Saturday’s top ten match-up between Michigan and Penn State was a game that took a strange turn. A wire-to-wire dominant performance by Michigan, interrupted by a 17-3 Penn State scoring spree.
When the dust settled, there was no doubt about which was the better team. Michigan outgained Penn State in total yardage 563 to 268, with more than 400 of those yards coming on the ground. Running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards each rushed for more than 150 yards and two touchdowns. The Wolverines accumulated 28 first downs to Penn State’s 18 and held the ball for nearly 42 of the game’s 60 minutes. It was a convincing victory, more so than even the 41-17 final score would suggest. But that’s not to say the game was never in question.
Despite Michigan’s dominance, there was a point early in the second half when the game’s outcome appeared to be in doubt. Despite Michigan essentially owning the first half (the Wolverines had 18 first downs to Penn State’s one), the Nittany Lions had somehow taken the lead. Thanks to a couple of big plays late in the first half (one a pinball pick six) and a scoring drive to kick off the second half, Penn State took its first lead of the game at 17-16.
On the ensuing drive, Michigan quickly faced a third-and-four at its own 25-yard line. Should Michigan fail to convert and turn the ball over to Penn State, momentum could swing to the visitor’s side. How would Michigan, led by its young quarterback, respond? Would the Wolverines tighten up? Would they allow a dominant first half devolve into a dogfight? Or worse, into a dispiriting home loss?
If there were any such concerns, they lied with the Michigan fan base and not the players. Facing that third-and-four, JJ McCarthy scrambled eight yards for a first down. The next play, Donovan Edwards broke off a 67-yard touchdown run, wresting back the lead. On the Wolverines’ next offensive play, Blake Corum, not to be outdone, broke off a 61-yard touchdown run of his own, and the game was essentially over.
With the victory, the Wolverines improved to 7-0, and are one step closer to carrying an undefeated record into Columbus Thanksgiving weekend. But despite passing what most consider their first real test of the season, and doing so in dominant fashion, the Wolverines still haven’t quieted all of their critics. That included some in Saturday’s postgame press conference.
After the game, McCarthy was asked if he was frustrated or concerned that Michigan hasn’t displayed much of a downfield passing attack this season. “Not at all,” McCarthy replied, smiling. “With our offensive line doing what they were doing today, I’m happy handing off to these guys (Corum and Edwards) all game.”
And for good reason. Michigan’s offensive line, one of the strengths of last season’s conference championship team, might be even better this year. Michigan’s offensive line had its way with Penn State’s defensive front all day. Led by Corum and Edwards, the Wolverines accumulated more that 400 rushing yards at a gaudy 7.6 yards a carry.
When further pressed about Michigan’s passing game, or lack thereof, McCarthy added, “There will be games we need to pass, and when we do, we’ll be fine.”
McCarthy was right. There will be games in which Michigan will need to display more of a downfield passing attack. Saturday, however, was not one of those games.