November 2, 2010

Review: Penn State 41, Michigan 31

That was hands-down the most thrilling game Penn State has played this season. Michigan was coming in with the Heisman candidate on offense; Penn State was mired in a frustrating rebuilding year. It wasn't supposed to be Penn State's night.

The defense wasn't living up to the lofty reputation set by the previous six season of greatness. The offense was as consistent as summer rain patterns in State College. Joe Paterno and the coaches were taking flak from every direction. Oh, and did I mention the Nittany Lions were going to start a walk-on redshirt freshman quarterback, in place of the injured incumbent? Yeah, not a whole lot pointed to a Penn State win.

But then it happened. Michigan went 3-and-out on the first drive. Penn State gained control of the ball--and quite possibly the game itself--marching 71 yards in 14 plays for a 7-0 lead. The game's final outcome may have been decided in that first dual between the offenses, but it would be another 52:34 minutes worth of football before the 108,539 in attendance would find out.

The highlights, and lowlights, from Penn State's 41-31 win over Michigan.

Tip of the Hat

Matt McGloin - The kid's got a set, that's for sure. Matt "Eff it, let's go deep" McGloin set the tone early with his 10.5-yard scramble on 3rd and 10, keeping Penn State's first touchdown drive alive. McGloin was fantastic in the pocket and rolling out, helping Penn State convert a season-best 10 of 16 third down attempts. If you include fourth downs, Penn State made good on 12 of 18.

Evan Royster - The senior broke Penn State's all-time career rushing record, doing it in style, torching the Michigan defense for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Royster hit the running lanes faster and harder than he has seemingly done all season long, and ran with such fire, Michigan defenders stood little chance of bringing him down on the first tackle attempt... or second, or third. In three starts against Michigan, Royster has run for 424 yards. You had to feel good watching Royster run. I think he even cracked a smile once or twice.

The Offensive Line - Of course, none of those performances would have been possible without a great night of blocking by the offensive line. Finally, there were holes for the backs to run through. The pocket was well-formed. Screen passes were ravaging the Michigan defense. Even inside the red zone, the offensive line never buckled. Michigan's best defensive lineman, Mike Martin, did leave the game with injury before the half. But Penn State was gashing the Wolverines front seven well before Martin went down.

Graham Zug - Welcome back, Sir! After a season filled with bad drops and empty stat sheets, the senior walk-on came up big in big situations. Zug caught two passes that converted third downs, while hauling in a 20-yard touchdown pass, his first score this season. It was nice to see Zug play like Zug.

The Fullbacks - I'm falling in love with the fullback combo of Joe Suhey and Mike Zordich. (plus, I really wanted to use the Suhey photo again) Let's give it more time before calling it, but the names "Milne" and "Wittman" have run through my head recently. Suhey was Penn State's third leading receiver with 32 yards on some beautifully run screens, while Zordich rammed his way for a six-yard touchdown up the gut of Michigan's defense.

Playcalling - Jay Paterno and Galen Hall, for all the grief fans have been heaping upon them this season, called a perfect game against the Wolverines. There was fantastic balance between the run and pass, while the specific plays run seemed to perfectly exploit whatever defense Michigan called. Even the aggressiveness by Joe Paterno himself, giving the nod to Collin Wagner's fake field goal run, which essentially won the game. And that's the key here: Penn State went out and WON this game; no playing-not-to-lose.

Chaz Powell - This isn't to say there weren't other good individual performances by Penn State defenders. It's just that considering Powell was thrown into the starting role without much practice at all on defense since the spring, he did a damn fine job.

The Defense Overall - Sure, the defense gave up some pretty big bad plays to Michigan, but what defense this year hasn't? Penn State's defense did just enough--which is all it takes against this Michigan team--at the right times to keep Michigan from getting into any kind of rhythm offensively. Even when things got scary during Michigan's second-half rally, the defense forced Michigan into four straight incompletions to turn the ball over on downs. Ball game. All things considered, this was a phenomenal performance by a defense that held the Michigan offense to about 100 yards and five points less than what it had averaged coming into the game.

