The Indiana Hoosiers slid into Ann Arbor Saturday desperate for another Big Ten win.  They played a tough and desperate game.

The Hoosiers were 5-5 on the season, and they were 2-5 in the Big Ten.  Far below their expectations when the season started. Now they desperately sought 6 wins to get a Bowl bid.

What a splash they could bring to an otherwise dismal season, if they could only lay a loss on the Wolverines on M’s own turf.

Saturday that was easier said than done, as the Wolverines were reaching for their eighth straight Big Ten win.  M needed to remove the last barrier to a shot at the Buckeyes that they had been looking forward to all season, and since they met last year.

THERE WAS MORE AT STAKE FOR THE WOLVERINES THAN FOR THE HOOSIERS THIS YEAR: After 7 Big Ten games, the Wolverines were at the top of the Big Ten heap.  Numero Uno. It was hard to get there, and it is harder to stay there.

The overall series with Indiana was in the Wolverines’ favor 59-7.  Interesting but not an indicator of victory.  Each game, each year is new and original. It is part of why Indiana v Michigan Big Ten college football has drawn significant crowds to stadiums, and to the TV set annually, after Michigan’s 22 prior wins (now 23), and after the game being repeated annually 67 times.

The fact that the Wolverines had defeated Indiana more than anyone else in the conference also made no difference.  The Wolverines last loss was a 14-10 setback in Bloomington in 1987, and the last loss at home to the Hoosiers was in 1967. Recently, games with the Hoosiers have been close.

Last year M won, but had to eke out a win in the first overtime. Two years before that it was another overtime win for the Blue.  All of the above gave this one, all the characteristics of a “trap” game

In other words, lately Indiana has possessed prolific offenses, and have made it a game. Prior efforts are not  predictors. Both offense and defense had to be on track and they were enough to defeat an energized, and tough Indiana effort.

THAT THE WOLVERINES AS A TEAM ARE DOING WELL THIS SEASON was verified by 8 Big Ten wins, their position in National Rankings, and playoff-rankings, and is verified by this victory Saturday.

What verifies it most is being undefeated in the Big Ten, with their last game still facing them, the big one against the Buckeyes of Ohio State to whom they owe so much, and so much would like to repay.

The Wolverines did not do anything today to smudge season accomplishments  and future opportunities to this point, while taking a workman like giant step forward.

THE OFFENSE:  The offense moved the ball, aggregated 507-yards total, but settled for six field goals.  As unlikely as it would have seemed before-hand, the main responsible for thirty Michigan points in this fray was Freshman Kicker Jake Moody, the Kick Off specialist. The usual kicker, Quinn Nordin was ill according to Coach Harbaugh post game.

In a very poised manner, Moody hit six times from 32, 30. 31,33, 23 and 31-yards.

Here is what an appreciative Shea Patterson said in the post-game press conference after the game, “This guy was a sniper.  He did a hell of a job…to have a freshman come out and kick like this was amazing. We couldn’t finish some (drives), but him just getting in there and finishing for us as great to see.”  Coach Harbaugh afterwards said he was poised, that he never changed expression.

He set a Michigan and other records with this performance.

I am discounting any criticism, and there is some criticism, that these were just shorties or chip shots. His KOs prove he has the leg for the long hits.  He, and the snap and holding players, were up to the task of facilitating a victory, and an undefeated shot at the last obstacle to the Big Ten Title game, and the team and fans are grateful.

Shea Patterson threw his first interception in a while, but what a game he had otherwise.  He threw a little wide to Gentry in the end zone.  That pass could have been caught,  but was low and behind.  He is still the best QB the Wolverines have had in a couple of whiles.

Saturday he was 16 of 23 for 250-yards. His long pass was for 42-yards. He ran for 68-yards on 9 attempts, and averaged 7.6 per carry.

Karan Higdon was the workhorse on the ground again, hitting for 104-yards on 21 carries. Chris Evan got 44-yards on 10 carries, and Tru Wilson had 42-yards on 6.

The receivers were active with the most notable being Zach Gentry who nabbed 2 for 83-yards, Nick Eubanks had 1 for 41, and a TD, Nico Collins 3 for 32 and Ronnie Bell 1 for 31-yards. Six other receivers caught passes.

Six drives stalled and that is a problem.  While they won, they left a lot of points on the field.  They found a way to cope, but they will need all possible points them next week, and beyond.  Still it is difficult to throw a fit when they accumulated total 507-yards of offense.

The defense faced a hurry-up offense that spreads the field and has usually caused the D some hiccups.  The were held to 257-yard rushing, and 195 passing for a total of 385-yards.

Not up to the defense’s statistical standard, but hey, who won?

The top three tacklers were: Devin Bush (8 solo tackles, 3 assists, 11 total, 1 TFL), Tyree Kinnel (6 solo, 3 assists, 9 total, .5 TFL), and Rashan Gary (same as Kinnel, but with 1.5 TFLs and a sack).  It was critical Gary was on hand for this tilt. He played and lead well.

As described above, much of the special teams were all Moody.

