Penn State and Michigan met with both programs sporting losing records for the first time in series history on Saturday. However, it will still be a game remembered long into the future. New and old fans alike will dig through old records and box scores ahead of future Penn State-Michigan match-ups to both learn some history, or if you’re like me, to try to remember some details that you can’t recall from a few years back. When they look back at the 2020 game, they will quickly learn that Keyvone Lee was the hero of the day to help guide Penn State to its first victory in the Big House in more than a decade.
Before the start of the season, it would have been hard to believe that Lee would be so relied upon for the offense to have a chance of beating Michigan. Entering the season, it looked like Lee would be fighting to get on the field, sitting behind three incredibly talented runners, while also fending off fellow classmate and four-star recruit Caziah Holmes.
First, Journey Brown, one of the very best running backs in the nation, discovered he had a heart condition that would force him to retire from football. Then Noah Cain, coming off a fantastic true freshman season, was injured on the first drive of the season, quickly ending the year for him. Then last week, Devyn Ford was unable to make the trip following the tragic death of a loved one.
All of a sudden, it was up to Lee to play beyond his years if Penn State would be claiming its first victory of the season — and did he ever exceed expectations.
Lee responded with the best performance of his very short Nittany Lion career. Lee carried the load, providing a desperately-needed steady performance to keep the chains moving and get points on the board. He used his 230 lb. frame to outmuscle Michigan defenders, getting stronger as the game continued. He also showed tremendous growth with his vision and overall running style, regularly bouncing away for a large gain. His quick progression was obvious on Saturday, showing that the game is slowing down for him as he made several decisive cuts that likely would have just seen him plowing full-steam ahead into the designed hole for a short gain just a few weeks back.
Entering the game, Lee had 93 yards on 19 carries. He more than rose to the challenge on Saturday, averaging 6.1 yards on 22 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown. Lee proved he was ready to be thrown into the fire, and his ability will only grow over time. It was a big day for the true freshman, with many more impressive performances on the horizon.
QB Sean Clifford - Clifford bounced back to have his best game of the season a week after being shown the bench. His resiliency was on full display after he connected on 17 of 28 pass attempts for 163 yards, with another 73 yards on the ground which included a beautiful 29-yard touchdown run to give Penn State an edge heading into halftime. Most importantly - no turnovers.
WR Parker Washington - It’s clear that Washington has gained the trust of Clifford and Levis in a very short time. While Michigan focused on slowing down Jahan Dotson, Washington was more than happy to take advantage of the opportunities given to him. Washington continued to hurt the Wolverines defense with the best game of his young career, with career-bests with nine catches and 93 receiving yards.