For much of the season, there has been some hesitation to truly get behind this Michigan team. Despite running off eight consecutive victories, despite seeming to play better with each passing week, there has been a reluctance to believe that this team is different than past Wolverines teams, that it’s truly one of the nation’s best. However, after another dominating victory, this one a 42-7 romp over Penn State, it’s time to start taking this team seriously.
Michigan’s Shea Patterson said after the game that it’s not often that a team beats Penn State this badly, and he wasn’t wrong. Patterson led an offense that controlled the clock and the game, rolling up over 400 yards of total offense, including 259 on the ground, en route to hanging 42 points on the Nittany Lions. But as impressive as the Wolverines were on offense, they were even more dominating on the other side of the ball. The Wolverines held the Nittany Lions to 186 total yards and kept them out of the end zone until the game’s final minutes, at a point when it was already a six touchdown game. And for at least the third time this season, Michigan made a good quarterback look bad, as Trace McSorely finished 5 for 13 for just 83 yards through the air and negative yards on the ground. Penn State was a little dinged up, and left some plays on the field, but there was no disputing the decisiveness of Michigan’s victory.
In a season of statement wins, this one resonated the loudest. And not just because of gaudy statistics or the lopsided score, but rather because of the manner in which Michigan played, the manner in which Michigan has played for much of the year. There’s an edge to this team, an orneriness that’s been absent in recent Michigan teams. And for Michigan fans, that’s a welcome change.
Michigan’s players, almost to a man, talk about taking things personally, talk about taking past losses personally. Watching this team play, it’s clear that those are more than just words. Long hesitant to concede that any game has any more significance or importance than any other game, Michigan is now unabashedly - and refreshingly - saying the opposite. Michigan may have downplayed its rivalry with Michigan State leading up to the game, but watching the Wolverines during and after the game, it was clear how important that game was to Michigan. Rarely have the Wolverine players reacted with such emotion after a game as they did two weeks ago in East Lansing, and they weren’t shy talking about it after the game, either. This week, Michigan’s players were similarly only too happy to tell reporters how they felt Franklin and his Nittany Lions ran up the score on them last year. Michigan’s players remembered, said that they took it personally - and played like it.
There’s that phrase again. Taking it personally. After the Penn State game, head coach Jim Harbaugh was asked if this was personal. He responded with a chuckle, as if he couldn’t believe that someone would ask such a question, and eventually responded, “Yeah, these are personal.” It’s an attitude his players clearly embrace. Whether it’s playing with more toughness, having a greater confidence in themselves and in their teammates, as their head coach put it, or a little “South Florida Swag” as James Uche (Uche, Devin Bush and others hail from the Sunshine State) put it, this year’s Michigan team is playing in a way it hasn’t played before.
It’s this change in attitude, along with dominant play on the field, that has even the most cautious Wolverine fans beginning to think that this could be a special season in Ann Arbor. And as Michigan rolls toward the final stop on its revenge tour, it’s getting harder and harder not to believe in this team.