Penn State suffered a humbling defeat at Michigan on Saturday, falling 42-7 in Ann Arbor. The Nittany Lions trailed 14-0 at halftime, tumbled into a 28-0 hole heading into the fourth quarter and simply struggled to make things competitive.
It was an uncharacteristic and alarming performance for Penn State, which hadn’t lost by more than four points in five defeats during its last 31 games — dating back to a 39-point pummeling at the hands of Michigan in September 2016.
“We did not play well today,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said afterward. “So we’ve gotta make some adjustments, we’ve gotta make some corrections obviously, and we’ve gotta get ready for next week. It’s very, very important how we handle this this week, as coaches and players, to give ourself an opportunity to come back next week and play well.”
Penn State sustains its streak of appearances in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll — revealed Sunday afternoon — but another Big Ten loss sends the Nittany Lions sliding dangerously close to falling out for the first time since October 2016.
Penn State is ranked 21st in the latest AP rankings, dropping from No. 14. The Nittany Lions peaked at No. 8 coming off an early-October bye week.
Penn State, which entered its Sept. 29 showdown vs. Ohio State with three losses in a 27-game span, has now suffered three defeats in its last five contests.
The Nittany Lions remain winless on the road against ranked opponents under coach Franklin. The program hasn’t pulled off such a victory since November 2013.
Penn State is now 6-3 with a .500 record in conference action. Another Big Ten battle awaits Saturday, when Wisconsin visits Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions will need to rebound from a brutal result in Ann Arbor.
“Fighting harder for the rest of the year. That’s kind of all it is — fighting together,” quarterback Trace McSorley said. “I feel like I’m a broken record saying those kinda things but at this point it’s just making sure everybody’s staying on top of what they’re doing — not letting this week drip into next week.”
While Penn State plummeted in the AP Top 25, Michigan climbed again. The Wolverines are ranked fourth, behind (in order) Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame.
Michigan should also move up in updated College Football Playoff rankings, made public Tuesday evening. The Wolverines landed at No. 5 in the debut 2018 edition, though a path to to playoff competition almost certainly requires wins at Ohio State and in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Other Big Ten programs that appear in the AP Top 25 are Ohio State (No. 8) and Michigan State (No. 24)
The Nittany Lions wrapped up last season at No. 8 in the AP Top 25 last season following a Fiesta Bowl win over Washington. Penn State finished seventh in 2016 after earning a Big Ten title. That ended a six-year streak of Penn State ending seasons outside the AP Top 25.