first three possessions.

“The line gave me room to run,” Belton said. “When there’s room there, whether it’s me or Akeel [Lynch], or Zack [Zwinack], guys are going to make plays so just give us a little room and we’ll get it done.”

Sam Ficken also began the game with two field goals on the Lions first two drives, while the Wolverines got their lone touchdown of the night when Devin Funchess pulled a would-be Devin Gardner interception out of Ryan Keiser’s hands and took it for a 43-yard touchdown.

The Lions then scored their first touchdown since Sept. 20 against Massachusetts when Hackenberg connected with DaeSean Hamilton for 10 yards and the redshirt freshman’s first career score. Hamilton finished as the leading receiver with seven catches for 58 yards.

It all went downhill from there, though, as Wolverines’ kicker Matt Wile made three field goals of his own to tie the game and then take the lead.

The Lions’ on the other hand, stalled on every drive in the second half and whatever energy that fueled them early quickly disappeared.

“We had a pretty good first half and we come out and start stalling,” Hamilton said. “That’s been our problem, being consistent and making sure we don’t stall after good plays...It’s all about executing from the first whistle to the last whistle.”

Hackenberg finished 21-of-32 passing with 160 yard and a touchdown as well as a costly interception due to throwing back across his body while on the run in the third quarter.

For the second straight contest, the Lions lost heading into a bye week, this one coming before they host Ohio State on Oct. 25.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in a lot of different areas,” Franklin said. “We really do. We knew we were going to have some challenges up front but there’s been enough talking about that. We’ve got to get better and we’ve got to get it fixed. Fast.”

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