Well, what can you learn from something like this? Try analyzing Shaquille O’Neal posting up Mike from Accounting and see how much you can make of it.
Michigan had the honor of playing Penn State on Saturday and they took that honor and crammed it down the Nittany Lions’ throats like the last bag of trash that you’re trying to get to fit into your garbage can. The Michigan defense then placed their collective hands on the garbage lid and pushed down to the tune of a 49-10 win over Penn State.
Afterward, the Penn State board of trustees came out to check on the can to see if there was enough room for James Franklin, but there wasn’t. Instead, they’ll either have to wait until next week to throw him out, or just place him on the curb and maybe a school like Purdue will come by and pick him up.
Speaking of Franklin, I have seen some poorly-coached teams in my time — remember, I was doing this back during the Rich Rodriguez years as well, but this was an especially epic failure from Penn State in just about every facet of the game. The entire coaching staff had to work pretty damn hard to be this damn bad, and Michigan took advantage of the situation on every side of the ball.
Remember when Michigan should have never been on the field with Alabama a few years ago? Penn State was Michigan on Saturday and the Wolverines were Alabama. These are two completely different programs heading in much, much different directions. Heck, Penn State doesn’t even have a direction, unless you consider “down the drain” a direction.
Everything about this game was a mismatch. I’d say Saquon Barkley deserves better, but he knew what he was getting into.
When Michigan Was On Offense
The Wolverines ran the ball 49 times for 326 yards (6.7 ypc), which was their highest rushing total since the opening game of the 2014 season when they went for 350 yards against Appalachian State. This was the second time that they hit the 300-yard mark on the ground in 2016. They didn’t do it at all in 2015 and only once in 2014.
Penn State was playing without their three starting linebackers and then lost one to injury and one to a targeting ejection. At least I think that’s all they lost. I apologize for not being exact on the number, but it’s hard to keep track of all of the backups and walk-ons playing on Penn State’s defense right now.
Running back De’Veon Smith had another very good game, leading the team with 107 yards rushing on 12 carries. He was at his best in this game, running hard and decisive, but he also showed a nice one-cut ability and got upfield quickly. He’s never going to be a burner, but he can take advantage of a weakened defense just fine.
Overall, it was an incredibly effective committee of ball carriers. Karan Higdon went for 81 yards, Ty Isaac went for 74 yards, and Chris Evans went for 56 yards. It was the best this committee has ever looked.
This was the easily the most impressed I’ve been with Higdon, who previously seemed to me a little young to be a viable option while a game is still in doubt. Against Penn State, however, he ran hard and he ran confidently. There was no hesitation. He looked like a legit running back. But then all running backs should look like legit running backs against Penn State’s depleted defense.
The offensive line moved Penn State’s defense around like a pair of end tables and the Wolverines kept trying to find the proper feng shui. “Better here?” “No, let’s try them over here.” “Okay, you like them here?” “No, let’s put them over here.” They dominated in short-yardage situations as well. One of the Penn State defensive linemen probably still has a full-size, full-body tattoo of Ben Braden on them. The left guard mauled some poor dude on the Wolverines’ first touchdown.
About the only negative I can think of when it comes to the running game is that right guard Kyle Kalis shouldn’t be asked to pull or block in space. He’s like a Blackberry — just not an effective mobile option.
It’s not often that you get to see a game like this with a defense that is so overmatched that they were unsure of their every step. It was like watching a toddler trying to walk down the stairs for the very first time. And there was no railing to grab on to.
A draw play to Chris Evans ended up being wizardry against this defense. During the postgame handshake I was expecting Jim Harbaugh to pull a quarter out of James Franklin’s ear.
We don’t need to spend too much time on the passing game because it’s always the same. It’s solid, it features two very good wide receivers, one terrific tight end, and a quarterback who is mostly consistent but sometimes gets wonky with his accuracy.
Wilton Speight completed 21-of-34 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. His long completion was just 25 yards, but it didn’t matter. He was also pretty fleet of foot and kept plays alive better than he has all season long.
