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]
SPONSOR NOTES: Got a couple of requests to re-record the podcast commercial featuring Matt and his kids because it sounds like Matt has dragooned his offspring into this. Well, yeah, that's what offspring are for. Matt is a man who will dragoon for you. That's not something everyone can say, because not everyone knows what that word means. Matt does!
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
IDIOT DIRECTOR NOTES: This goober zoomed in so close to almost everything and provided zero high-angle replays, so I'm doing a lot more guessing about coverages than I usually do. As a result some plays of interest aren't clipped because the interesting bits I remember from the game aren't actually on the screen.
FORMATION NOTES: Okay, I separated front and cover look, and am still not satisfied with the results. "Press" was anything with hard corners on guys on the LOS:
Off was off. This was two high, and also the post TD.
One high version of same:
Still a work in progress.
Michigan and Colorado didn't do anything too weird except for some offset three man lines I'm just piling in as "exotic."
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Again a tight rotation, which makes yet more burned redshirts puzzling. Wormley and Glasgow led the way on the DL with 53 of 71 snaps; Godin, Winovich, and Garry all got around 40. Hurst got 27 and since he played well I'm guessing they're trying to keep his workload light as he continues to recover from whatever held him out of the opener.
Linebacker was as you'd expect, with Starters getting the whole game minus some personnel package items. Gedeon is the guy who stays in when Michigan has just one true LB on the field.
Secondary was also low rotation, with Thomas, Stribling, and Clark playing every snap. Hill got dinged up and missed 16; Kinnel saw 20 snaps, most meaningful; Watson had 18.
WTF burned redshirt of the week goes to Carlo Kemp and his four snaps.
[After THE JUMP: panic calibration.]
This play didn't crack the top five this week. I still want to talk about it, though. Not that you need to be told this, but watch Jabrill Peppers, who starts the play lined up on the block M.
The rest of the defense is caught flat-footed on this play. The D-line is slanting away from the running back. The force defender is nowhere to be found. The playside corner is caught in man coverage and has his back to the play. Peppers's first two steps are towards deep center, then he has to alter his path to avoid running into Delano Hill.
With a speedy running back around the edge unimpeded, this play looks destined for a first down. Peppers not only reads the play and covers a ton of ground to get to the back before the sticks, he cuts down the angle and finishes the play by literally throwing the RB out of bounds.
Savor every moment you get to watch this guy—excuse me, this Dude—play football. He is truly a once-in-a-generation athlete.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the UCF game in GIFs.]
Wilton Speight and Chris Wormley
Wilton, if you could talk about what you had to do early in kind of a quick-strike offense. They were stacking up and you took it to the air and had a lot of success.
“Yeah, we went into the game knowing that we’d be able to take some shots, especially in the [?] and I was really excited about that. And the defense came out and it was a look we were expecting, so we were able to air it out a little bit.”
Wilton, how much of the struggles to run the football do you think were attributable to how much they were crowding the line and trying to stop that?
“Yeah, they were teeing off and bringing a lot of people, and that was a result of the success in the play action game, so when we would hand the ball off they were coming hot. That was just the defense, and we knew we were going to rely on the play action and deep shots a lot more this week than we were the run game, so it’s really nothing to worry about.”
Chris, a lot of yards rushing against you guys today, a lot of those on scrambles. How much of that is contain and what was the issue?
“Yeah, they had those four big plays which led to almost 300 yards rushing, which is not what you want as a defense, especially as a defensive line. But yeah, it was those rush lanes on the scrambles. Not keeping contain and not staying in rush lanes were the big parts.”
Wilton, you talked about how they were coming hot and thwarted the rushing game, but as far as the passing game, what have you done to develop chemistry with your receivers to have this kind of game today?
“Um, what have we done to develop chemistry? Just throwing routes and working our tails off back since January after the Florida game. No real special recipe or secret, just working hard.”
[After THE JUMP: Rashan Gary jumps in]
Tyree Kinnel got his hand on not one, but two punts. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
I can't sum it up any better than this guy did:
Me: "that was a throw"
— Mike Wint (@gbMWint) September 10, 2016
Tyree Kinnel deflected two UCF punts, Chris Wormley blocked two field goals, and Khaleke Hudson demolished a kick returner who appeared to be going out for a light jog. The Knights took an illegal block penalty on a kickoff touchback, sent out 12 players for a punt return, and muffed a short kickoff for a Jordan Glasgow recovery.
So that covers the special teams.
Wilton Speight took advantage of a UCF defense intent on loading the box against the run with several pinpoint throws downfield, finishing 25-for-37 for 312 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. The usual suspects led the way among the receivers; Jake Butt had two touchdowns among his seven catches, Amara Darboh cross the goal line twice and broke the hundred-yard mark, and Jehu Chesson needed only four receptions to tally 84 yards. That more than made up for the running game, which couldn't get much going agianst eight- and nine-man boxes; even with sacks and a punt gone wrong removed, Michigan averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. Fullback Khalid Hill plunged in for two touchdowns, at least, so it wasn't all bad on the ground.
The defense, meanwhile, limited quarterbacks Justin Holman—who exited the game in the first half with an apparent injury—and Nick Patti to a combined 6-for-22, 56-yard performance. A few errors—one of which may have been on the officials—led to an 87-yard touchdown run for Adrian Killins, and the Knights were able to rack up 275 yards on the ground, with a healthy chunk of that coming when the QBs broke contain.
While many fans were concerned about the line play, one Jim Harbaugh didn't share that worry.
"I thought the lines really took care of business today," said Harbaugh. "Both the offensive and defensive lines did a very good job."
Quarterback contain, he admitted, was an issue, but one that he believed Don Brown made the proper adjustments for in the second half.
Rashan Gary had his first big game as a Wolverine, tearing off the edge for his first career half-sack (Ben Gedeon arrived simultaneously) and had two more tackles for loss. Seven different Michigan defenders tallied tackles in the backfield, and Jabrill Peppers was everywhere—he led the team with eight tackles (two for loss), had two QB hurries, and returned a line-drive punt 35 yards deep into UCF territory to set up Butt's second score.
If there's any indication that Michigan has returned to form, it's that the crowd didn't seem satisfied with a 37-point win. Against an overmatched opponent that couldn't even reliably get a kick in the air untouched, the coaches had no need to utilize much of the playbook, which led to some ugly plays but won't reveal anything to Colorado, next week's opponent and Michigan's first that appears to have a pulse.