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Michigan routs Penn State

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Brandon Smith might have been the only Penn State player to score any type of victory in Saturday’s 49-10 beatdown from the hands of Michigan in the Big House.

Smith, who was the breakout star in last week’s victory over Temple, found himself heading back to the locker room early in the second quarter after being ejected for targeting. The ejection saved him from having to watch the rest of the train wreck.

Through four games, the Wolverines offense has looked historic. With a school-record 208 points scored in the first four games, it would’ve taken a perfect storm for James Franklin’s Nittany Lions to pull off the upset.

And the storm was certainly not perfect.

Heading in to Ann Arbor without all three of their starting linebackers and a considerably banged up front four, the Lions defense began to appear vulnerable during last week’s win over Temple — and Temple is no Michigan. To make matters worse, Smith’s replacement Jan Johnson suffered a knee injury in the first half and is likely out for the year.

"Our linebacker situation, I don't know if I've ever been through something like this or seen anything like this," Franklin said. "It is what it is. We've got to find a way to solve the problem.”

With Big Ten play under way, Franklin will need to solve that problem quickly. If not, Saturdays will continue to look more and more like the ugly box score against Michigan, where the defense allowed 326 yards on the ground alone. Along with giving up 25 first downs and failing to record a takeaway, the Penn State defense also allowed five different Michigan running backs to score touchdowns.

“They were able to control the ball, control the line of scrimmage, run the ball, play-action pass,” Franklin said. “We weren't able to get pressure on their quarterback and when we did we had a couple opportunities for tackles for loss and sacks, and he always seemed to get out of them.”

On the other side of the ball, the Penn State offense spent nearly all 60 minutes of the game playing catch-up, a style that doesn't perfectly suit its run-first offense. Star back Saquon Barkley only managed 59 yards on 15 carries, although he did record a team-high five receptions for a career-high 77 yards.

But the Lions desperately needed every one of those receptions because their wide receivers had no luck getting open at all. Along with Barkley's five catches, tight end Mike Gesicki also recorded five receptions while freshman running back Miles Sanders recorded his first catch.

Compared to the 11 receptions from running backs and tight ends, Penn State wideouts only managed three catches of their own, for a whopping total of 22 yards.

Top wideout Chris Godwin was an absolute non-factor the entire game as he was shut down by returning Wolverines All-Amerian Jourdan Lewis. The tight pressure from the Michigan secondary also affected Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley's pocket presence, as he suffered six sacks and only completed 16 of his passes for a total of 121 yards.

"They were playing man coverage. So when you're gonna face man coverage and get pressed, you're going to have to run crossing routes and have to go vertical," Franklin said. "So when we called crossing routes, Trace was having a hard time holding on to the ball long enough to allow them to cross. That didn't happen."

As football games usually do, the contest came entirely down to the battle of the trenches, where it was evident one team was a top-five team in the nation while the other was an undersized and inexperienced squad trying to bounce back from sanctions. Scarily, the Lions knew what was coming, according to offensive lineman Brian Gaia, and still looked overmatched. Even with all the preparation in the world, Penn State still never would have been able to overcome the physical and athletic advantage of Michigan. While losing countless members of your defensive front seven certainly doesn't help that physicality matchup, a final score of 49-10 will look particularly ugly on the 2016 schedule for James Franklin's hot seat, as he now falls to 0-7 in his Penn State career when facing Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State.

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