9/24/2016 – Michigan 49, Penn State 10 – 4-0, 1-0 Big Ten
Two years ago this game featured Dennis Norfleet dancing, a lot of bad football, and a series of increasingly boggling in-game decisions. Brady Hoke and James Franklin engaged in bad decision tennis, lobbing ever more ludicrous balls over the net and daring the opposition to top it. There was no winner—there is never a winner in bad decision tennis—but Michigan did not lose. They won the game, and the tennis match was called on account of forgetting to breathe sometimes.
Fast forward two years and things are a little different for one of these teams. Jim Harbaugh's taking timeout in case Jabrill Peppers can get a punt return in and asking to review a legitimately dodgy fourth-down spot despite being up a gorillion; James Franklin sees a fourth and goal from the two down 28-0 and decides on a field goal... wait, no, he's taking a timeout because he realizes that is a terrible decision. And now he's sending out...
Still the field goal team.
So this is a dumb fake—nope they kicked it.
Now they are down four scores, which is a notable improvement from being down four scores. James Franklin has lobbed this one good and high. This is an Eschaton-worthy parabola.
After they kicked it the camera cut to Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines, looking equal parts perplexed and offended on behalf of the game of football:
I had a similar look on my face. This is not good hard friendly competition. This was turtling. Signaled by their coach, Penn State promptly laid down. According to Wilton Speight, Michigan ran the same play eight consecutive times at one point Saturday. While that doesn't seem 100% accurate—there was a sweep in there—the bit in the box score where Penn State lays itself on the altar and hands the squiggly knife to Harbaugh is obvious:
Franklin told them to quit and they quit. I'm not surprised. One year ago this column was all about how pleasant it was to watch a Penn State game and not be stupefied by the things occurring in front of my face, and Penn State's held up its end of the bargain in that department over the last few years.
But I am also kind of surprised that James Franklin, who made Vanderbilt decent, would just roll over and die. You'd think that the kind of person who could stare the history of Vandy football in the face and make the Commodores one of the feistiest teams in the country would at least spit in his executioner's eye, for what little that would help him. Not today, and thus Michigan entered to the "win with cruelty" portion of the proceedings.
And, lo, it was cruel. Michigan acquired 13 tackles for loss and six sacks; they ran for over 300 yards with a carousel of running backs. Michigan threw to Eddie McDoom with less than half the fourth quarter to go, because a rep is a rep is a rep. It's not that Michigan was trying to embarrass or humiliate Penn State; it's just that they didn't care if that happened. Lo, it did. Meanwhile across the country in Autzen Stadium, a Colorado quarterback who was 0/7 with –4 rushing yards last week was spearheading a stunning upset by accounting for 500 yards of offense by himself.
Remember spinning around in circles about this defense last week? You should continue doing that, but for the opposite reason. Lost in the piles of viscera that are all that remain of the Penn State offense: PSU was an efficient, prolific offensive team headed into this game, with 39 and 34 points the last two weeks. It was even one seemingly well-suited to mitigate Michigan's advantages, with Trace McSorley throwing a ton of passes close to the line of scrimmage and completing 80% of them.
It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. James Franklin woke up this morning in a Cure shirt and eyeliner, because halfway through a game against Michigan he decided life wasn't worth living anymore. Just, like, whatever, man. Three points, seven points. It all leads to one place: the grave. First, Arby's. Then the grave.
MGoVideo has some other highlight reels if you don't have time for the above.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
It was this kind of game:
#1 (tie) Chris Wormley, Maurice Hurst, and Taco Charlton nose ahead of everyone else on a defensive line that set the tone early and never let up, racking up six sacks and a trajillion TFLs. Hurst turned in the most impressive individual play of the day when he came from a nose tackle spot all the way around a guard and got in McSorley's business for a sack; Wormley was the most consistent entrant into the backfield, and Charlton's return helped seal the rush lanes that UCF exploited shut. Also he got a sack and a half. Welcome back.
