In defeating No. 14 Penn State 42-7 on Saturday, No. 5 Michigan proved, again, that it’s a legitimate National Championship contender.
Behind its elite defense and potent offense, the Wolverines made it look easy inside Michigan Stadium against a formidable opponent — one that beat it in the same fashion last season.
Here’s the five things we learned from Saturday’s blowout.
1. Michigan leaves no doubt, it’s a contender
If you weren’t convinced enough already, Michigan put the icing on the cake Saturday to prove it’s a contender for the National Championship.
Penn State’s defense came in as the conference’s top-ranked unit in tackles for loss and sacks. It finished with one sack and two tackles for loss total.
The Nittany Lions — even without Saquon Barkley — came in with a potent offense, averaging 458.5 yards a contest. Behind Trace McSorley, the Nittany Lions only totaled just 186 yards, its lowest output of the year.
The Wolverines are doing more than just beating formidable opponents — they’re dominating them.
2. The offensive line is elite
Improved, improved, improved.
That’s been the consistent assessment so far for this Michigan offensive line after a disappointing 2017 campaign.
As mentioned before, this o-line held off a dangerous and successful Penn State front. Additionally, it did, once again, what it couldn’t in years prior — open holes and allow backs to run the ball at a high level.
Michigan totaled 259 rushing yards, while its defense held PSU to just 68. U-M was running the ball down Penn State’s throat. This allowed them to have nearly 20 more plays than PSU as halftime neared.
As the rushing attempts continued, so did Penn State’s frustration. On a 3rd & 4, with the game still in reach for PSU, it seemed like a sure passing situation for the Wolverines.
However, as the strategy continued, Shea Patterson kept the ball on a read option and got the first down. That was the game plan all evening as Michigan rushed the ball 52 times to just 17 pass attempts.
The run game was able to take time away from the Nittany Lions to have any opportunity to get back in the game. And by the time the third quarter winded down, it was already over.
It was easy to tell, this run-until-we-can’t strategy for Michigan — though frustrating to some fans — was messing with the offensive rhythm of Penn State while wearing down its defense.
A lot of things happened for this game to end the way it did — that strategy, and the o-line’s execution of it, played a prominent role.
3. Jim Harbaugh is a happy man
He was smiling. He was open with media. He was even singing.
In his post-game press conference, Michigan’s head coach was as happy as we’ve ever seen him following a game at U-M.
You can read the full transcript below from his joyful media session.
4. Karan Higdon is as underrated as any running back nationally
If you’re a Michigan fan reading this, then this next paragraph is clock work for you. You know how good U-M senior running back Karan Higdon is. But for those that don’t … pay attention.
Higdon ran for his seventh consecutive 100-yard game on Saturday. He’s one game away from the Michigan record — set by Mike Hart in 2007.
Putting himself in the same company as Hart cements his legacy at Michigan as one of the best to do it.
Averaging nearly seven yards per carry on Saturday, we’re one game away from watching the senior tie Hart’s record, and two from seeing him break it.
With Rutgers (No. 13 rush defense in Big Ten) and Indiana (No. 10) ahead … Higdon is likely going to break that 11-year record.
And, oh yeah, Michigan hasn’t lost a game when Higdon hits the century mark.
5. Every team has concerns, Michigan’s still remain
Every team has concerns. Even Alabama … I think.
In Michigan’s 42-7 victory, those concerns weren’t glaring, and they really had no affect on the final score. Nonetheless, they remain.
And they’re pretty simple issues.
- Penalties remain a weakness (9 for 80 yards Saturday)
- The offense, again, struggled inside the 50, stalling at Penn State’s 40, 40, and 31-yard line. Here’s a good stat that specifies Michigan’s struggles past midfield.
- Michigan’s kicking situation remains a question mark. Quinn Nordin’s only field goal attempt was blocked, but due to a missed blocking assignment and bad snap. He struggled against Wisconsin and Michigan State, but I’m not sure there’s much to blame him for on his sole miss against Penn State. Regardless, the field goal unit as a whole has to improve … Michigan will, eventually, be in a close game, in need of those three crucial points.
All that being said, at 8-1, Michigan’s recipe is cooking up nicely. U-M travels to Rutgers next week.
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