Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh shares more opinions from his children, running back Karan Higdon, the improvement of the offensive line 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.
On Saturday, it was that big game time of year again. For the Wolverines it was one of their best victories in a long time any way you look at it. A big one against MSU on their football field constituted a “significant’ win over a ranked team. This win provided much personal satisfaction to most Michigan Fans.
It gets personal, does this game.
So did the weather.
The game weather was remarkably fickle, quickly changing from warm to cold, blue sky to clouds, calm winds to gusty, rain to sleet to snow, and back and forth.
Even so, the weather couldn’t inhibit a great M win, and neither could the Spartans. 17 prior M losses to ranked opponents in away games didn’t become 18.
ALMOST EVERYONE FROM THE STATE OF MICHIGAN HAS SOME KIND OF STAKE IN THIS GAME, having a relative, friend, neighbor, co-worker, brother, sister, Grandparent, or acquaintance that supports one side or the other.
Some of my growing up occurred in the Lansing area, and I lived there for years after. I had a much older brother while growing up, that bled Green and White. Truth be told that is was a reason, among many others, that I chose to become a Wolverine. Just contrary I guess, but win, lose, or draw I have been as happy with my decision, as my brother was with his decision.
Living in this area, it is easy to recognize the depth of the feeling at Michigan State regarding anything Wolverine. If something goes bad at Michigan State they are quick to declaim how it is just as bad or worse at U. of M.
I have friends that say the MSU motto ought to be Green with envy, White with fear, but that is not the case. Their teams and fandom have been taught for years to appreciate the value of a “chip” on their shoulder. They recruit aggressiveness. They prosper as underdogs, value that status, engineer it. It has worked for them. Too, well. Too, long. But not this time.
For forty years the Wolverines ruled, and Sparty briefly, but now the pendulum has swung again. And not a moment too soon. The Spartans had bested the Wolverines 8 of the last 10 years. Perhaps another era has begun with this win over the then 24th ranked Spartans by the 6th ranked Wolverines.
You might work up into a strenuous debate with some of their fans by indicating that “chip” might consist of bovine waste material. They want to forget their agricultural origins, and is true their institution has grown more sophisticated over the years educationally since their exalted President, the late and great John Hannah, put them on the map after WW II by understanding the value of the GI Bill to students. A large cadre of veterans became students. Most of the vets enjoyed East Lansing, but some probably did not enjoy so much that East Lansing was at the time a “dry” town. Watering holes like the Deer Head Inn had to be accessed out of town.
MSU FIELDS GOOD FOOTBALL TEAMS that prefer slam bang to finesse. Like a Phoenix they sometimes rise from the ashes to resurrect a season. They demonstrated this recently by whacking ranked Penn State at Beaver Stadium Saturday before last, and they wished to complete their project against the Wolverines Saturday in the same fevered way. It was a hard hitting, and rough and tumble game Saturday. A brawl that the tougher team won.
WOLVERINES NOT INTIMIDATED: The Spartan team tried to intimidate the Wolverines Saturday, using their pregame arm in arm walk down the field, while a few Wolverine players were on the field, in an attempt to discombobulate them, according to after game comments by Coach Harbaugh. An approving D’Antonio looked on (sources other than Harbaugh). Two players were clotheslined, and some earphones were tugged off. I think Lawrence Marshal was one of the clothes line victims.
Devin Bush got the last lick as he ran to their huge and beloved Spartan head/helmet 50-yard line logo. He ran his cleats through it, and over it. Hard enough to disturb its sanctity. Grounds keepers had to spray paint parts of it again. He was pulled off the field by a coach.
In this game the Wolverines were intimidators, and not intimidated, as offense, defense and special teams contributed in this true team accomplishment.
No matter what their record is, MSU battles M with their best effort, and coaching. Saturday that was not enough.
LUCK HAS OFTEN BEEN OFTEN WITH MSU, and they have sometimes made their own. A trip of M Receiver Desmond Howard in the 1990’s was not called as it should have been, and it stopped a winning M TD.
Later, creative timekeeping by a Michigan State timekeeper in the closing seconds of a game led to an MSU victory, and a change of NCAA rules which hoped to prevent bogus timekeeping by the host timekeeper. That event is now sometimes referred to as clock-gate.
Even without creative luck they have been recent masters at winning the close ones over the Wolverines. There was worry that they might do it again, win over the better team, when they got a TD in the third quarter to tie the score in last Saturday’s game.
Michigan’s offense got another score, and then needed subsequent first downs, through the ground game and Shea Patterson’s arm and legs. They did not let the over an hour and 15-minute lightening game delay or distract, nor the inclement weather itself distract them. Neither did the defense, although both units did not play at their very best during the third quarter rain.