#2 (tie) De'Veon Smith and Ty Isaac and Karan Higdon and Chris Evans were all between good an excellent as they combined for 40 carries for 318 yards, with seemingly nobody getting consecutive carries. Each guy ripped off a 20+ yard run; each guy made big chunks of yards for himself with good vision or broken tackles. Easy sledding but Michigan maximized their opportunities in ways that had not always been the case early this year.
#3 Ben Gedeon was the closest thing to a one on one matchup Michigan had with Saquon Barkley and that went all right. Gedeon tracked PSU RBs in space repeatedly, had a couple of impressive sideline-to-sideline tackles, and got in the backfield for 1.5 TFLs amongst his 11 total tackles. Barkley got his yards mostly on screens and shovels and the like, a couple of them on Gedeon. This was still a win against one of the top backs in the country.
Honorable mention: The right side of the offensive line was the main area Michigan attacked on the ground. Khalid Hill had another solid all-round FB performance. Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis helped shut down the PSU receivers on the rare occasions PSU managed to target them.
5: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado).
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF).
2: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF), Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU).
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU), Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU), Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU).
0.5: Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU), Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Taco Charlton and Chris Worley combine to sack Trace McSorley on the third play from scrimmage:
That set up the ensuing Peppers punt return and was an emphatic declaration of the way the game was going to go.
Honorable mention: Karan Higdon rips off an offset draw touchdown; Peppers decoy sends Smith into the secondary, where he goes stomp. Any one of Michigan's 12(!!!) other TFLs. Peppers returns a punt and windmills down to the nine.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
Jeremy Clark ends a kickoff return on the ground, writhing, and is almost certainly lost for the year.
Honorable mention: Michigan fails to gain every yard available to them when Jehu Chesson drops a ball on fourth and two.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again.
UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy.
Colorado: Speight blindsided.
PSU: Clark's noncontact ACL injury.
[After THE JUMP: Speight is still on his fourth-down scramble.]
Wilton Speight and Chris Wormley
Wilton, it seemed like the running game really got going today. Talk about how those guys blocked it up front.
“Yeah, we saw going into the game with the gameplan a big opportunity to slash them in the run game, and the offensive linemen were so happy about that. They came out with the mindset that they were going to beat their guy and win the war in trenches. The running backs saw every hole and helped the passing game out a lot.”
Wilton, we saw more Karan Higdon than we have. What has he been doing to put himself in a position to get that kind of run?
“Well, he came in his freshman camp and then he just got banged up with injuries, and then in the offseason he got mono and then hurt his knee, so he didn’t do spring ball or the entire summer. So, he kind of came into camp not knowing or seeing him for eight months, but he didn’t lose a step. He kept his body in great shape and he’s just a really natural runner that sees the field well.”
When you see your coach going for it on fourth-and-one on the very first drive of the game and wanting to pound it in, what kind of confidence does that give you in what he thinks about the offense?
WS: “Yeah, it’s just cool that he knows that we’ll pick it up. I turned to the sideline after the third down and I do this [rolling motion] and the whole offense is doing the same thing and he kind of gets a grin on his face. I know his mindset is he wants to smash it in for a touchdown too, so it’s cool that we’re all on the same page.”
Chris, six sacks today by the defensive front. You guys really set the tone on that first drive [with] two sacks on that opening drive. Can you just talk about that?
“We knew that Barkley was one of their best if not their best player on the offensive side, so we knew that once we shut down the run we could get to the quarterback with the blitzes and different things that Coach Brown has us do. Those two sacks were huge. Backed them up and set it up for Wilton and the offense to punch it in and score a touchdown and start the game full speed ahead.”
Wilton, mobility-wise today it seems like your awareness around you, you were ducking and dodging. How much from last week or the week before where you were hit a little bit, did you keep that in the back of your mind or where did you make changes this week?
“I didn’t want—that hit I took last week kind of dictated the internal clock I had for the rest of the game, and I didn’t want that to carry over into this game. So, I wanted to hang out in the pocket as long as I could, but when the opportunity was there I knew I needed to make plays with my feet, and I was able to do that.”
