The Penn State Lions rolled into M Stadium Saturday fresh off a late surge to beat the West Division Iowa Hawkeyes the previous Saturday. They were desperate to not incur another loss. Previously, struggling Michigan State had ventured to Happy Valley, and furnished them with a Big Ten loss. Saturday the Wolverines gave them another in convincing fashion, 42 to 7.
THIS WAS ALSO M’s MOST IMPORTANT GAME, SEASON TO DATE, and this is their most impressive victory to date this season. Even though the Wolverines had won their last seven games, and had achieved a 5th place National Ranking, plus a 5th place ranking in the first play-off ranking of the season, they were not lolling in false sense of security. They were ready to assume their heavy and important task of beating the Lions. This was, after all, the most important game they had played to date, and they treated it appropriately.
It was after all, the first time they had faced the Lions after the Lions whupped them severely in Beaver Stadium last fall 42-10, and that loss still echoed.
PSU bent M’s DC Don Brown’s mind more than a little with that victory, along with several, if not all, of the M players.
Chase Winovich was among them, regarding the Penn State game and more. He has called this season a” Revenge Tour” on several occasions.
While a Michigan Coach usually will not endorse or mention a revenge factor, for any game, this year Don Brown was an exception. Brown took public and personal responsibility for last year’s Wolverine defensive failure in the Penn State game.
For Coach Brown, and many of the players, the bad taste of the Lions whipping lingered, and they mentioned it, as did Coach Brown.
Brown certainly stressed what PSU did to his defense last year, and how they did it. He said he woke up every morning and thought of that game. Not any more, as he, and the team can now move on. Mission accomplished.
Several M players had mentioned that instead of taking a knee at the M six-yard line, with 1 or 2 seconds remaining in the game, the Lions ran a play to run up the score, instead of taking a knee. The defense held, but the attempt was resented then, and was, noted and acted upon . Brown had shown a video clip to his defense, lest they forget. Chase Winovich has been vocal regarding this.
Further, he called this season a”Revenge Tour”, and that has become a team mantra. Basically that recalls last year’s nasty losses, and turns them into wins this year.
He again discussed this at length after the game. The Wolverines have paid the Lions back with interest to every Michigan Fan’s satisfaction. Like the so-called Judgment Day win in 1997 against Penn State, this eighth win of the season might be recognized as a spring board to a great season.
Chase and all his teammates on both sides of the ball, were up to the task against the Lions. This will become distant past, and not a concern any longer as other challenges gather. Losses linger, wins call for more more in the future.
THE USUALLY LAID-BACK COACH HARBAUGH WAS effusive in praise for both sides of the ball after the game. He said that had he had to count all the defense, beginning with Chase Winovich, and Rashan Gary was in there. He then enumerated the effectiveness of each defensive position group. He singled out a sterling job by DC Don Brown. Then he extensively praised QB Shea Patterson, RB Karan Higdon, and the OL line, and the offense in general. He did not fail to mention the contributions of OL Coach Ed Warinner.
Harbaugh obviously enjoyed an an important team victory.
THE BYE WEEK AND HARBAUGH ON THE CROWD: The Wolverines had a bye week to consider their future, and heal some of the dinged. It turned out that Rashan Gary was ready to play and he did well. WR Tarik Black was ready to play, and caught a beautiful long TD pass that was negated by a penalty situation.
His return will facilitate an even more productive set of X, Y, and Z receivers. Offensive Tackle Juwan Bushel-Beatty was in condition to participate, and did.
None of these came as much of surprise because the players were a little, just a little, more forthcoming, than Harbaugh during the bye week regarding injuries. For example, they expected dinged tackle Bushell-Beatty to play, and he did.
The team used the off week to rest, and to give snaps to Freshman and reserves on the verge of breaking into the two-deep. A fine opportunity to teach and learn football.
Some of the coaches traveled far and wide to recruit. On the Sunday before the game, they all resumed their normal game week routine.
The question as to whether the bye week would harm or hinder the Wolverines’ play was answered Saturday. They never missed a beat by scoring early, scoring in every quarter, and allowing only one late consolation score by the Lions.
The response of the crowd enthusiastically earned Harbaugh’s appreciation post-game. “Our stadium, our fans — it had a different feel tonight. It felt like the old days, just an energized group of fans, the student section,” he said. “It was a Saturday in Ann Arbor the way it’s supposed to be, the way I remember it at the very highest level. It was an electric atmosphere in there, and that’s great.
THE OFFENSE: The offense hummed with the precision of a smooth, jacked up V-8 gas engine, but without the exhaust. RB Karan Higdon hit the road running. He ran 20 times for 133-yards net and a long run of fifty yards. His average per carry was 6.5-yards. His runs were a key to M’s victory and included one jaunt for fifty-yards. Chris Evans galloped for 57 net on 12 carries, and had a long of 32-yards. They did the bulk of their damage on the ground as M produced 259-yards on the ground on 52 carries, but some pass were key.
