ANN ARBOR — Don Brown still can’t let go of that loss to Penn State more than a year ago.
Statistically, it was a nightmare. The Michigan football team watched as PSU racked up more than 500 yards of total offense in a 42-13 loss, a rare feat under Brown’s tutelage.
It was the one and only time in Brown’s two-and-a-half year tenure at Michigan an opponent has eclipsed 500 yards and scored more than 35 points. And with the Nittany Lions on deck for next Saturday, Nov. 3, Michigan’s defensive coordinator is already beginning his meticulous planning.
“They handed it to us last year,” Brown said Monday night on the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show. “I did a poor job against them. Obviously, the players feel the same way and we’ve got two weeks of preparation to put our best foot forward.
“I feel good about this one.”
He did not feel about the last one. Penn State jumped out to an early 14-0 lead thanks to a pair of Saquon Barkley touchdown runs, including a 69-yard dash on the second play from scrimmage.
By the end of the first quarter, Barkley had amassed 102 yards rushing. PSU had 183 yards of total offense.
“In fact — just to let you know, I wake up every morning and think about it,” Brown said. “Honest.”
Michigan answered with back-to-back second-quarter touchdowns to pull within a point, but that was the end of the offense. And the defense unraveled from there.
PSU drove 75 yards in 53 seconds to extend its lead to 8. Its first drive of the second half went 80 yards in nine plays. The Nittany Lions would score 28 unanswered points and dim Michigan’s hopes of a Big Ten title.
“You always want to have all your pieces and your techniques and fundamentals at your disposal,” Brown said. “I’m not sure I provided that to our players, and I told them that.
“We didn’t play our best game — there’s no question about that.”
While still a tall task, this is not the same Penn State team from a year ago. An all-purpose problem, Barkley has since moved on to the NFL. McSorley is back and remains a threat on the ground, having rushed for 554 yards and eight touchdowns, but has only completed 54 percent of his passes this season.
Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have lost two of their last three games, including a stunner to Michigan State, 21-17, on Oct. 13.
“We’ve got to understand what’s in front of us,” Brown said. “Both run and pass, we understand the formations that they’ll give us. It’ll basically be one position, one personnel group — one tight end, three wide receivers with the running back.
“Then we’ve got to identify and play fast.”
PSU does possess one of the Big Ten’s most adept running backs in Miles Sanders. The junior ranks third in the conference in rushing yards (772), rushing yards per game (110.3) and yards per carry (6.5).
But the Wolverines have shown this season that they can limit proficient running backs. Jonathan Taylor, the nation’s leading rusher, was held to 101 yards on 17 carries in Michigan’s 38-13 win over Wisconsin.
Michigan (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) is also coming off a game in which it limited in-state rival Michigan State to 94 yards of total offense. It probably doesn’t hurt that Brown has two weeks to prepare for Penn State, either.
“If you practice fast, and you have the ability to get the repetitions needed, I think you give your guys a familiarity going into Saturday,” Brown said. “(Jim Harbaugh’s) organization allows us to be creative and our guys to play fast. When we turn that level up from practice to game, we found that level that sometimes is rarified air.”