[More after THE JUMP]
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starts at 1:00
Higdon is working out. Penn State’s student body walk-on linebackers caveats, but non-PSUSBWOLB-dependent things also looked good. Clever fullback stuff. Speight makes plays, also found Taco.
starts at 18:04
Highly efficient passing game is shut down. Taco caved edges to steal McSorley’s pocket and that enabled sackfest. Hurst can teleport around guys lined up two gaps away. Losing Clark is a bummer—has a better claim for a 6th year than two-time scout team player of the week Ed Davis. Godwin control went well, despite tempting an itchy PI flag god. Chunk yards from RPS screens.
James Franklin Game Theory Section
starts at 32:55
Peppers 25-yard stumble return taken away from us. Harbaugh classlessly plays football for two and a half quarters after Penn State’s coaches made it amply clear they had no desire to. Runaway Mack Truck Joey Julius was not blocked; sometimes the human mind blanks out things it cannot comprehend. Les Miles finally succumbs to Les Miles Disease. David Shaw after dark: many prospector names have to do with nipples.
Talking Big Ten with Jamie Mac
starts at 49:01
Congratulations to Purdue quarterbacks going 1-2. Wisconsin lucks out over highly respectable Michigan State team, 30-6. Notre Dame loses to Duke, fires Van Gorder, earns honorary Big TENNNN! Colorado win is looking better by proxy.
"Crushin’ (Yeeeeeah!)”—J Dilla
“Weep Themselves To Sleep”—Jack White
“A Tribe Called Quest”—Can I Kick It
“Across 110th Street”
THE USUAL LINKS
News bullets and other items:
- Jeremy Clark suffered an apparent ACL injury and is likely out for the season
- Regarding players raising their fists during the national anthem, Harbaugh said he supports his players’ right to speak their minds, and added that the country is a team and that if something isn’t good for someone we talk about it and fix it as a team.
- Karan Higdon getting in early and often was Tyron Wheatley’s suggestion.
Five running backs scored today; five touchdowns from inside the three; over 300 yards rushing today; you had five runs of over 25 yards; can you just talk about the overall run offense effort today, because it looked highly impressive from our end.
“Yeah, I was really impressed with the running backs. All of them contributed in big ways, starting with De’Veon. Again, heck of a game. Broke loose, got the tough yardage. Ty was good again. Very elusive and good. Chris Evans, he had long gains and Karan on the same play got a touchdown. Khalid was good. Thought our line was blocking well. It was a job well done in the running game.”
Just following up on that, the drive where you got the 37-yard run, kicked the draw out, then an incomplete pass and seven straight runs. Talk about what that does when you can just hand off the ball and have success with it.
“I mean, it’s—moving the chains and breaking some big runs is a good way to move the ball. That’s what we want to do is move the ball and put the ball in the end zone and score points. I thought our offense was very effective in doing that today.”
You went for a lot of fourths instead of the long field goals today. Was that just a feel type of thing or you wanted to set the tone?
“Yeah, just especially the one where we were into the wind, felt like the odds were better going with the fourth downs. Seems to be happening more and more these days, so we got into it, experimented a little bit and it worked out. Worked out once.”
On the sideline interference call, do you normally get a warning on that? Did you get an explanation on why you didn’t?
“Yeah. One of our coaches was in the white and bumped into his arm. That’s the rule. Can’t be out there. It’s really tight over there on our sideline. We don’t have a lot of room to operate, so we’ve just got to do a better job of staying back. But guys get excited, especially when the ball’s being run back for a long punt return and people were…gotta know where they’re at. Just gotta stay out of that white lane.”
[More after THE JUMP]
Karan Higdon ran in for a touchdown from two yards out. The Michigan Stadium crowd responded with a polite golf clap.
The first half wasn't over.
The same couldn't be said for the competitive portion of the game. Higdon's run gave the Wolverines a 28-0 lead heading into halftime. At that point, they'd outgained Penn State by 209 yards; star running back Saquon Barkley had 66 of PSU's 50 total yards. That is not a typo.
