Three takeaways from Penn State’s critical 24-15 loss to Michigan without Jim Harbaugh

Penn State lost for the second time this season, falling to Michigan on Saturday afternoon, 24-15, despite the Wolverines being without head coach Jim Harbaugh. He was suspended for three games by the Big Ten because of the ongoing sign-stealing scandal.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

PSU still not elite

Another year, another good — not great — Penn State team. And another two losses to Ohio State and Michigan.

It’s a good thing for the Nittany Lions that they won’t have to face both teams next year, because the possibility of going 11-1 during a regular season will then exist. They’ve struggled to get over the hump in the James Franklin era, never beating both of those teams in the same year, and only winning four times in the 20 matchups against them.

A New Year’s Six bid could be up in the air this season because Penn State’s No. 10 ranking heading into the game will surely drop after the loss. This was a game the program needed to have, and now that it didn’t get it, everything about the postseason is out of its control.

Prowler package costs Penn State 14 points early

The Nittany Lions’ defense has gone to its prowler package — with six DBs and five high-level pass-rushers — all season on third down but, on Saturday afternoon, it was the reason Penn State gave up its first two touchdown drives. Michigan converted a third-and-10 on its first scoring drive of the game by going with a quarterback run with J.J. McCarthy. The package is simply too small to handle those situations well. The Wolverines did it again on their second scoring drive, when Donovan Edwards broke a 22-yard touchdown run on third-and-11 against the package.

Penn State needed its defense to be at the top of its game and, for the fist time all season, it failed with one of its best personnel groups in the first 30 minutes of the matchup.

Nittany Lion receivers no-show again

This has been the case time and time again for Penn State this season but, once again, the offense failed to get much of anything going in the passing game. Sophomore quarterback Drew Allar is not blameless and did not play well in the game, but the receivers’ lack of separation was consistently an issue. And it forced the team into a difficult spot.

Too often they relied on the defense to come up big or the running game to carry the day. Both of those things get much harder when the Nittany Lions are trailing, as was the case most of Saturday afternoon. It’s a lost cause for the rest of the season, but the story of the year is going to be the receivers and the lack of playmaking in the team’s biggest games.