Overall, Michigan went 11-of-16 on third downs, and on two of those failed third downs they ended up picking up the first down on fourth down. They only needed to punt once and they probably didn’t even need to punt then.
When Michigan Was On Defense
I can’t take Penn State’s offense. I had to watch it twice this weekend and now I have to write about it. If I had to do a Penn State Monday, I’d either quit or just write it throughout the week since it’s the same old bucket of suck each week.
Literally every nuance of Penn State’s offense plays into what Michigan does on defense, but no where was that more true than the asinine way the Nittany Lions run the ball with a delay action. Not only are they actually inviting the Michigan defensive line to tackle them for a loss, they’re giving Michigan’s linebackers time to get off of blocks.
This action is done to sort of tease the possibility of a read option, but they could never afford to really run quarterback Trace McSorley because James Franklin is such a great recruiter that they have no other viable options at the most important position in sports.
Penn State ran for 70 yards on 28 carries (2.5 ypc). Barkley rushed for 59 yards on 15 attempts, and one of those carries went for 33 yards. He never had a chance, and some of that was because of how they are taught to hand the ball off.
McSorley completed 16-of-27 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown, but he was constantly under pressure from the Michigan front four. The Wolverines sacked him six times. Some of those were McSorley’s fault, but there were times when he had no shot to look at his receivers.
Linebacker Ben Gedeon led Michigan with 11 tackles, but the most impressive defender of the day was defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, who put up six tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack. He was active all game long and Penn State didn’t really understand how to block him. Or many of his teammates.
The best news for the Wolverines on the day was that cornerback Jourdan Lewis returned. The worst news of the day was that they may have lost cornerback Jeremy Clark to a torn ACL. Clark came off the bench in this game, but his presence will be missed because he allowed Lewis to move to the slot on passing downs. We’ll have to see how they handle this situation moving forward.
I haven’t talked much about him to this point, but starting cornerback Channing Stribling has been impressing me. Even with his two pass interference calls, he’s been solid. The interference is just the way they are coached. They don’t call it on Jourdan Lewis, so they make up for it by flagging Stribling and Clark.
Another area where the Penn State offense was just dumb was their repeated decisions to throw the football behind the line of scrimmage. Throwing the ball behind the line of scrimmage against guys like Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers is just poor planning. Or it would be if there was any planning involved.
Penn State almost never tried to find a positive matchup. They just kept flailing, hoping that one of their petty slaps would scratch Michigan’s cornea or something.
The Michigan Special Teams
Jabrill Peppers should have had another punt return for a touchdown in this game but he couldn’t keep his balance inside the PSU 10-yard line. Kicking to Peppers was just another example of Penn State’s decision making.
There wasn’t much else to talk about. Michigan didn’t really punt and most of their kickoffs went for touchbacks. I guess the most surprising aspect of the special teams was that Michigan didn’t block any punts.
What Does It All Mean
It doesn’t mean much because what can you learn from a contest where only one participant is actually familiar with the game being played. Fortunately for Penn State, Michigan chose to keep the ball on the ground and win the surest way. Had they chosen to go another route, it would have just been too cruel.
It does mean that this game wasn’t much of a tuneup for next week’s game against Wisconsin. The Badgers will bring a much stiffer defense to town. Like Penn State, however, they will also bring an offense which is suited to being shut down by a team like the Wolverines.
Overall, this was an impressive win against a bad team and that’s not something that this program did a lot of prior to Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh will continue to get the most out of each of his players, but this is still a limited roster. They should be able to hide it pretty well until November, however.
The Road to The Game
Michigan 63 – Hawaii 3
Michigan 51 – UCF 14
Michigan 45 – Colorado 28
Michigan 49 – Penn State 10
Michigan vs. Wisconsin
Michigan at Rutgers
Michigan vs. Illinois
Michigan at Michigan State
Michigan vs. Maryland
Michigan at Iowa
Michigan vs. Indiana
Michigan at Ohio State