Michigan moved to 10-0 on the season and 7-0 in conference play following a 24-15 win at Penn State on Saturday. The Wolverines were led by two-time interim head coach Sherrone Moore, who called the kind of game that had to make two-time suspended head coach Jim Harbaugh extremely proud.
Actually, we should probably back up a bit here. For the Michigan and Ohio State fans who only get their news from…well…The News…Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti suspended Harbaugh last week for the final three games of the season due to findings of cheating in the football program. Very powerful lawyers were tasked with getting him back on the sidelines, but the wheels of justice move almost as slowly as the NCAA. His status was unknown right up until the final couple of hours before kickoff. Ultimately, the Big Ten’s decision was allowed to live for a few days longer before Michigan’s attorneys tear it to shreds.
However, after a tumultuous week of speculation and unknowns about Harbaugh’s immediate sideline future, there had to be some relief in the knowledge that Penn State head coach James Franklin would be on the Nittany Lions’ sideline, doing everything he could to make sure his game management evened out any kind of advantage the Nittany Lions may have had.
It’s called ‘sportsmanship’ and maybe the Big Ten should look it up.
But the damage has already been done.
The Big Ten committed irreparable harm in their suspension of Jim Harbaugh, but the Wolverines still prevailed despite all of that irreparability. So much irreparability. Some say it’s been the most irreparability they’ve ever seen. A lot of people are saying that. They say to me, “I’ve never seen something so unable to be repaired.” And I say, “Everybody’s saying that.”
A lot of damage has been done to Michigan’s undefeated season. It’s a testament to their ability to overcome adversity that they can be so wronged and yet still come out so right. There’s a sort of justice in that, I suppose. But it’s more like the kind of justice that Rambo handed out in First Blood.
But if the bandana fits…
This conference has attempted to derail Michigan through no fault of their own and now the Wolverines have no choice but to rise up and become the conquering heroes that legend has foretold.
As all great literary heroes do, Michigan overcame obstacle after obstacle in State College on Saturday, defeating enemy after enemy, and they emerged as the victors we all know them to be.
From humble beginnings to heroic endings. I would say it’s a tale as old as time, but this may be the greatest story ever told.
A head coach barred from coaching his team. A team hellbent on proving to everybody that Michigan’s cheating scandal had no impact on them. And a university that just wants all of the facts of the cheating to come out and then be heard and then be judged in a timely fashion and then be appealed and have that appeal denied and then have the punishment handed down in the normal time frame some time after everybody involved is well gone and into the wind.
Even Stephen King couldn’t come up with something as diabolical as what the Big Ten has done to Michigan’s football program and Jim Harbaugh. A three-game suspension? Who the hell does Tony Petitti think he is? Warde Manuel?
Well he’s not. In a fair world, only a Michigan Man should be able to suspend a Michigan Man. But we do not live in a fair world. We live in a world where the Big Ten takes information and investigative findings directly from the NCAA and uses that data to inform them of an initial punishment, rather than waiting for the NCAA to use that same information and data to hand down a much more significant punishment of their own sometime down the road.
The only question now is if the university can order capes in time for this weekend’s game at Maryland.
And if they can’t, it’s probably because the post office is out to get them as well.
When Michigan Was On Offense
When Michigan was on offense, they ran the ball because they had so little respect for the Penn State offense that there was never any need to do anything that required more than the minimum amount of points.
The Wolverines didn’t record a single pass in the second half. Instead, Sherrone Moore dialed up 30 runs and zero countable passes. Even if it wasn’t a nod to Jim Harbaugh, he probably thought this song was about him.
The Wolverines rushed for 227 yards on 46 attempts (4.9 ypc) in the game. Blake Corum was responsible for 145 of those yards and 26 of the carries. It was the first time since their season opener against West Virginia that the Nittany Lions have given up over 100 yards rushing in a game.
