On Saturday afternoon, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Michigan Wolverines engaged in a contest of American football at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Nittany Lions got their first win of the season, 27-17. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below:
2. Well, that was certainly a relief.
3. Last week, I listed 34 contributors and their recruiting rankings to make a point about the level of talent on this team. My apologies to senior Isaac Lutz – Wide Receiver, preferred walk-on.
4. A 16-yard catch to move the chains and move Penn State into the red zone on the opening drive at the Big House is a heck of way to get noticed.
5. Which only goes to prove last week’s adage – it ain’t the Jimmies and the Joes, folks. We got ‘em.
6. We’ve got the Ikes too.
7. This was the first time since week 1 against Indiana where we saw Penn State score first. Each drive featured 10 or more plays, more running than passing, and multiple first downs. From what I’ve seen this year and last, this is classic Kirk Ciarrocca football, executed flawlessly.
8. It’s not a coincidence that both games in which Penn State scored early (first, in fact) are the games that Penn State has been most competitive. Getting on the board quickly is critical, particularly with this kind of offense, which just is not created for 2016-style “second half teams.”
9. Imagine this team trying to rally back from a 28-7 deficit against Wisconsin?
10. I suppose we’ve already seen that on multiple occasions this year, and the results speak for themselves. See Maryland 2020; Nebraska 2020; Iowa 2020.
11. The marked difference between this game’s opening drive and Indiana’s is the personnel. At that point, we still had Noah Cain (a proven contributor) acting as lead back in Journey Brown’s stead, Devyn Ford as talented relief, and Pat Freiermuth as All American tight end.
12. Six weeks later, Penn State starts the same quarterback (although that was certainly up for grabs), a true freshman starting running back in Keyvone Lee, a true freshman talented backup in Caziah Holmes, and redshirt freshman Brenton Strange starting at tight end.
13. Different personnel, but similar result. In some ways, that may be what you can hope for out of this offense – substitutable (is that a word?) personnel garnering similar results.
14. We just need the results to be, you know, good.
15. The end of the Iowa game last week looks like rock bottom for a team that legitimately looked in the preseason like it was set for another Top 10 finish. The wheels came off and the car spun off the road and into the median. This team looked entirely different than the squad we saw the last several weeks.
16. I’d be curious to know what changed the mindset. Losing begets losing and attitude and morale matter in sports. That’s especially true when a team with these Jimmies and these Joes and these expectations loses their first 5 games. What changed, exactly?
17. Whatever it was, Sean Clifford was a big part of it. Maybe it was getting replaced at Nebraska and sitting on the sidelines for a large portion of the Iowa game. Maybe he got some of his mojo back by throwing two touchdowns on two throws, although you’d think the pick six at the end would have pushed back against that.
18. Either way, Clifford did exactly what we wanted him to do – play within himself and make the plays that are there for him to make.
19. No one expects him to be Joe Burrows, Trevor Lawrence, or Tua Tagovailoa. But the comments that try to fit Sean Clifford into the “game manager” box are wrong. He’s actively better than that simple trope, and he’s proven that on multiple occasions.
20. Clifford has been somewhat erratic. As a reserve, he basically only threw touchdowns. Remarkably, that’s remained true this year…
21. But beyond that, he does have a knack for making something out of nothing. The problem is not that Clifford can’t make big plays, it’s that he has often, particularly this year, made big mistakes.
22. This was the game where Cliff showed what I expected him to be all along. The stats were solid – he completed nearly 61% of his passes. He also made big time plays, particularly one on the ground in the second quarter to put Penn State up 14-7.
23. Beyond that, though, he did manage the game. He didn’t get forced into any bad errors – he threw the ball away and escaped from trouble when needed. Just an important, he didn’t commit any unforced errors either.
24. This offense will go as far as Sean Clifford direct it.
25. Otherwise, this team played real complementary football this week for the first time in forever. The offense got ahead, the defense was able to hold the line, and the offense kept being able to keep the distance when Michigan inevitably scored some points.
26. Illegal batting is theoretically the right call, but it’s ridiculous to call that in the situation where it happened. No one violated the spirit of the rule here, and rewarding Michigan with a first down for that is insane.
27. Lots of comments this week likening this 4th down stop to Indiana 2004. That’d be excellent, but I’m not as convinced. I suppose we’ll see.
28. That was probably the finest defensive stand of the year. But the year’s best possession was the one prior to it. Penn State gives up a touchdown and Michigan looks like it has a bit of momentum, and then the Nittany Lions slam the door shut with a 12-play, 75 yard drive. Just perfect.
29. Jim Harbaugh can stay at Michigan as long as he likes, as far as I’m concerned.
30. It’s a new day. Let’s see if the momentum can hold.
31. On to Rutgers.
32. We are…