The Wolverines welcomed Penn State’s Nittany Lions to the Big House Saturday evening. It was a packed house for the first Big Ten game of the season for both adversaries, and also presented the first of nine obstacles that stood between the Wolverines, and achieving their primary season goal, which is capturing their first and only Big Ten East Championship game appearance, and win. The work in progress that is the 137th edition of the Wolverines took another successful step forward Saturday as they decisively whipped the defensively wanting Nittany Lions.
Coach Harbaugh has stressed that each game is now a “Championship Game”. That is accurate, and that is the way the Wolverines approached the game.
The Lions had heretofore usually been a formidable opponent. In the midst of attempting to rebuild their fortunes to a higher, post epic scandal level, Coach James Franklin had the Lions giving their all, but it was not enough. PSU scholarships and bowl eligibility have been restored so the full package of incentives was at hand again for the Lions, but still they struggled to stifle the Wolverines on defense, offense or special teams.
PSU again brought some talent to Ann Arbor, along with two wins and a loss. They had whipped Kent State at home 33-13, were upended at Pitt 42-39, and they narrowly nailed Temple 34-27.
In contrast to their struggling run game, PSU QB Trace McSorley ended his third game of the season as the leading Big Ten passer, having piled up 828 passing yards. He was treated roughly by the Wolverines defense who used him for sack practice, throwing him down for six sacks, and they also posted 13 TFLs. McSorley threw for 121-yards and a TD against the Wolverines. The Lions managed 191 net yards.
The Lions also sported a fleet of very capable pass receivers, but brought a linebacker group that has had significant injuries, including a season ending injury to a very talented player.
The Wolverines defensive backfield was shored up by the return to play of perhaps the best corner in the Big Ten, Jourdan Lewis. Ironically, they lost CB Jeremy Clark to serious injury in Saturday’s game. Harbaugh indicated post game that Jeremy has suffered a serious injury. Published reports indicated he had an ACL injury. If true, his return this season is doubtful. He will be missed. Just when you thought DB depth was improving, with the return of Lewis, there is another serious injury.
Taco Charlton also returned to the defense thereby increasing increase the depth and effectiveness of the DL, and he played well.
The turnover bug had plagued the Lions, and Temple almost caught up with them Saturday before last, courtesy of two PSU gifts. Their turnover bug returned against the Wolverines, but late in the game. They threw an interception which led to six, and fumbled.
PSUs talented RB Saqueon Barkley broke for a 55-yard TD to seal their win against Temple. Barkley is a highly talented back. This Saturday he rambled for 59-yards with a long of 33, and caught 5 for 77-yards with a long of 33-yards. The M defense quelled Barkley’s remarkable talent for the most part.
Against Pitt, the Lions were nicked for 314 rushing yards. Against the Blue, they gave up 326-rushing yards and 189-passing yards to the Wolverines. It can’t be argued that 515 total offensive yards isn’t a good days work. It also can’t be argued that PSU ranks among the best rushing offense or best rushing defense teams in the country or even the best in the Big Ten.
Post-game player reports indicated the Wolverines offensively ran the same running play multiple times just switching sides with it, much to the enjoyment of the OL. They racked up 6 TDs on the ground and 1 through the air, on the arm of Wilton Speight.
While Wilton missed some open receivers with errant throws, he had a great day over all. His evasiveness and mobility with in the pocket is remarkable and improving, and once he sprinted out of the pocket for the 1st down markers on the sideline, and made it on a forward stumble. Not elegant, but just as effective as he needed to be.
It wasn’t surprising that Wilton located Freshman Devin Asiasi the end zone for his first TD reception, and Witon’s only TD pass of the day, as Devin is a huge target at 290-pounds and at six seven.
ECHOS FROM THREE PAST M/PSU COMBATS: Penn State has been a member of the Big Ten Conference for 24-years. Saturday was their 20th meeting with the Wolverines. No game was a more spectacular Wolverine success than the epic 1997 battle in Beaver Stadium, aptly named “Judgment Day” by the press.
Enroute to a share of the national title, the Wolverines gave no quarter in scaling the Penn State obstacle, and PSU replied in kind, but less effectively in their losing cause.
Michigan lost an outstanding, but over-zealous defensive player that day, when Dadyrion Taylor hit the PSU fullback a lick on the sideline that was so rugged the Lion was out of the game, and his football career was over. Dadyrion suffered a similar fate, and never played football again. It was a sad fate for both of those players, but it was a most outstanding victory for Coach Lloyd Carr, QB Brian Griese, DB Charles Woodson, and that great 1997 team that later shared a National Championship with lucky Nebraska.
I will always remember the game, the great execution and talented play that gave the Wolverines that 34-8 victory against PSU. It was a victory that started the Big Ten ball rolling for the Blue. An undefeated season does not come knocking at the door often.
Mentioned below are a couple of other games against PSU that thrilled M fans. We decline to mention the few that disappointed them.
The first OT in Michigan Stadium was played in 2002. There have been so many OT’s since then that it seems remarkable that they have only been on tap for fourteen years. I was stunned as M RB Chris Perry ran for the winning TD. The 27-24 win in OT was a thriller. The Wolverine defense made an outstanding 4-play goal line stand.
In 2005, there was the game winning Henne to Mario Manningham TD pass, which was caught in the South end zone with a second on the clock for a 27-25 M win.
Steve Breaston had streaked to mid field. Henne led a drive to the 10-yard line, and then came the last minute toss fatal to PSU’s dreams of an undefeated season. A laser, it was a rifled throw and sure reception. The TD instantly disappointed PSU’s contingent, including their coach, the late Joe Paterno, as it elated Wolverines. In Happy Valley, they still lament what might have been. As mentioned above, undefeated seasons are hard to come by.
