by Emmet Mahon
State College, PA
Did you know that Michigan played a football game this past Saturday? That bit of information might have gotten lost in a distraction or two for the Wolverines. Despite the sideshow, Penn State and Michigan played a very physical game that harkened back to the glory days of rock ‘em sock ‘em Big 10 slobber knocker football. The 30 total pass attempts and the 17 completions between the two quarterbacks would pale in comparison to a Big 12 quarter. This was a game that was played and won in the trenches. It will win no prizes for artistic appeal. It will be remembered for two teams, particularly on defense, giving no quarter. In his postgame availability, star Michigan running back Blake Corum had blood trickling down his nose. Multiple players from both teams were sporting ice packs during and after the game. The players will be seeing the bruises, and feeling the aches, of this game well into the holiday season.
Statistically the game appeared to be close to a draw. Befitting a contest between two of the nation’s top defenses, neither squad managed 300 yards of offense. Total yards per play was 5.3 for Michigan and 4.1 for Penn State. Each defense recorded a sack. Astoundingly, neither quarterback threw for over 100 yards. Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy only attempted eight total passes, none in the 2nd half. This contest was decided on a handful of plays. Despite going up against Penn State’s impressive front seven, Michigan was able to get the upper hand on three long rushes. On their second touchdown drive, the Wolverines' dynamic running duo of Corum and Donovan Edwards took advantage of Nittany Lion over-aggression. Corum’s 44-yard gallop got Michigan deep into Penn State territory. On a 3rd and 11, they got Penn State Nittany Lion defensive end Adissa Isaac over-committing to McCarthy and Edwards went outside for 22 yards to paydirt.
Michigan broke Penn State’s back in the 4th quarter. After a questionable decision by Nittany Lion Head Coach James Franklin do unsuccessfully go for it on 4th down at his own 30, with under five minutes remaining, the Wolverines wasted no time taking advantage. Knowing Michigan was going to run the ball, Penn State sent a run blitz. Linebacker Abdul Carter tried to anticipate which gap Michigan would use and guessed wrong. Corum blew through the opening in the line and scampered the 30 yards for the final Wolverine score.
Michigan’s defense kept the familiar Penn State names in check. Nittany Lion running back Kaytron Allen lead the team in total yardage with 72 rushing and four passing. The Wolverines reduced quarterback Drew Allar to frequent hurried throws, poor decisions, and a general sense of frustration. Michigan forced the only turnover of the game, an Allar fumble at the Penn State 49-yard line on the 2nd half opening drive, while the outcome of the game was still in doubt.
Draft eligible player performances:
QB J.J. McCarthy, 7-8, 60 yards, 0 TD, 8 carries, 34 yards, 0 TD
McCarthy did what was needed of him on this day. He protected the football, made smart decisions, effectively managed the clock, and projected leadership. His stats might not wow scouts, but his winning effort certainly endeared him to them.
RB Blake Corum, 26 carries, 145 yards, 2 TDs, 44 long
Corum game into this game as potentially the first running back selected in 2024 NFL Draft. He lived up to his billing. He showed inside rushing determination and breakaway speed in the second level. The Michigan gameplan only produced eight attempts and were designed for the wide receivers and tight ends. The design was to have McCarthy throw on the run, so Corum was not called upon for pass protection.
RB Donovan Edwards, 10 carries, 52 yards, 1 TD, 22 long
Like much of the 2024 season, Edwards was counted on to go between the tackles and hammer out tough first downs. The approach was so successful that it baited Penn State to fail to seal the outside on a 3rd and 11, thus allowing Edwards to slip around the corner for a 22-yard touchdown.
OL, Zak Zinter, Ladarius Henderson, Karsen Barnhart
The veteran core of Michigan’s offensive line were the unsung heroes of the day. They were asked to pave the way for 227 of the Wolverines' 287 offensive yards. They allowed one sack and one quarterback hurry to Penn State’s ferocious rush and had only a single false start by Barnhart. They went toe to toe with a deep and talented Nittany Lion front seven and prevailed.
WR Cornelius Johnson, 2 receptions, 24 yards, 0 TD, 13 long
Johnson, like all Michigan receivers, was hampered by the very effective Wolverine ground game. He hauled in two of the seven completed passes.
DL Kris Jenkins, 2 tackles
Defense Coordinator Jesse Minter employed an all hands on deck approach to limiting Penn State’s attack. He often rotated players from play to play. Jenkins was a stalwart in frustrating the Nittany Lion rushers.
CB Mike Sainristil, 1 tackle
Sainristil was a key component is frustrating Allar, forcing bad throws all game long. Like his defensive teammates, his primary responsibility was to attack the ball and keep it in front of him.
EDGE Jaylen Harrell, 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack for 9 yards
Harrell registered Michigan’s lone sack. Penn State running backs attempted to bounce runs outside to take advantage of their excellent tackles. Harrell thwarted that strategy all day. He was the Wolverines' defensive statistical leader.
