Last Saturday the Wolverines traveled to the not always happy Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, determined to do nothing that would enhance the happiness therein, while paying another short visit to the huge, noisy, and sold out Beaver Football Stadium. Happy Valley was not happy when the Wolverines left clutching a 9 and 2 record, and their second Big Ten away victory in a row.
While Beaver Stadium is a little reminiscent of an old fashioned child’s toy, slightly resembling an “Erector” set in places, there is nothing childish or toy like about the level of football played there. The Beavers are 6 and 1 there this season, and they played tough Saturday.
But so did the Wolverines. The defense battered talented PSU QB Christian Hackenberg, and held PSU to 207-yards, with 70 on the ground. Hackenberg was 13 of 31 for 137-yards. PSU RB Barkley had 13 carries for 65 net yards. PSU was a measly 3 of 14 on third down, but they did convert 2 of 4 fourth down attempts.
Jake Rudock had a great day at QB for Michigan, completing 25 for 256-yards, even though he fumbled twice and threw an interception. He lost one fumble, but he recovered one and advanced the ball for a few yards. M outgained PSU 393 net to 207.
The Wolverines have had spectacular success in Beaver Stadium in 1997, and on other occasions as in 2006, when Alan Branch laid out PSU quarterbacks.
The defense has often carried its share of the load well in this game, and they did again. Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton had 14 tackles combines, and Jabril Peppers broke up three passes. They have a real aptitude for red zone stops.
No game was a more spectacular success by the Wolverines in Beaver Stadium, than 1997’s so-called “Judgment Day”. But in football what counts is what you have done have you done lately. The lately in this instance was a very needed and satisfying team win.
That this game was changed from 8:00 P.M. to noon was probably a benefit to the Wolverines. Penn State fans are as fervent as any, and they rock that stadium even more for night games. I suppose it would be apropos to say that the crowd’s enthusiasm ferments for night games, but they were already rabid for Saturday’s noon “white out”. Additionally, it was Senior day for 19 Seniors. Second year PSU Coach James Franklin now owns a 15-10 record.
As you know, Saturday’s game presented a very serious challenge to the quality of the Wolverine’s season. Those that have characterized the Wolverine’s current situation as a play-off game for each game remaining were spot on. PSU was the last regular season away game.
This week Wolverine fans were in the odd and distasteful position of having to root for Buckzilla. Unfortunately, it was to no avail, as the Spartans beat the formerly third ranked Bucks by a field goal in Columbus with a back-up QB. Go figure.
The Wolverine’s control of its own fortunes had slipped away with that now infamous, funky, last seconds, and failed M punt attempt resulting in their loss to MSU.
In last Saturday’s game, it was anticipated PSU would give the Wolverines a tussle, and they did.
The defensive line was considered the gem of PSU’s defense, and they were strong. The defensive backfield, while not a highly regarded as the D line, had usually been effective in spite of the earlier loss of Safety Jordan Lucas for the balance of the season.
RB Saquon Barkley had rolled up rush yardage of 836-yards to date. M’s rushing defense was reeling in recent games. M has no rusher with that kind of yardage. The M rushing game Saturday was anemic. Thirty attempts for 87-yards, and a long of 29-yards for a 2.9 average is the stuff of which losses are made.
But not Saturday, as tossing wide to the WRs replaced it. RB Smith contributed mightily in stiffening the pass pro, and also grabbed a couple of short passes at a critical time. Darboh grabbed 7 passes for 68-yards and a TD, and Jake Butt nabbed 5 for 66- yards, and a TD. Chesson, Smith, Grant, Williams, Way, Houma, and Jones all made catches, most of the short variety. This group, which we underrated so much at the onset of this season, is still rising, and has become the strength of the offense.
PSU’s standout RB Barkley, made his presence felt on the opening series of the game with a 56-yard run, and prospects were instantly looking bleak as to defensive effectiveness, but M safety Jarod Wilson stopped the run short of the goal line, and the defense held to force a FG. Don’t mess with Michigan in the red zone as they defend well when concentrated..