Saturday’s PSU team was not on the same high football level as those PSU teams of yore. It looks like PSU will explore the bottom rankings of the Big Ten this year.
JABRILL PEPPERS MADE HISTORY LAST SATURDAY: He was the first ever to win both Big Ten Player of the week and Big Ten Special Teams Player of the week accolades in the same game. On special teams, he had both a 54-yard punt return for a TD, and a 55-yard punt return, and amassed 204-yards including yards rushing, kick-off returns, and punt returns. On defense, he was also outstanding with 6 solo tackles, 3 assists, 1 sack and 3.5 TFLs.
This was a singular and remarkable performance that was only very, very slightly soiled by a miscue on the first Bison TD pass.
He does as well at multiple positions as anybody does, and far better than most. Against Colorado Saturday before this, he had over seventy snaps as part of more than a dozen different lineups on offense, defense and special teams.
Jabrill dismisses out of hand the existence of additional significant tiredness because of his use at multiple positions, believing that the practices are tougher.
What a player! But football is a demanding sport and it is always what have you done for the team lately. On Michigan’s first possession Peppers returned a punt 53-yards stumbling at the PSU eight. He did not make the catch cleanly, bobbled it, picked it up and made a spectacular run. The ball was placed at the 24 as the Wolverines had a coach out of the box, and apparently he impeded an official, drawing an un-sportsmanlike conduct penalty for 15-yards. Nevertheless, it was a great Peppers jaunt, and a harbinger of more good things to come.
Last Saturday Peppers was still the best football player on the field, but not as productive. Ben Gideon led the Wolverines defense with three solo and eight tackle assists, Peppers still contributed with 3 solo tackles and 2 assists.
Jabrill was credited with a 54 punt return yards, and a long of 53.
While not as spectacular as some days he has had or will have, it was again not a bad day at the office. There is more to come. According to Coach Harbaugh Jabrill is “rare, special”.
WOLVERINES v NITTANY LIONS: M won the toss and Kicked Off. The M defense rose up and smothered the Lions, forcing a punt resulting in a return to the PSU 8. The penalty pushed it back to the 24. Smith caught a pass for 9-yards and rushed for one. Darboh got one of two yards, and the ball was at the one and then in the hands of Kahlid Hill, who punched it in for six, and the Wolverines were up 7.
The M defense again seriously messed up the Lions offensive intentions and the offense had possession at the M 46. A six yard run by Karan Higdon, a 5-yard pass to Darboh, and 9-yards and a 25-yarder put the ball at the two. Smith hauled it beyond the plane for a two yard TD and M was leading 14 zip as the first quarter ended.
Before the quarter had ended Smith made a tough 39-yard run to the PSU 25. A PSU personal foul and some short gains put the ball on the PSU 3. A toss to Freshman TE Devin Asiasi put the ball in his hands in the end zone for six. M was now up 21 to zip. Penn State’s defensive troubles continued.
Karan Higdon rushed for 7, Smith for 8, Isaac for three, and Higdon again for one, before hitting Chesson for 18 and Evans for 14. Wilton ran for 9. A pass to Jake Butt got the ball to the two, and Karan Higdon ran for the six.
The half ended with the score 28-0. M had 259-yards to 50-yards for the Lions. Those facts prove dominance. The game had long since been over as far as determining a winner.
M received to start the second half, but had to punt.
Penn State advanced to the 21-yard line on the efforts of Barkley as he ran for 33 and caught a pass for 19. On the strength of a 21-yard FG they replaced zero on the scoreboard with a 3.
Later in the quarter the Wolverines struck again. Evans raced 37-yards to the PSU 43, Smith 8-yards, Isaac 5-yards, Higdon 7-yards, Evans 5-yards, Smith 8-yards, Higdon 11-yards, and Evans-3 for the score. M was up 35-3.
In the fourth quarter M shot itself in the foot with two pass interference calls that assisted in enabling the only Lions TD. Now it was 35-10.
Isaac and Evans moved the ball from the M 24 to the point where Karan Higdon made an impressive 42-yard TD run.
Leading 42-7 the Wolverines kept after it. McCray intercepted a PSU pass and ran it 22-yards to the Lion 31. John O’Korn was at the throttle for this series. After an incompletion to fast Eddie McDoom, Ty Isaac ran for 25-yards, and had two consecutive three yard attempts. The last 3-yard run was into the end zone for a 49-10 M lead.
M’s Josh Uche caused a fumble on the PSU 46 where Lavert Hill recovered it, and another one was over and in the books.
TAKE AWAY: While Harbaugh is right there is no exhibition season in college football, it turns out that the first four games of this season have been a time for player evaluation, scheme teaching, more player game participation, and experience reps for more players. The games have not been close in score.
During their first four games the Wolverines were only seriously challenged by Colorado, and that was in the first quarter. They responded admirably and prevailed. They have had a great start to a successful season by winning their first four games. All wins are valuable.
Still, these games are not are not a good yardstick to measure the Wolverines against the Big Ten’s better teams.
At the start of the season I thought that the first serious test would be the Badgers of Wisconsin. And so it is, as they come into M Stadium sporting a very impressive and unexpected 30-6 win at Spartan Stadium.
Michigan has much experience spread teams this season, something Wisconsin is not. Its time to find out if the Wolverines can stand up to the physically tough Big Ten teams on the remaining schedule. Can they stop a punishing running game, and run against a defense designed to stop the run?
Can they get On Wisconsin?