S Rod Moore, 2 tackles
The Michigan scheme on the day was give up small gains, forcing long drives, and surrendering no big plays. Moore was responsible for taking away deep gains and executed exceptionally.
LB Junior Colson, 3 tackles
Whatever Michigan’s excellent defensive line didn’t clean up at the line of scrimmage, Colson shut down before any further damage could be inflicted. His performance tied in nicely with the Wolverine scheme of relying on all 11 defenders to limit the Penn State attack.
LB Michael Barrett, 5 tackles, 1 quarterback hurry
Perhaps the least heralded of the Michigan prospects, Barrett may have helped his stock more than any others. His five tackles tied for most among the Wolverine players hoping to be selected next spring. Like his teammates, he completely bought into the all-for-one defensive concept.
TE Tyler Warren, 2 receptions, 25 yards, 0 TD, 19 long
Warren had Penn State’s longest reception of the day. Bottled up by the Michigan linebackers and defensive backs, his numbers were not impressive. However, he managed to get open a few times, but was missed by errant throws for Allar.
TE Theo Johnson, 2 receptions for 10 yards, 1 TD
Johnson had the Nittany Lions' sole touchdown reception. He is slowly recovering from his early season slump and is reestablishing himself as a prime tight end prospect.
WR KeAndre Lambert-Smith, 1 reception for 6 yards
Lambert-Smith is heading in the opposite direction of Johnson. He got off to a torrid start and was establishing himself as perhaps a day two selection. His production has tailed off in the second half of the season, in part to the lack of other receivers stepping up their game and taking pressure and attention away from him. This might entice him to return to Happy Valley for another season.
OL Olu Fashanu, Caedan Wallace, Hunter Nourzad
For the most part, the offensive line kept Allar upright and clean. Running lanes were available to the outside, but sometimes not effectively used by indecisive running backs. Fashanu continues to build his resume as the best tackle in the 2024 draft class. He continues to be elite at both pass and run blocking.
LB Curtis Jacobs, 7 tackles, 1.5 TFL for 2 yards
Jacobs is the defensive player who sees his stock rise on a weekly basis. He has become the Nittany Lions' most consistent tackler, both against opposing offenses and on special teams. If he can couple his current trajectory with Combine and post season testing success, he will be selected in the NFL Draft sooner than most anticipated this summer.
DE Adisa Isaac, 6 tackles, 3 TFL for 4 yards
Isaac is also rounding his game into ascending prospect status. Despite his over-aggressive pursuit of McCarthy, resulting in a Wolverines 22 yard touchdown, Isaac teamed with sophomore sensation Dani Dennis-Sutton to ensure McCarthy did not feel too comfortable on the few occasions he did drop back to pass. He displayed a willingness to dive into piles to tackle rushers before they could make substantial gains.
DE Chop Robinson, 1 quarterback hurry
It was hoped that the return of presumptive first round selection Robinson would provide an emotional lift to the Nittany Lions. Obviously playing below 100%, it was hard to notice him at all against Michigan. His body of work, in addition to his playing through pain, should not let his performance be held against him.
CB Kalen King, 2 tackles
Michigan’s abandonment of the passing game makes it hard to determine if King has recovered from his recent poor play. He acknowledged this week at practice that he had put in extra work with defensive backs coach Terry Smith and had regained his confidence. He will need a strong finish to this season and above average workouts to remain a viable first round selection.
CB Johnny Dixon, 2 tackles
Dixon remains the steady and consistent compliment to King. This game was another example of his effective play. Partly because of Michigan’s run heavy approach and because of his own fundamental soundness, Dixon did not surrender any significant gains and remains on course to be selected on day three of the NFL Draft.
Michigan and Penn State did not light up the scoreboard at Beaver Stadium. They did give quite a show for the dozens of NFL scouts in attendance. Several players either maintained their status or helped themselves. The Wolverines could find upwards of 20 players selected during the three days of the 2024 NFL Draft, which will be held in their backyard in Detroit. Perhaps the one individual who improved their stock the most was Acting Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Sherrone Moore. Moore kept Michigan’s players focused, remaining on point, and executing the game plan to near perfection.
Notes: After the game, Franklin dismissed Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich. Running Backs coach Ja’Juan Seider and Tight Ends coach Ty Howle will share the coordinator’s duties. Offensive Graduate Assistant Danny O’Brien and Franklin will assist with the quarterbacks. Moore and Penn State Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz have been nominated for the Frank Broyles Award as the Nation’s Top Assistant Coach. Saturday’s announced attendance of 110,856 is second all-time in Beaver Stadium history, trailing only the September 29, 2018, game against Ohio State that drew 110.889. It was the third time this season that attendance exceeded 100,000. Michigan moved up to #2 and Penn State fell to #12 in the current College Football Playoff rankings.
Emmet Mahon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org