It is nice to finally hear Penn State’s White Out described as the undisputed champion of college football fanaticism. Herbstreit described the Lions’ student section as “the best student section in the country by far,” and has made this point in the past. The White Out provides the most disruptive atmosphere for opposing teams and was the perfect setting to welcome Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. Though the White Out has only resulted in about a .500 record for Penn State, the 2019 installment worked just well enough to case Michigan’s Ronnie Bell to drop the tying touchdown to preserve Penn State’s victory. It’s just a shame Chase Winovich wasn’t there to take his medicine again. It’s incredible to think at the beginning of the season that most sportswriters (myself included) thought Michigan would be better this year. NAHHHHHH. Here are the grades for the Nittany Lions’ 28-21 victory over rival Michigan.
Defensive Player of the Game
Wade had his best game in blue and white blanketing the Wolverine’s receivers all night. Wade had tight coverage on Ronnie Bell, influencing his 4th down drop among two passes defended. On a night when the defensive line was not as effective as they usually are, Wade led a secondary that closed Michigan out.
The game was a Tale of Two Halves, with the defense playing brilliantly for the majority of the first half, but letting Michigan back into the game with soft coverage in the second. The defense had to limit QB Shea Patterson’s running ability that so hurt them a year ago, which to a large degree they did (except for a goal-line fourth-and-goal “TD” that just, well, wasn’t). But again, once the Nittany Lions got a big lead, the coaches pulled the defense back, which allowed the Wolverines to claw back into the game.
Patterson had 276 yards and an interception, but Michigan’s offense never looked comfortable against the Lions. A double-digit win against Illinois last week looks better after the Illini took down Wisconsin Saturday, so credit Penn State’s defense for limiting Michigan’s offensive production. The defensive line was held without a sack, clearly a point of emphasis by the Wolverine coaches. The soft coverage nearly cost Penn State game, saved only by a drop in the end zone in Michigan’s final drive.
P Blake Gillikin had a pedestrian game after his excellent performance at Iowa, and the return game was led by KJ Hamler’s 40-yard kick return. In a game where special teams could have turned tide, the best performance was one of consistent, lock-down play.
Special Teams Players of the Game
Two crucial special teams coverage plays limited Michigan’s starting position and led a unit that shut down the Wolverines’ return game.
Before the season, this was the game I thought the massive talent losses on offense would show up for Penn State. Entering the game, I thought RB Noah Cain would emerge as the starter after two straight 100-yard games. Neither happened. QB Sean Clifford played well, accounting for all four touchdowns, but had only a 56% completion percentage, though did not turn the ball over. The running backs were a non-factor outside of RB Ricky Slade’s 44-yard run to set up a touchdown. TE Pat Freiermuth had a 17-yard touchdown catch, continuing his strong season. Like the defense, the playcalling got conservative in the second half with a big lead.
Offensive Player of the Game
Michigan seemed keen to stop the rush and force Penn State’s passing game to beat them, which it did. Hamler had two great TD catches after gaining separation from the DB. Hamler put on a show for the huge crowd and recruits in attendance. He shines when the lights are the brightest, and led the offense to victory over Michigan.
I was tempted to give them a D, but the gameplan and execution in the first half wouldn’t fit with such a low grade. But yet again, when Penn State has a big, 3-score lead, the coaches go ultra-conservative, which only lets the opponent back into the game. The prevent defense let Michigan march right down the field to pull within 7 and was employed again on the final drive. The coaches have to figure out how to close games out as dominantly as they build their lead. If they can do that, Penn State will be very tough to beat.
This is the time of year good teams start to drop conference games they are favored to win, such as Georgia and Wisconsin. Penn State was ready for Michigan and will need that same focus as they travel to East Lansing to face Michigan State. HC James Franklin was outcoached the past 2 years, and it will be critical to continue the momentum for this year’s game, maybe setting up Penn State’s own revenge tour in 2019.
About the Author:
Eric Mayhue is a contributing author and commentator at PSU Zone. An avid sports fan, Eric can talk for hours about the Penn State Nittany Lions of past and present. When he's not cheering on the blue and white, Eric stays active in the internet marketing community and enjoys superhero movies and video games.