11/21/2015 – Michigan 28, Penn State 16 – 9-2, 6-1 Big Ten
I have seen things when Michigan plays Penn State. I have seen boggling things. Things I should not repeat but am about to anyway.
I have seen a free Hail Mary handed the opposition. I have seen a timeout just before an intentional safety. I have seen 27 runs for 27 yards. I have seen Michigan's slot receiver left alone, all alone. I have seen a slot receiver wonder if any of these 100,000 people can see him, especially the offensive coordinator. I have seen a slot receiver's constituent atoms disperse as he convinces himself he must not exist after all. Then I saw some more runs for one yard. Somewhere in there Dennis Norfleet dances in a loop for all time, because sure that makes as much sense as anything.
I have been baffled. I have been enraged. I have been morbidly entertained. I have been stupefied, watching Michigan play Penn State.
Things have been a bit frustrating the past few weeks, what with an avalanche of procedure penalties, offsides calls, and special teams mishaps. But when presented with a situation where they did not expect to and could not run the ball much, Michigan did not repeatedly bang their collective head into a brick wall.
Michigan's final drive featured five De'Veon Smith runs and one kneel-down. Five Jake Rudock attempts were sacks or scrambles. Once those are put in the appropriate bins, Michigan ran just 19 times to 43 passes.
Two years ago in that very stadium a complete wreck of an offensive line took on an equally stout Penn State defense. They didn't throw one wide receiver screen. Fitzgerald Toussaint ran 27 times for 27 yards. This year before garbage time time, De'Veon Smith had 8 carries; 6 went to Chesson and Peppers.
Michigan's going to be a good rushing offense. Probably great. But even though that's what Harbaugh wants to do, he adapted to the situation he was presented with. That's terrific.
Coaching can be divided into a few different categories. Development, recruiting, and tactics seem to cover the bases. While Michigan is still struggling with the near-total lack of the former under the previous regime, the latter was totally on point here. Can't say that about two years ago. Or a year ago. While Michigan remains a bit wobbly, a bit rickety, the things they are doing make sense.
Michigan played Penn State on the road and the only stupefying things that happened came from reliable sources like Big Ten referees and James Franklin trying to manage a game. Meanwhile Ohio State played Michigan State in the most stupefying game of the year. Now is the time to sit back and appreciate the fact that things more or less make sense.
It ain't perfect and it'll never be, but Michigan tries a bunch of things and takes what the opposition gives and if something isn't going great they stop doing it. The only time I've gotten really twitchy about tactics was against Indiana when Michigan ran play action on second and twenty that led to an interception. (I was mildly twitchy about Michigan's passivity on Indiana's go-ahead touchdown drive.)
In a world where Ohio State throws 16 times against Michigan State, where Tim Beckman is seen as a viable hire for a position more involved than vending machine*, where every coach in America seems to need a 14-year-old kid who plays Madden nonstop on the sideline, "more or less makes sense most of the time" is gold. Michigan's coaching staff has not punched itself in the face for four hours on any given Saturday, and in the cold light of dawn two days after a stupefying weekend of college football that warms the ol' cockles right up.
*[Not "vending machine technician." Vending machine.]
Also a Butt TD solo clip.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Amara Darboh changed the complexion of the game with an outstanding tip-toe catch along the sidelines at the end of the first half. He had six other catches and blocked for a bunch of wide receiver screens, as well.
#2 Chris Wormley was the most consistent and dangerous of Michigan's defensive linemen, racking up 1.5 sacks and another half TFL. Wormley and the rest of the DL gave up one big Saquon Barkley run (mostly on Willie Henry and the linebackers) and shut everything else down, leaving PSU relying on the tempestuous Christian Hackenberg to move the ball.
#3 Jake Rudock threw one ugly interception. When not doing that he completed two-thirds of his passes for 256 yards. 6.7 yards an attempt isn't electric but since a half-dozen or more of those were wide receiver screens that Michigan used in place of a running game that may understate things. Also, Penn State has had one of the best pass defenses in the country to date.
Honorable mention: Jake Butt and Jehu Chesson had 66 and 69 receiving yards, respectively, and along with Darboh have established Michigan's receiving corps as a very good one. Henry, Hurst, and Taco Charlton helped out immensely, minus the Henry cut. Jourdan Lewis remains Jourdan Lewis; his KO return also helped seal the game.