The Wolverines defense demonstrated their red zone dominance twice more with terrific stands. They stopped Barkley cold for the rest of the game after his 56-yard jaunt. Remarkably, he ran for only 14 more yards during the rest of the game, and managed only 70 net yards total.
Jehu Chesson has become indispensable to M’s fortunes, running and receiving, and Saturday he also recovered a fumble. A couple of completions to Jehu set up a 26-yard TD throw to TE Jake Butt. With M up 7 to 3, the 1st Quarter ended.
Both the good and the bad of the day showed up in that first quarter. Jake Rudock threw an interception to turn over possession at the PSU 35, and the penalty bug appeared. Overcoming this bad was the defense again proving they were for real by forcing a PSU punt after the interception.
PSU had the ball to start the 2nd Quarter. A 10-yard penalty hurt the Wolverines but Taco Charlton got it back with a ten yard sack to force a PSU punt.
No scoring happened in the rest of the 2nd quarter, until M managed to get a punt blocked. PSU got possession at the M 43. A 25-yard pass put the ball in the Michigan end zone and it was M-7, PSU-10.
This sparked Jake Rudock and the Michigan offense to answering with another perfect two minute drill. It was not for overtime in this game, but still important. Seven plays covered 70-yards, including a couple of key pass completions to D. Smith, and an11-yard pass to Amara Darboh in the end zone to make it M-14, PSU-10 at the half.
M received to start the 2nd half. A 12-yard Jordan Lewis return raised some expectations of M taking over the game, as did a pair of short completion to Darboh, and one each to Ways, Chesson, and Perry, but three incompletions spelled stall, and M punted.
This turned out to be a big deal for the Wolverines as the receiver called a fair catch and muffed the catch. Chesson was Jehu on the spot, recovering the football at the PSU 9. Peppers, Smith, and Houma all lugged for short yardage, with Sione finally breaking the plane for six on a one yard run, and it was M-21, PSU-10.
M’s defense diddled some on their next possession drawing consecutive major penalties, but then they held. The Wolverines were ticketed for 13 penalties for 117-yards. One of them were most perplexing. There was another targeting issue as it appeared Jake Rudock was hit nose on, and it wasn’t called. There was also a personal foul called on what seemed a legitimate hit on TV, but called low by the officials.
Coach Harbaugh did his best Bo Schembechler impression as he shed his coat, hat, and headset, and fumed on the sidelines. There is legitimate discussion whether this ultimately helps his cause or harms it, but one thing is certain. It lets his team absolutely know he has their six. I did not like the two calls either.
Additionally, I do not understand what was drawing the defensive line off sides so much. Just a hard count? The coaches will work that out.
M’s defense had held, but Jake Ruddock couldn’t hold on on the Wolverines next offensive possession. Onto the ball that is, as he was sacked. PSU started at M’s 42 after recovery of the fumble.
The 4th quarter started with the Beavers still in possession. They made the most of their gifted opportunity until they got to the M 6, where the Wolverines stopped them cold. The subsequent PSU FG made it M-21, PSU-13.
In about the middle of the 4th quarter, PSU moved to another FG. This time it covered 18-yards as the defense held again. Another escape had been earned by the Wolverine’s defense, as the two late stands forestalled 8 possible points. M-21, PSU-16.
Now came the extraordinary, and very timely 56-yard KO return of Jordan Lewis. Jehu Chesson rushed for 20 to the PSU 20. Jabril Peppers had a short run. Jake Butt caught a five yard pass. Finally D. Smith leaped high into the goal line pile, reaching to extend the ball though the plane, to score from the one.
The Final score of 28-16 was established, and it was all over but the final sacking, and one more M possession, where D. Smith clawed for 21-yards before the clock stopped ticking.
Nine wins for this team is a great accomplishment, but ten wins would be even better. It will be interesting to see how the Buckeyes handle their loss Saturday to the Spartans in Columbus.
While they will not be Number One in the country this season, and couldn’t lick the Spartans for all the marbles, the highly talented and well coached Buckeyes will be highly energized by just the sight of the M helmets.
The Bucks will be a tough out for the Wolverines as usual, but this year it should be extra intense on the part of the Wolverines. There is still so much for which to fight.