The crazy thing about the Michigan running game, however, is that it was mostly unsuccessful. Corum had a success rate of just 34.6% on his 26 carries (gaining 50% of needed yards on first down, 70% on second down, 100% on third/fourth down). He had just two carries that went over nine yards, but they went for 44 yards and 30 yards. The 30-yarder was the touchdown that sealed things for Michigan in the fourth quarter. He fumbled once in Penn State territory but was able to recover it.
Donovan Edwards had his best game of the year, rushing for 52 yards on 10 attempts. He had a pair of 22-yard runs on the day, which were his first two 20-yard runs of the year. Like Corum, he made the most of his successful runs, because his success rate was only 30%.
The most consistent runner on the day was quarterback JJ McCarthy, which was to be expected. In “matchup” games against legitimate competition, McCarthy’s legs will always be an advantage for Michigan. He rushed for 44 yards on seven attempts, not counting his 10-yard loss on a first-quarter sack.
As a team, Michigan’s success rate on the ground was just 37.2%. And the success in the second half wasn’t because of their overall effectiveness either, as the success rate climbed to just 39.3% in the second half.
The Wolverines rushed for 117 yards on 30 carries in the second half (3.9 ypc), including two kneel downs to end the game.
Michigan finished 6-of-13 on third downs, but were just 3-of-8 in the second half. They didn’t pick up a third down longer than two yards in the second half until their final possession after recovering a Penn State onside kick to effectively end the game.
The Wolverines’ success on third-and-long came on the ground in the first half and attacked PSU’s blitzing. It wasn’t completely dissimilar to watching Michigan’s success against Ohio State last year. For the bulk of the game, the Buckeyes held the UM running game in check (it’s true, you can look it up), but eventually the dam broke.
I don’t think the dam necessarily broke for Penn State, but they did lose some villagers because of a few leaks here and there.
McCarthy completed 7-of-8 passes for 60 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was sacked once, but he was pressured heavily in the first half.
He dropped back twice on the first drive and right tackle Karsen Barnhart was beaten badly by two different defensive ends. The second drop back ended in a third-down sack. Barnhart also had a false start on that drive. On the second drive, defensive end Chop Robinson went right around Barnhart and forced a near interception by McCarthy.
Overall, McCarthy was significantly pressured on four of his five drop backs.
Sherrone Moore did a nice job getting away from that and moving the pocket, throwing screens, and then also just keeping the ball on the ground.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Penn State rushed for 164 yards on 35 attempts (4.7 ypc), which was kind of surprising given Michigan’s run defense this year and the Nittany Lions’ relatively ineffective running game for most of the year.
Penn State rushed for 49 yards on 26 attempts against Ohio State, for instance.
The Nittany Lions actually had a better success rate (52.9%) than Michigan, but they couldn’t do enough with it. A good portion of that success rate came from quarterback Drew Allar, who hit the mark on eight of his nine carries. The scrambling and designed runs were a necessity to keep drives alive.
Allar’s 49-yard rushing total was a season high for him (and 72 yards more than he rushed for against the Buckeyes). He’s not the most mobile quarterback, so what he did is also something that OSU quarterback Kyle McCord might look at and see some possibilities. (That’s not to say Ohio State is going to make their hay on the QB run. And that’s also not to say that UM’s defensive plan for the Buckeyes will be the same as it was for a Penn State passing game that doesn’t actually exist.)
Allar was also credited with a sack on an intentional grounding. He finished 10-of-22 passing for 70 yards. The lack of confidence that the coaches have in him right now is only slightly worse than the seeming lack of confidence he has in himself. The firing of PSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich after this game was warranted. The entire offense needs a fresh start. They could also use some wide receivers.
Michigan’s defense held Penn State to 4-of-14 on third downs.
Defensive tackle Kenneth Grant was again a standout, and not just because he was the guy who made the tackle on PSU running back Kaytron Allen 34 yards down the field. Well, not entirely because of that. He continues to be a presence inside for the Wolverines and will prove a matchup problem for the Buckeyes in two weeks.
The Michigan defense also had a standout in James Franklin, who chose to go for it on fourth-and-six from his own 30-yard line with over four minutes to play in the game down by eight. It did not work. Allar’s pass wasn’t thrown to anybody in particular and UM took over at the PSU 30-yard line. The first play for the Wolverines was a 30-yard touchdown run by Corum.