Special Teams - Collin Wagner won the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against Michigan, going 2-for-2 on field goals, including the 42-yarder that put the game out of reach. But it was probably Wagner's fake field goal run that iced the honors. Anthony Fera sent punts booming, while kickoffs frequently went out of the end zone. Fera's line-drive knuckle ball completely caught Michigan's Jeremy Gallon off guard, as he bobbled the ball out of bounds at the two yard line. Devon Smith sped for a 20-yard punt return to start a drive on Michigan's 37 yard line. The coverage units were great. Kickoff returns never failed to make it past the 25. Michigan didn't do anything in the return game. It was the best special teams effort this season, period. And it directly helped win the game.

Almost everything else - There really weren't too many things I could complain about following this win.

Wag of the Finger

The PA system, crowd during injuries - Why the hell wasn't there quiet in the stadium during injuries? The PA system didn't shut up. The band didn't shut up. The crowd surely didn't shut up, even going so far as to start the "We Are..." cheer during a Michigan injury. That was in very poor taste.

Um... nothing else - If you can tell me something that you are seriously upset about after this win, please let us know. No nitpicking. Only serious concerns, please. (also, anonymous comments are strictly moderated, so leave a name)

Misc. Observations

-Penn State held the ball for 37:29. That's just ridiculous. You want to know the best defense to play against Denard? Don't let him touch the ball!

-The student section was about 70-80 percent full at kickoff. Not bad, but still not anything like the 100 percent for past big night games. Say what you want about how Michigan and Penn State aren't that great this year, but it surely wasn't a pillow fight we watched.

-Penn State converted six of seven red zone trips. The only time the Nittany Lions didn't score inside the red zone was on the final drive, when McGloin took a knee at the Michigan two. You can bet that if Penn State wanted to, it would have been another touchdown.

-Sean Stanley was terrible on covering the quarterback on zone-read plays. It was his first real action in weeks, coming against a very special quarterback. But constantly crashing down to tackle the running back, he was laughably out of position as Denard Robinson scooted for big chunks.

-Nate Stupar and Drew Astorino were this close to running back pick-6's in the fourth quarter.

-The only negative yardage tackle by Penn State was made by Chris Colasanti, in a one-yard TFL.

-Penn State made a season-high eight pass breakups.

-Redshirt freshman Nate Cadogan was brought in for Penn State's heavy goal line offense and kick formations. It seemed to work well.

-Redshirt freshman Christian Kuntz saw his first action (I think) this season. He was injured in the preseason, so it came as a surprise.

-Did I miss anything? Tell me in the comments.


After seven games of pure mediocrity, Penn State did what a good team should have done against Michigan--it won by a double-digit margin. No turnovers; very few penalties. Control the clock; bend on defense but don't break in the clutch. Run the ball; pass off play-action. This looked more like a Fran Ganter offense than anything we've seen the last six years. It was a little more open in terms of passing on early downs, while using three and four receivers. But that's about it. Penn State lined up in the I-formation or with one back the majority of its offensive plays. And it WORKED. Granted, it came against a historically bad Michigan defense. But what better way to give this team some confidence than a game like this, under the lights at home?

Next week, there will be talk of a let down. Northwestern is a good team. Penn State will still have a ton of pressure on it, even though a good portion of that pressure was relieved by beating the crap out of Michigan. Win No. 400 is on deck for Joe Paterno. This could be the last chance to make sure that win comes within the steel confines of Beaver Stadium.

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  1. Thrilling game, a season changer, right, beat tOSU and maybe I will get excited.

    Mediocre team, recruiting and coaching!


  2. Has there been any feedback from the students? Was the lack of fans in the stands due to being drunk in the fields or were there once again ticket issues at Gate A?

  3. Any chance you can post a video of Matt McGloin's "I'm gunning for you Herbstreit" post game interview?