Despite the third quarter lapse, the defense was solid though out, and as a unit played a great game. What an asset Will Hart has become as a punter. He hit his punts long, and accurately, and that played a big part in M winning the field position battle again and again.
The defensive performance was outstanding. MSU was held to 94-yards total offense. They were zero for twelve on third down.
In 2015 a gaffe on a late game punt (2015) by the Wolverines, sealed M’s loss in Coach Harbaugh’s first year. It stamped the Spartans as winners in a 27-23 game in which the clock expired just after the recovered fumble crossed the M goal in the hands of Spartan Jackson Watts. This of course riled M fans, and delighted the Spartans. Saturdays win did not erase the pain of that loss, but drives it deeper into the past.
Then last year (2017) came a cloud burst downpour in the second half, which hampered the Michigan offense that was playing catch up during crunch time. M QB John O’Korn tossed a couple a couple of key interceptions that blended with other miscues to grease the skids for a 14-10 Spartan win. One M TD was not enough to protect home turf, but this year three TDs were more enough to do the trick.
THE WOLVERINES HAVE NOW BECOME EFFECTIVE GAME CLOSERS: Saturday, the M offense, in the inclement weather and out, worked hard for two more TDs which were added to the first, to effectively close the game. Effectively closing the game has often eluded the Wolverines in recent past years away games.
SOME STATISTICS: M had 183 net rushing yards, and 212 passing yards for 395 total yards of offense.
MSU had15 total net rushing yards, and 48 passing yards for 94-yards of offense. Sometimes statistics say and mean more than words. The Wolverine’s defense had four sacks. M’s offensive line allowed two. M’s Josh Uche equaled that as he collared two sacks. Five of MSU’s first downs were because of penalty calls on the Blue.
Karan Higdon again led the ground game, with 33 carries for 144 net yards. Donovan Peoples-Jones had that spectacular pass and run to a 79-yard TD to lead the receivers. Nico Collins also had a TD grab among his 3 catches, with a long of ten yards. Altogether 8 receivers grabbed passes.
Shea Patterson threw no interceptions, tossed two TDs, and gained 125-yards, on 14 tosses with 25 completions.
HOW THEY SCORED: The first quarter was barren of any scoring by either side. The M defense was on track from the first of the game. The Wolverines scored first and last.
Nico Collins made a spectacular catch of a tipped ball to get a first down and sustain the drive. The drive ended with a 6-yard, perfectly thrown pass to a leaping Nico, who came down with the ball for six. M-7, MSU-0. Earlier, Nick Eubanks had grabbed a 25-yard pass to aid the 14-play, 84-yard drive in achieving a TD. M-7, MSU-0.
In the third quarter, a fumble by Chris Evans was possessed by MSU, and they engineered a two play, 7-yard TD. It was 7 up.
Donovan Peoples-Jones then answered with a 79-yard TD pass catch, and the Wolverines went ahead 14-7 on the first snap of the possession.
In the fourth quarter, the Wolverines designed a 13 play, 84-yard masterpiece. There were several smaller gains, and Patterson got an 11-yard run. Higdon ran for 9 and 3. Ben Mason blasted through for the six.
It was over with a score of Wolverines 21, Spartans 7.
TAKEAWAY: This was a signature win on foreign territory. A hard-fought victory was obtained despite a one-hour plus weather delay, a fired-up foe, and third quarter wind, and rain.
It was earned by the offense, the defense and special teams, even though Quinn missed another make-able field goal.
Will Hart’s punting was spectacular. He averaged 45-yards per punt, and kicked 3 over fifty-yards. He hit a long of 65-yards.
Michigan had three consecutive chances to score from good field position, which was enabled in part due to great punting.
That the offense blew these three field position advantages, and the fact the penalty bug reappeared, needs notice, but does not alter the fact of an otherwise sterling performance by the entire team.
Finally, we have enough empirical evidence to measure the Wolverines as a contender for the Big Ten East Championship. No one gives it to you, it has to be earned, but to now they have improved their position every week, and gained hard earned respect. Penn State is and example of how quickly and easily rankings can disappear after losing at home to MSU.
The regular season road still has rough spots with Penn State at home after the bye. Then Rutgers and Indiana away, and the powerful Buckeyes at home. These games have cemented more realistic aspirations. They are just not Kool Aid any more, but have gotten more realistic with every victory. This win also put a little polish back on Jim Harbaugh coaching reputation. Also, he has assembled a great staff that seems to have blended well.
It seems that this season the Wolverines are improving on schedule. That has to keep happening, and now it seems like it will!