Shea Patterson had another outstanding game. Depending what the team needs he is caretaker or play-maker, depending on need, either on the ground or through the air. He can perform to perfection a well called play, or leg out and execute in other situations. Saturday, he outdid one of the better QBs in the Big Ten, Trace McSorely. Trace, and the other PSU QB together managed to complete 18 for 68-yards net. Shea had a lot more than a little help from his defensive friends in arranging those numbers, but Shea was outstanding on his side of the ball. He threw 17 times for 11 completions and 144-yards. He also ran 11 times for 42 net yards, with a long of 32. This moved the chains in some critical situations.
Patterson threw to Nico Collins twice for 53-yards with a long of 45, Donovan Peoples-Jones three times for 38-yards, and a TD. RB Chris Evans was 3 for 30-yards. The TEs got into the act with a TD catch by Zach Gentry who caught two for 18-yards and a TD.
THE DEFENSE: Chase Winovich had a great game but so did so many others on the defense., like Bush, Kinnel and Hudson, among others. Harbaugh said afterwards all the defensive position groups were very good and it is a fact they were. They were on target, and that Don Brown did a noteworthy job.
Bush, Kinnel and Uche had 4,4, and 3 solos respectively and a total of 7, 5, and 3 tackles total. Uche had 2 sacks. That is a defense that can be proud of itself, and what was accomplished Saturday. Still, the next challenge is coming up sooner or later, and now becomes a more important game.
HOW THEY SCORED: The Wolverines took off at the start of the first quarter. The Lions received, and were held. An early sack by Josh Uche set the order of the day.
An 8-play, 76-yard drive ensued. Higdon rushed for 1, 10 and then 50-yards to the Lion 15. Finally, Shea Patterson ran it in, and it soon became 7-0 with the extra point. The defense held PSU to zero first quarter first downs.
Fortunately, PSU QB Trace McSorely fumbled early, after a 2-yard gain. PSU gotten the ball on a blocked Quinn Nordin attempt at a 50-yard field goal. The ball was spotted at the PSU 26. In a flurry of calls, PSU was handed an illegal block penalty, and M was handed an unsportsmanlike 15-yards. PSU had a an incomplete McSorley pass result in a call of pass interference on the Wolverine Josh Metellus. Then came the aforementioned McSorley fumble. The ever alert and aggressive Chase Winovich covered it at the PSU 48.
A number of M rushes put the ball at the PSU 23. A beautiful Patterson to Donovan-Peoples aerial of 23-yards made it M-14, PSU-0. The first half ended M up 14-zip.
The Lions still owned no first downs, and the M defense owned them.
The Wolverines received to start the second half. The two teams punched and counter punched without much result until 8:01 of the third quarter.
The most impressive drive of the game began at the M ten-yard line, and proceeded 90-yards to a TD. Patterson ran for 11, and a first down. He was working the read option to perfection. A 7-yard pass to Donovan People-Jones, and a Karan Higdon gallop for 19-yards helped put the ball at the M 43. A 24-yard throw to Chris Evans got it to the PSU 35. Patterson got four-yards to the 7. Zach Gentry scored the TD on 7-yard pass. M led 21 to zip.
The Wolverines struck again quickly as M’s Brandon Watson ran a 62-yard interception in for 6. Suddenly it was 28 to zip.
M had 15 first downs to the Lions 7. M had totaled 315 net yards to PSUs 113 for the game at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter also belonged to the Wolverines. Their first TD was fueled be an elegant 26-yard punt return by Donovan Peoples-Jones to the Michigan 47. RB Chris Evans ran it 32-yards. Then there was a 13-yard Patterson zip to the 6. Ben Mason got a couple yards, and Karan got the 4-yard score. M-35, PSU-0. This was a 6-play, 53-yard drive.
An interception by David Long was run back to the PSU 12. Runs by Chris Evens and Dylan McCaffery got it to the one. Chris got it in for 6. M-42, PSU-0.
The Lions brought the score to 42-7with a consolation TD to finish the scoring M-42, PSU-7.
TAKEWAY: One hundred percent perfection is hard to achieve or maintain in any endeavor, especially D-1 NCAA football, and the Wolverines still have more work to do.
But this season is well a on its way, and there are now sufficient measuring bench marks available to measure the football prowess of the Wolverines, and to right now label them as a good football team.
They have been meeting the challenges as they improve on both sides of the ball. There is no question that they are good. But they need to prove it at least four more times this season for notable accomplishment, and then take it from there. The climb to greatness gets steeper as they get better.