9: Jourdan Lewis (#1 UNLV, #1 Northwestern, #1 MSU), Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU, #2 Northwestern, #2 MSU, #1 Minnesota)
8: Jake Rudock (#3 Northwestern, #1 Rutgers, #1 Indiana, #3 Penn State), Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State, #3 Rutgers, #2 Penn State)
5: Jake Butt(#1 Utah, #2 Rutgers)
4: Maurice Hurst (#2 Maryland, #2 Minnesota),
3: De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State, #3 BYU), Ryan Glasgow (#1 BYU), Desmond Morgan (#1 Maryland), Amara Darboh(#1 PSU)
2: Ty Isaac(#2 UNLV), Willie Henry(#3 Utah, #3 MSU), Jehu Chesson(#2 Indiana)
1: AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State), Channing Stribling(#3 UNLV), Blake O'Neill(#3 Maryland), Drake Johnson(#3 Minnesota), Delano Hill(#3 Indiana).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Jourdan Lewis rips off a 60-yard kickoff return after Penn State draws within five, setting up a short field that Michigan drives for a game-sealing TD. Better is that he called his shot with Harbaugh beforehand.
Honorable mention: Darboh's tip-toe catch. #Buttdown. Harbaugh strippin' rage. Any number of sacks and TFLs.
Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
Oregon State: #tacopunts.
UNLV: Ty Isaac's 76 yard touchdown.
BYU: De'Veon Smith's illicit teleporter run.
Maryland: Jehu Chesson jet sweeps past you.
Northwestern: Chesson opening KO TD.
MSU: the bit where they won until they didn't.
Minnesota: form a f-ing wall.
Rutgers: Peppers as Denard.
Indiana: Delano Hill seals it with a PBU.
PSU: Jourdan Lewis breaks their back on a kickoff.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
Ohio State tests Michigan State's secondary twice. In a game of football. Against Michigan State. What are you even doing?
Honorable mention: Punt blocked. Any number of offsides or false start penalties. The touchdown Peppers allowed. Any number of infuriatingly bad calls. That fourth and ten conversion against great Lewis coverage.
Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3.
BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game.
Maryland: Slog extended by deflected interception at Houma.
Northwestern: KLINSMANN OUT
Minnesota: The bit where the lost it until they didn't.
Rutgers: KO return given up.
Indiana: run run run run run run run run run run run run.
PSU: OSU's WHAT ARE THOOOOOOSE gameplan against MSU.
[After THE JUMP: defense back, Rudock maintaining.]
Chris Wormley, James Ross, and Taco Charlton
Harbaugh was just talking about how you guys played so well, especially on the defensive line. Was it a personal challenge after last week? Did he say something to you? Did you talk about it internally about wanting to prove something this week?
TC: “Personally, our defensive line always feels like we have something to prove when we go that way every week with that mindset. We know a lot of the game depends on how we play, and we felt like the past couple weeks we’ve been slacking, so it was something that we internally knew we had to pick up and something coach Mattison preaches to us every day.”
Could you guys tell that Hackenberg was pretty beat up at the end? Seems like you guys got to him quite a bit.
CW: “Yeah, you could tell he was, towards the end of the fourth quarter, he was flinching at the end of his throws, kind of trying to duck out of the way. That was the goal all along was to get to the quarterback and apply pressure to him.”
James, if you could talk about the toughness this team has shown on the road. It’s tough to come through the whole Big Ten season and not lose on the road.
“This team is tremendously tough. We rely on each other and we’re a band of brothers when we go on the road, and we know if you give us an inch like you’ve seen in the Minnesota game we’re going to put the game on the defense’s shoulders. We’re going to do everything we can do to hold it out, and that’s everything we can do and I trust these boys to a T and they prove it every time we get on the field.”
If Taco and Chris could weigh in also.
CW: “What was the question again?”
Why you guys have been so successful on the road, not losing a conference road game.
CW: “I think it’s a mindset, especially when you’re not at home and you don’t have the crowd cheering you on every play. It’s just a mindset, and like Biggs said, we’re a tough team. We have that mentality each and every week, especially when we go on the road.”
TC: “The biggest thing I can attest to is what Biggs said also: we’re a band of brothers. We stick together. We go to a place like this, especially Penn State, it’s a hostile environment but we know together if we play like a team it doesn’t matter what the environment is. Every football field’s the same and that’s all that counts. Nothing changes about that.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more from Wormley, Ross, and Charlton]
“Glad Jake Rudock set a record. Trying to set as many of those as we can, and we’re happy for his success there and Jake Butt going over 1,000 yards was another great milestone, and a great win. You know, the amount of our players that contributed to this win was very high. Maybe the highest of the season when you look at the way the offensive line played, protection that we had, the entire defensive line, defensive stops in the red zone, kickoff return, the offense. Just a lot of guys sucking it up and playing really good football.”
