STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania — Already the most-sacked quarterback in Penn State history, Christian Hackenberg absorbed four more for a total of 101 in his career and was hit and hurried all afternoon.
The junior was even knocked from the game for a third-and-19 play late in the third quarter with his team down 21-10. Backup Trace McSorley entered, fired incomplete and Penn State let go one of its six punts in its 28-16 loss to No. 14 Michigan on Saturday. Hackenberg hooked up with Saeed Blacknall for a 25-yard touchdown pass but had little time to throw or room to fit passes downfield against a stingy Michigan secondary.
"He's taken a pounding for the past year and a half," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "We have got to get our protection and our run game more consistent to help him out."
But with the season finale against No. 9 Michigan State still to play, time is running out for improvement. And it could be running out for Hackenberg, who could jump to the NFL and forgo his senior year. He has not committed to staying, is on pace to graduate early and said he would wait until after the season to announce his decision.
Meanwhile, Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock threw for 256 yards on 25-of-38 passing and connected with Jake Butt and Amara Darboh for touchdowns in the win. Sione Houma and De'Veon Smith also ran for touchdowns for the Wolverines (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten, No. 12 CFP).
Time ran out quickly for Hackenberg on Saturday as Michigan defenders consistently swarmed the pocket.
"I think our defensive line play was the big key of the game," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. "All the guys on our defensive line, they got a lot of pressure. They got sacks. They got hits on the quarterback."
Without two big plays from Saquon Barkley and Chris Godwin, Penn State's all-or-nothing offense managed just 113 yards.
Barkley's 56-yard run on the second play from scrimmage set up the first of three Tyler Davis field goals. Godwin's 38-yard reception came on a perfect Hackenberg throw over the middle on fourth-and-9 and set up a second when two goal line passes fell incomplete and Barkley lost three yards.
"They play a great defense, a tough defense, so you can't make mistakes, especially in the red zone where everything is so tight," Godwin said.
But an inability to move the ball on the ground coupled with shoddy special teams play were enough to sink Penn State's longshot hopes to stay in the Big Ten title hunt.
Penn State (7-4, 4-3) managed just six rushing yards in the second half and its kickoff coverage unit allowed Jourdan Lewis to return a late kick 55 yards that helped setup a back-breaking touchdown. Six plays later, Smith's 1-yard touchdown run turned a 1-possession game into a 12-point Michigan lead with 5:12 to play.
Hackenberg got another shot but went 1 for 3 and was sacked for the 101st time in a Penn State uniform on third down. His fourth-down pass fell incomplete. He was emotional minutes later as he ran through the tunnel past a jeering student section.
"It was disappointing that we couldn't get it done," Hackenberg said. "We tried to lay it all out there and gave everything we had. It was tough, seeing everything unfold the way it did. But we have two more left so we still have a great chance to do what we need to do to get the job done."