Four weeks ago, Michigan entered its alleged ?three-game gauntlet? shrouded in the same questions that had engulfed the program throughout the Jim Harbaugh era. They had demolished five consecutive inferior opponents but the doubts remained: They can?t win big games, they can?t beat rivals, they can?t win on the road.
Three games later, all of those questions can be thrown out the window and replaced with a new one: Can the Wolverines win the national championship?
After eight straight wins, that?s about the only question Michigan has left unanswered. The first two wins of the ?gauntlet? showed flashes of domination in 38-13 and 21-7 wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State, respectively, but Saturday was its most impressive performance yet in a 42-7 rout of Penn State.
The Wolverines? offense got rolling on the first drive of the game, using eight straight rushing plays to go 76 yards for a touchdown, which junior quarterback Shea Patterson walked in from one yard out.
Their successful reliance on the running game was a theme throughout the rest of the afternoon, as they ran 52 times for 259 yards. Junior running back Karan Higdon again led the way with 132 yards on 20 carries for his seventh consecutive 100-yard game ? the second longest such streak in program history behind Mike Hart?s eight game streak in 2007.
While Higdon was Michigan?s battering ram yet again, Patterson was responsible for the Wolverines? first three touchdowns. On Michigan?s second touchdown, he flashed high-level pocket awareness to avoid a sack by stepping out of the pocket before finding sophomore wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones with an inch perfect pass in the end zone.
After back-to-cack three-and-outs to open the second half, the Wolverines put the final nail in the Nittany Lions? coffin with a seven-minute, 13-play touchdown drive that Patterson finished off with a bullet pass to Zach Gentry over the middle. Two plays later,?fifth-year senior cornerback Brandon Watson squashed any remaining potential for a comeback with a 62 yard interception return for a touchdown.
Michigan?s first drive of the fourth quarter finally got Higdon his first touchdown of the day and seventh of the season from the four-yard line. Junior running back Chris Evans then got his share of the spoils on the next drive with a one-yard run to extend the lead to 42-0 after an interception on Penn State?s previous drive.
The Nittany Lions avoided their first shutout in 17 years with a late touchdown drive but the final outcome was determined long before that ? much like it was against both Wisconsin and Michigan State. With three weeks to play, the Wolverines’ season is set to come down to Thanksgiving weekend in Columbus. If there’s any sign that Michigan football is back to normal, it’s that.