The two teams didn't look like they belonged on the same field, and apparently James Franklin agreed. PSU opened the second half by forcing a three-and-out, then mounting their only sustained drive of the game thus far, getting deep into Michigan territory before facing a fourth-and-goal from the two. Franklin sent out the field goal unit to turn a four-score game into a four-score game. He sent them back out after calling a timeout to avoid a delay-of-game penalty. The kick was good; it was also a white flag.
Jim Harbaugh did not share that mindset. Michigan's opening touchdown came on a fourth-and-goal plunge by Khalid Hill, and a nine-yard Wilton Speight scramble(!) on a fourth-and-seven set up Higdon's half-ending score; Michigan would go for two more and come up short, but they didn't take the foot off the gas until the game's final minutes.
"It's just cool that he knows we'll pick it up," said Speight. "We know that his mindset is to smash it in for a touchdown, too. It's cool that we're all on the same page."
"Especially the one way where we were going into the wind, we thought the odds were better going for fourth downs," said Harbaugh.
One team played to win. The other played to survive.
Michigan dominated from the outset. They sacked PSU QB Trace McSorley twice on the first drive. Jabrill Peppers nearly housed the ensuing punt; after a sideline infraction moved the offense back to the Penn State 24-yard line, Wilton Speight completed three straight passes to get the team in a goal-to-go situation before Hill ultimately squeezed his way into the end zone. Michigan would finish with six rushing touchdown by five backs; five came from three yards out or fewer, with the only exception a 40-yard sprint draw to Higdon in the fourth quarter.
"I was really impressed with the running backs. All of them contributed in big ways," said Harbaugh, before naming all five backs—Higdon, Hill, De'Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, and Chris Evans—who crossed the goal line. "Moving the chains and breaking some big runs—it was a good way to move the ball."
It was indeed. Michigan bounced back from a couple sub-par rushing performances between the tackles and made Penn State's banged-up front look completely outmatched. The Wolverines covered 326 yards at 6.7 per carry, and in a big change from the first three games, only five of those yards came from a receiver. Smith led the way with 107 yards on only 12 carries; Higdon, Isaac, and Evans each had over 50 yards, and all the backs looked sharp.
It was no coincidence the offensive line had their best performance of the year, opening big holes up front and not allowing a sack. Speight mentioned in the postgame presser that Michigan ran the same run play eight or nine times in a row, with the only variation being whether they ran left or right. That third-quarter drive culminated in a three-yard TD by Evans to put Michigan up 35-3 and remove any shred of doubt about the outcome.
"I started laughing," Speight said of seeing the same call signaled in from the sideline so many times in a row.
"I thought our team was prepared and confident. There was some communication out there, especially from the offensive linemen, of what they thought they could do well," said Harbaugh. "We listened to them and repeated the call a few times. It was simply that."
Speight wasn't asked to do much through the air, but he was capable when called upon, going 21-for-34 for 189 yards and a short TD pass to freshman TE Devin Asiasi. He didn't look worse for wear after a rough outing against Colorado.
On the other side of the ball, the defense was unrelenting after welcoming Jourdan Lewis and Taco Charlton back to the lineup. Barkley had a couple moments, but he had little in the way of help.
"That's a good back. Saquon Barkley is really good." said Harbaugh. "But our guys were there and they were swarming."
Nine defenders combined for 13 tackles for loss; five were responsible for the six sacks. Mo Hurst, looking quite healthy, led the way with three TFLs and a sack.
The only downer came when Jeremy Clark suffered an apparent non-contact knee injury on a fourth-quarter kickoff. He required a cart to get to the locker room, and Harbaugh didn't mince words after the game, saying "we think it's a season-ender."
That will be something to overcome next week, when Michigan will host a top-ten matchup with Wisconsin, which is coming off a blowout of Michigan State. The Wolverines will enter that game as the winningest program in the country after today's win coupled with a Notre Dame loss to Duke—I'll pause here for laughter—gave the good guys the edge in win percentage again.
The Badgers will provide a stiffer contest. It would be difficult for them not to do so.