Seems like your team, when it’s on the road, just keeps on getting things done, and they credited practice during the week as one of the reasons they’re effective on the road. Talk about why you think your team has been so effective in road games.
“Well, it always comes down to the players. Good players, you know, they play good on the road or at home.”
Is it just digging down deeper in the environment, or is there any one thing you notice?
“I think the number one factor is just, you know, being good. If you play good…”
Your predecessors when I grew up- talking about Bo and Woody- used to talk about how you can’t be up every week and I would have thought if there was any week where you’d have an emotional valley considering what you went through last week and what’s ahead it would have been this. Have you laid an egg all year, because I can’t discern one where you emotionally weren’t quite ready.
“I never heard Woody or Bo say that.”
Well, Woody said that. I grew up near Columbus, and so you always worry about how sometimes you can’t be up for every game completely.
“Heh. I don’t know about-”
You don’t believe in that anyway, so-
“Nah. I’ve read a lot about Woody Hayes. I don’t remember him ever saying that, and the egg analogy doesn’t resonate with me either. I don’t really like comparing humans to chickens or any other type of animal.” [Going to guess he wasn't a fan of my interview with Graham Glasgow last week -A.]
[/laughs really lightly under his breath]
[Hit THE JUMP for more on the game and some cool stuff about Bo]
The difference. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
There were shades of the dark, recent past. A non-existent running game. An ugly interception. Catching seemingly all the bad breaks.
One particularly bad aspect of that past was missing, however. While James Franklin cost Penn State a chance to win by kicking a field goal from the one and mismanaging their timeouts, Jim Harbaugh stood opposite him, competent and then some.
Michigan won this game due to coaching and finishing drives, and the two were inextricably linked. Both teams had one touchdown from outside the red zone, Michigan's a 26-yard pass from Jake Rudock to Jake Butt before PSU responded with a 25-yard fade to Saeed Blacknail. The Wolverines converted all three* of their red zone chances into touchdowns. Penn State also had three, but ultimately settled for three field goals, stymied by a stout Wolverine defense and their own conservative playcalling.
James Ross laid some licks. He wasn't alone. [Upchurch]
While the game remained close throughout, Michigan controlled most of the action, outgaining PSU 343-207. Outside of a bad pick, Jake Rudock continued his pinpoint ways of the last couple games, throwing for 256 yards and a pair of scores on 36 attempts. Amara Darboh moved the chains and earned a hard-fought touchdown on a steady diet of wide receiver screens and added a remarkable sideline snag; Butt found open spaces for 66 yards; Chesson stretched the field and chipped in M's best run of the day on a 20-yard end-around. While it was a frustrating day on the ground, the weapons in the passing game again proved their steadily increasing worth.
On the other side, Michigan allowed an early 56-yard run to standout freshman back Saquon Barkley and otherwise limited him to 12 yards on 14 carries. The defensive front beat up quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who managed just 131 yards on 37 attempts and took four sacks among many, many hits. By PSU's last-gasp drive, Hackenberg seemed out of it—quite possibly injured—and even started trotting off the field before barely getting the play off on fourth down; his final throw sailed harmlessly out of bounds.
If you're looking for the moment that turned around the game, the muffed punt that Chesson recovered inside the ten, setting up a one-yard Sione Houma plunge for a 21-10 lead, is the simplest answer. But if you'd like to say it's the moment Michigan hired Harbaugh, whose timely aggressiveness got the Wolverines a critical score late in the first half for the second straight game, it'd be hard to argue.
Ultimately, that's why this game will be fondly remembered—if quickly lost in the excitement of the week to come—instead of another nightmare in Happy Valley. Be gone, ever-fuzzier recollections of McGloin and Floyd and 27-for-27 and missed overtime field goals. Michigan is one Ohio State victory away from playing for the Big Ten East.
*Not including the game's final drive, when Michigan kneeled out the clock while inside the PSU five.
By Heiko Yang
This feels like Michigan State all over again. All week we’ve been reading about the opponent’s mediocre bits: its offensive line is no good, its secondary is prone to busting big plays, and the only way Penn State going to come close to winning is if its quarterback can consistently make NFL throws while its defensive line plays lights out.