With decision making like this on the opposing sidelines, you don’t need to steal signs. You can simply sit back and wait for the seppuku to happen.
The Michigan Special teams
Punter Tommy Doman only put one of his five punts inside the Penn State 20-yard line, but all five of his kickoffs went for touchbacks.
Place-kicker James Turner made a 22-yard field goal, which was his only attempt of the day. There were no significant return yards from either side.
In a game that was hard-fought and could have turned at any moment because of special teams, not a lot happened here. Except, of course, for two terrible decisions to go for two-point conversions after Penn State touchdowns.
I won’t get too far into it here because I’ve spent past Michigan Mondays following a Penn State game railing on James Franklin’s decision making, but chasing points in the first half and then again late in the game when it wasn’t necessary was stupid.
Penn State scored a touchdown with 1:59 left on the clock to make it 24-15 and then because of analytics, Franklin chose to go for two. Which failed. And ended the game.
Why did he do it? Because the numbers on a card said he should. Just like the numbers said he should in the first half.
Franklin was chasing points like Tony Petitti chasing down rumors.
I’ve spent the better part of two days arguing with Analytics Bros on Twitter about Franklin’s bad choices, so we’re not going to rehash it here, but it certainly didn’t help their argument when USC head coach Lincoln Riley did the exact same thing later that night — and also failed.
I’m not against analytics at all. But analytics needs to be treated as a tool, not a religion. And if you treat it like a religion, you’re eventually gonna go to hell.
What Does It All Mean
It means that Michigan has taken the first blow by the Big Ten and brushed it off with no effect. And there’s a lot more where that came from.
It’s Michigan vs. the world right now and there’s no turning back. So you can hand down your punishments. You can lob your accusations. You can win in your courts. But on the field, you’ll never be able to stop Michigan.
You can cook up charges or read evidence or look at receipts or “investigate” and then have a committee hand down a punishment for cheating, but that’s only going to galvanize this program and this university. You can try to say that everything that has happened over the past three years is tainted because of all of the cheating, but what’s actually tainted is the Big Ten’s reputation.
Michigan’s not out of order. You’re out of order. The whole Big Ten is out of order!
And anyway, I’d like to see the Big Ten suspend Jim Harbaugh again next year when Michigan is in the SEC!
But these champions of truth and justice and yearners for patience will prevail in the end. Sure, the program will be put on probation eventually and wins will be vacated, but that time is not today.
For today, Michigan rises like a phoenix from the ashes of a litigious flame. You can not douse what you cannot contain. And just wait until you see the arguments presented in front of a judge this week. All of the best message boards have been scoured. The arguments will be impeccable. And if the judge is into memes, then all the better.
It also means that while all of this off-field absurdity is going on, the Michigan players and coaches will continue right along. Preparing for their next opponent while also keeping just the right amount of focus on Ohio State.
When it gets to November, everything off the field is noise. Everything on the field is all that matters. Don’t expect the noise to get to anybody.
Especially since the response will be the loudest thing of all.
The Road To The Game
Sept 2 – Michigan 30 – East Carolina 3 (1-0)
Sept 9 – Michigan 35 – UNLV 7 (2-0)
Sept 16 – Michigan 31 – Bowling Green 6 (3-0)
Sept 23 – Michigan 31 – Rutgers 7 (4-0, 1-0)
Sept 30 – Michigan 45 – Nebraska 7 (5-0, 2-0)
Oct 7 – Michigan 52 – Minnesota 10 (6-0, 3-0)
Oct 14 – Michigan 52 – Indiana 7 (7-0, 4-0)
Oct 21 – Michigan 49 – Michigan State 0 (8-0, 5-0)
Oct 28 OPEN
Nov 4 – Michigan 41 – Purdue 13 (9-0, 6-0)
Nov 11 – Michigan 24 – Penn State 15 (10-0, 7-0)
Nov 18 – at Maryland
Nov 25 – Ohio State