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54 Random Thoughts on Michigan

Random Thoughts on a White Out Weekend for #2 Penn State

Michigan v Penn State Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

On Saturday evening, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Michigan Wolverines engaged in a contest of American football under the lights of Beaver Stadium. Before a record breaking White Out crowd, the Nittany Lions emerged victorious by the score of 42-13. I have some thoughts, which are randomly set forth below:

  1. You know instantly when a game ends up in the pantheon.
  2. Penn State football has played plenty of big, memorable games during its 130 year history.
  3. Indeed, this program has seen plenty of big, memorable games during its 25 year history in the Big Ten.
  4. Some games get close enough to touch the mountaintop - Paterno’s 409th win against Illinois in 2011, complete with late game heroics from an injured Derek Moye; Michigan 2013, featuring the highlight reel catch in the last minute of regulation that made Allen Robinson a household name; Wisconsin 2012, where the most memorable non-championship (non-bowl) squad showed its mettle.
  5. The bowl games are in a category by themselves and need no further explanation - the ‘79 and ‘83 Sugar Bowls, ‘87 Fiesta Bowl, ‘95 and ‘17 Rose Bowls, ‘06 Orange.
  6. But the games that end up in the pantheon are the home wins that you’ll remember forever as soon as the victory bell rings.
  7. 2002 Nebraska.
  8. 2005 Ohio State.
  9. 2016 Ohio State.
  10. 2017 Michigan.
  11. It’s all about atmosphere, right? Two big, brand name teams on a collision course on national television. The stadium lights and photographer flash bulbs lighting up the night sky. College Game Day on campus.
  12. There’s a buzz that’s indescribable. Even if you’re at home, you feel it.
  13. As with every home game this weekend, I sat on the couch with a one month old with our entire family decked out in blue and white. And even though we weren’t inside the stadium or on campus, there was a palpable energy feeding through the TV.
  14. I mentioned earlier this week that I thought Penn State had a chance to break the all-time attendance record. Even with the stadium renovations that mildly reduced capacity, the media and guests in attendance put this over the top by almost 100 people. Not too shabby.
  15. You know what’s amazing about Saturday night? Michigan played relatively well.
  16. Yes, really. Michigan played well. They scored on extended drives, O’Korn looked competent and made plays with his feet, and they certainly didn’t play sloppy football.
  17. This was not one of those games where one team waits for the other to make a mistake, then pounces. This was Alabama-style.
  18. There’s literally nothing left to say about Saquon Barkley. Herbstreit and Fowler seem to agree. The second play from scrimmage must have left their mouths gaping open.
  19. We talk a lot about his vision and his cuts, but his speed in the open field is virtually unrivaled. He accelerates right past defenders that have great angles.
  20. The best example of this isn’t even the 69 yard touchdown. It’s actually the second one.
  21. Pure option play. Pitch to the right. Barkley turns the corner but looks like he’s going to get run out of bounds. Instead, he flies past a defender and waltzes untouched into the end zone.
  22. Check the replay and listen to the call. Fowler is ready to write this off as another nice gain, but ultimately leading to the next play. Suddenly, his voice rises in overwhelming surprise as Barkley is celebrating his second score.
  23. Winning 42-13 was great, but going up 14-0 within the first 5 minutes against the number one defense in the country is what really meant something to every casual observer of this game.
  24. Say what you will about Michigan’s offense, but the defense is fast and well-regarded. The issue is not that they are overrated. The issue is that they are overaggressive to a fault.
  25. The first Michigan drive confirmed everything I thought about this team before game time - this Wolverines team is functionally a late-Paterno era Penn State squad. Exceptional, bone crushing defense with athletes all over the field paired with a mediocre offense that is so conservative that it drags all potential down the drain.
  26. John O’Korn played well on Saturday night. Maybe it was being in front of his family at home, but he came into Beaver Stadium and made a few nice throws and plays with his feet.
  27. He’s not an exceptional quarterback. He’s very capable of managing a game if the right strategy is in place.
  28. The right strategy was certainly not in place Saturday night. Unfortunately for Michigan, that strategy is not limited to Saturday night.
  29. On the first drive after Barkley raced to pay dirt and lit the crowd on fire, Michigan did exactly what 2011 Penn State would have done, which is exactly what you cannot do in a hostile environment. The Wolverines ran 3 plays and lost 2 yards.
  30. It’s even worse when you look at the play-by-play. Karan Higdon slams himself into the Penn State defense for no gain. Higdon takes the second carry for a paltry three yards. Now it’s 3rd and 7, the opposing crowd is rabid, you’re down 7-0 and the pressure is on to just do something.
  31. So, of course, in true old Penn State form, Michigan dropped O’Korn back to pass. Finally. Instead, he was sacked by Curtis Cothran for a 5 yard loss.
  32. Four Penn State plays later, Michigan is down 14-0 and the rout is on.
  33. Sure, Michigan almost tied the score, but don’t get it twisted. Penn State scoring immediately made it clear that it could score at will on the Wolverine’s top ranked defense. Michigan’s entire 2017 season is dedicated to offensive misery. At the end of the day, Penn State proving it could score meant Penn State was going to win. That it happened so early meant everything.
  34. Fast starts are great. Second halves are great. I’d love it if we could figure out what to do in the second quarter.
  35. Is there anything better than Quinn Nordin missing that extra point? Just perfect.
  36. No, wait. This is better.
  37. Welcome back for real, Mike Gesicki.
  38. Welcome back, YOLO offense. We’ve missed you.
  39. Do I still need to beat the drum for Penn State’s all-time leading receiver, DaeSean Hamilton?
  40. Do I still need to talk about his 100 yard receiving performance against one of college football’s best defenses?
  41. Do I need to talk about how he abused Lavert Hill?
  42. Hill was doing a lot of chattering out there. Shame he couldn’t back it up.
  43. Guess that’s how he ended up in Maize and Blue.
  44. The end of the half drive was reminiscent of the end of the half drive against Wisconsin last year in the Big Ten Championship game. Sure, circumstances were different, with Wisconsin up by a substantial margin. But each drive at the end of the half gave the Nittany Lions momentum going into the break and put them back in the driver’s seat.
  45. We all know Trace McSorley can run, but I’m not sure we knew he was so interested in imitating two of his teammates - Saquon Barkley (TM9 rushing touchdown #2) and Touchdown Tommy Stevens (TM9 rushing touchdown #3).
  46. Big shout to Miles Sanders. Kid looks great these days.
  47. It seems a little baffling that we could do this to Michigan, but Barkley barely had running room against Indiana. Just proves the theory that those teams were selling out hard to stop Saquon the Don.
  48. Of course, it also proves that Barkley saves his best for the biggest stage. That’s what makes him the current Heisman Trophy frontrunner and, frankly, the best college football player I’ve ever seen. Don’t @ me.
  49. Penn State’s secondary is still for real. Marcus Allen, Grant Haley, and Amani Oruwariye have gotten a fair amount of love in these 2017 Random Thoughts, so it’s time to recognize their colleague. Great work, Christian Campbell. Sack and fumble, plus great coverage all night. Every single man in the defensive backfield just makes plays all day.
  50. It should be fun to see these teams square off for the next few years as the young guns turn into savvy vets.
  51. Any word on the photographer who was taken out on a stretcher after that Michigan score? She must have taken quite a hit. Hope she is ok.*
  52. Most complete performance of the year that came exactly at the right time. Who could ever argue?
  53. On to Columbus. Game Day hopped a ride with us. They know this will be epic.
  54. We are...

*Ed note: she is fine (albeit on crutches) and posted the photo that got her taken out online later that weekend.—CG