HOW THEY SCORED: Indiana owned the first quarter with 7 first downs to Michigan’s 3, out gained the Wolverines 104 to 75-yards, and scored a TD to M’s FG.

Indiana won the toss and deferred.  It looked like the Wolverines were on their way to 6, but the 61-yard, 10-play drive stalled at the Hoosier 14, and then things got Moody.  He hit a 32-yard FG, and it was M-3, I-0.  A Wolverine incompletion from a QB hurry had stalled the drive.

Indiana answered with a TD after 6 plays and 82-yards. Runs hurt, including a 13-yard TD run. M-3, I-7.

The Wolverines had a better grip on the second quarter, with 25 first downs to the Hoosier’s 17.

M’s Moody hit two FGs, one from 30-yards and another from 31.  The first was the result of an 8 play 47-yard drive, fueled by a 31-yard Ronnie Bell reception.  The next Wolverine FG was the result of a 6 play 65-yard drive.  Both stalled because of incomplete passes.  M-9, I-7.

The Hoosier’s answered with a 41-yard FG. M-9, I-10.

The Wolverines finally got a TD. A 6-play, 65-yard Indiana drive culminated in a 41-yard yard TD pass to TE Nick Eubanks, who was all alone in the end zone.  The two point extra point attempt failed. M-15, I-10.

Indiana scored again on a 9 play 75-yard drive.  Most of the damage was don e on a 41-yard completion. M-15, I-17.

The Wolverine earned 276-yards to Indiana’s 249 in the 1st half, but were still 2 points down.

The second half KO was to Indiana, but the Wolverines held and captured the ball. Shea hit People-Jones for 16-yards.  Collins for 13. Evans rushed for 7, DPJ snagged a 14-yard pass. Karan ran for 5 a first down at the Hoosier 5.  An Indiana PI penalty put it at the 2, and Karan hammered it in for a Wolverines’ TD. M-22, I-17.

Jake hit another FG, this time from 33-yards out.  M-25, I-17 to close the Third Quarter.

The score was still uncomfortably close to start the Fourth Quarter. The Wolverines won the third quarter, but on a cold day the heat was still on.

At 14.48, Karan ran for 4 to start a drive.  Some short runs got 5, but the drive stalled.  Jake Moody was called to the rescue and answered with a FG from 23-yards out and it was M-28. I-17. It still wasn’t over.

The Hoosiers immediately answered with a 29- yard FG after a 10 play, 56-yard drive. M-28, I-20.

The Wolverines then started their last scoring drive of the day. A series of short runs before the drive stalled got it to the Indiana 29, and Jake Moody hit another one for 29-yards. With 2:27 left the game was finally bagged with a final score of 31-20.

TAKE AWAY:  This was a hard game physically for the Wolverines the week before what is always a tough outing at the home of the Buckeyes.  There were multiple injuries.  The status of Aubrey Solomon is one question remaining.  There were numerous other nicks, and bruises but many of the players so effected came back to the field.

The largest unknown is the status of Chase Winovich who left the field and according to Coach Harbaugh underwent x-rays and a cat scan to diagnose an unidentified injury. Winovich has been an engine of destruction and perhaps the biggest impact player on Michigan’s vaunted defense this season. His loss would be huge as Michigan heads to Columbus and beyond.

Wolverine Berkley Edwards was also grievously and unnecessarily smashed on a special-teams play.  It appeared to me that he was hit on the chin with a helmet.  That is what an on-field observer said, too.  The result was a concussion that was verified in hospital.  While he left the field immobilized on a stretcher, and strapped to a cart, and later hospitalized, the after-game commentary was not dire. He could move and speak.  The result could have been worse.  We’ll stay tuned to this one.  Devin Bush lined up late in the game,  and went down,  but returned and played.  He was interviewed after the game and showed no ill effects from a bad cramp.

The targeting  hit on Berkley Edwards was as mean and stupid as I have seen all season.  If not on purpose, very thoughtless.  Coach Harbaugh was concerned about Edward’s injury but not vindictive regarding the perpetrator and LB Devin Bush said it was just football, and that sometimes emotions flare.  It a tough game.

It was a hard- earned win on a day that was cold for the temperature, was won by an unlikely special teams performance, and had a perplexing official’s call at the end of the first half.  Coach Harbaugh said afterwards that as the official attempted to place the ball near the goal line with seconds remaining.  It fell to the ground, and was kicked by a Hoosier.  The official said that the kick  was not on purpose, but accidental.  Harbaugh was amazed that was a judgment call, but no rage, no further comment.  From some fan’s standpoint, however, it was “We was robbed”.  At the end of the first half that call made a game difference.

That’s not important now.

Finally, it’s the Buckeyes.

Go Blue!

2018 MICHIGAN FOOTBALL By the Numbers Podcast Michigan 42 Penn State 7

Phil Callihan and Clint Derringer discuss Michigan’s 42-7 victory over Penn State using Clint’s modified S&P+ analysis methods that indicates Michigan is one of the top teams in the nation. Why Michigan’s offense is so much this season, how to attack the Michigan defense, and much more.

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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.

Go Blue!