Once again, I have a terrible feeling that this is going to be the outlier game where everything somehow clicks for the opponent. After being in Beaver Stadium for whatever the hell you want to call the 2013 game, I can confidently say that a vulnerable Michigan team is totally the kind opponent Penn State would get up for. There’s an unspoken rivalry here, too. The two teams have had a lot of interesting history over the past two decades, and if you think about it, there’s currently more parity between them than there is between Michigan and its other rivals.
Beyond that, a win for the Nittany Lions would go far to validate James Franklin’s tenure in Happy Valley. It would his first win over a ranked team while at Penn State and also his first over a perennial conference powerhouse (if we ignore the last decade or so. Womp womp.). Being able to hang this trophy on his mantle would be a great way to divert attention away from his numerous clock management gaffes and the gradual Algernoning of Christian Hackenberg.
But let’s be clear. Nothing short of a Shane Morris-like debacle would do anything to affect Franklin’s job security. There’s no shame in losing to a 12th-ranked Michigan team when your roster is as deep as the lyrics to a Carly Rae Jepson song at nearly every position. Franklin is playing with house money so long as the repercussions from the Sandusky scandal linger, and that’s really what scares me about him and this team. It’s never a good position to be in when the guy sitting across the poker table puts you all in with someone else’s chips.
At least Michigan is better equipped this season to deal with the things they can control. At this point 27 for 27 feels like a distant memory, even if the run game hasn’t gotten that much better and could easily reproduce that outcome against Penn State’s defensive line. It’s comforting t know that we might actually throw a screen when defensive backs line up 15-yards off our receivers. It’s also nice to know these days that both Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis are behaving less like waves and more like particles. That was the difference maker two years ago and it’s possible that it will be the difference maker once again.
I don’t know. I can’t bring myself to predict a victory, and I learned a few days ago that certain members of the MGoCrew are heading to Happy Valley today to attend the game in person. I can’t fathom why. We did something two years ago there to anger the football gods -- maybe it was the urinating outside the port-o-potty, or maybe it was the taunting of the waitress on her birthday. Either way, I can’t imagine that a return visit would inspire them to look favorably upon Michigan, and for that reason I’m going to call this game a loss.
Michigan 23, Penn State 24
By Nick RoUMel
Heiko, you are going to get flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Why would you taunt a waitress on her birthday? Was she reciting Carly Rae Jepson lyrics? (By the way, I for one happen to appreciate the dark irony of “Call Me Maybe.”)
I believe in karma. You will get yours. One day a waitress will avenge the memory of her taunted friend. A beer on your head, Dr. Yang!
I remember when Penn State joined the Big Ten and taunted its new siblings, boasting that it would run away with every conference title. I gloat to this day that Northwestern has just as many titles as the Nits. (By the way, I love calling Penn State the Nits, another name for head lice.)
We have had some great games with them, beating them about ten straight times at one point, having their number like Holly Holm vs. Carly Rae Jepson. I remember when Michigan went into Beaver Stadium in 1997 to face the #2 Nits, and won 34-8. I savored beating them in ’05 for their only loss. Heck even B-Ho beat them last year. They are reeling, on the ropes.
But I do understand where Punt is coming from. The tale of our beloved Wolverines is one of two teams: the disciplined one that plays to their fullest capability, compared to the Keystone Kop team where every offensive lineman has his own internal start clock, the defense misses tackles, and we somehow let mediocre teams claw us within one inch of our death.
What to make of Michigan? They’ve probably done a little better than expected, on the whole. Pundits ranged between 9-3 and 7-5. Add a bowl game and no matter what happens the rest of the season, our waves and particles are still bouncing around in the same tight little prediction box.
Yet some have gone too far. Like Punt, I cringe a little when fans have already tucked Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa in the win column, sneak us into the playoffs, and end the season with Carly Rae Jepson crowning us national champions, with some wry and ironic words of praise at the victory podium.
But I refuse to believe that this James Franklin team, as directionless as an iPhone without Maps, whose most impressive victory is … Rutgers? Army? Maryland by one point? …is going to threaten us. Because Christian Hackenberg is about as scary as that adorable three year old toddler on Hallowe’en dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle with the fake muscles and six pack that you are too stingy to give a full sized Snickers bar to, because CVS had a sale on “fun sized” bars and you ate all the Kit-Kats and only gave out Milky Ways and Three Musketeers because nobody, I mean nobody, eats those unless they are all that’s left and they’re desperate for chocolate and have no pride or willpower whatsoever and probably have the munchies anyway.
MICHIGAN 24, PENN STATE 20