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What We Learned: Penn State Week

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Lance learned that Michigan's offense is a thing of beauty, but it has a big challenge ahead of it with Wisconsin's defense coming to Ann Arbor.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT MICHIGAN

That offense is a thing of beauty. So get this: Michigan scored 49 points, and it made their season average go DOWN, all the way to 52 points per game. The run game really got moving, but it could be fool's gold, as Penn State was down to backups at all 3 linebacker spots. Regardless, Michigan was able to do whatever they wanted against scholarship players at a traditional powerhouse.

Here is what really stuck out to me on offense:

  • De'Veon Smith's pass blocking: There were many plays where the blitz was coming quickly, and I freaked out. However, Smith picked it up right away and gave Wilton Speight extra time to go through his reads. This will be crucial next week against Wisconsin's pass rush, along with their vulnerable defense.
  • Outside running plays have been really effective: Every time Michigan runs them, they seem to go for big yards. This can be attributed to a few things: running backs waiting for their blocks to develop, nice run blocking by Erik Magnuson to seal the edge (who consistently grades very well on Pro Football Focus), and great downhill blocking by Michigan's group of WRs, especially Grant Perry and Jehu Chesson.
  • When Peppers is in: Peppers is a difference maker when he gets the ball on offense. He's the fastest guy on the field. But when he does NOT get the ball, the offense really opens up, as he attracts 22 eyes from the defense. There was a 3rd down play where Speight faked a pitch to Peppers and then threw to a wide open Jake Butt late in the first half for a very easy 1st down conversion. Another Peppers decoy play led to a 39-yard run by De'Veon Smith. Look for more Peppers on offense later this year.

Harbaugh has one gear. No matter what, Jim Harbaugh is at full intensity. This has been great for restoring the program. However, it has its occasional drawbacks. Jeremy Clark tore an ACL on a kickoff return and is now out for the season. Clark is a starting CB, and the team was up 25 points, 35-10, when it happened. This injury was a non-contact injury, but the concerns remain when starters are out there on garbage time special teams plays. These special teams plays are especially dangerous because of the amount of players running full speed in a straight line. For this reason, the NFL moved kickoffs up 5 yards to try to encourage more touchbacks.

I'm not one to question Jim Harbaugh, because he knows infinitely more about football than me. However, I do have to question the value of having starters line up on special teams plays when the game is already decided. I love everything Jim Harbaugh has done for Michigan. And I do mean everything. But in this case, it may have been better to downshift to a different gear (if he has one).

The defense will be just fine. I wrote about some concerns I had with Don Brown's defense last week. A lot of it was alleviated. When asked in an interview, he said it wasn't his intention for all of the mismatches to occur. He reminded the interviewer (along with people like me) that Michigan is in its 3rd defensive scheme in 3 years, and there will be some growing pains.

Another thing that made it all feel better is Colorado. They took it to Oregon on the road with their backup QB. They may not have come into Ann Arbor as a ranked team, but they will be one by the end of the season.

I saw lots of improvement this week from Michigan's defense, against an offense that is no slouch. They had scored at least 33 points in all of their games, but they could only muster up 10 against the Wolverines. Wisconsin will be another challenge for this defense, and I have no doubt that Don Brown will have this defense ready to go.

WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT THE BIG TEN

I see you, Wisconsin. I can't really remember the last time MSU was completely blown out and dominated on both sides of the ball (besides games involving Alabama). Wisconsin put on quite a show in East Lansing, and they are intending to the same thing an hour east in Ann Arbor this week. Wisconsin has a tough run defense, an offense that plays relatively mistake free, and JJ Watt's younger brother wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

They can be beaten in the air though. MSU did a good job of calling plays to get receivers open. Tyler O'Connor just did a historically bad job of finding them. Wilton Speight will have to identify the open man quickly and hit his target for Michigan to have a successful offense.

After Wisconsin, the next 6 games could be cake. It sounds ignorant to say that Michigan should roll in East Lansing, but that's how it would go if the game were played this week. MSU has time to improve, but they are getting nothing from their QB position currently, and they don't seem to have a backup plan. Their defense also looks quite tame, when compared to the MSU defenses of the past few years.

Iowa also looks like they've regressed to normal Iowa, and last year is looking more like an aberration. Their offensive line looks soft, and that is not a recipe for success against Michigan. They won this week, but I'm not impressed with a 14-7 win over Rutgers.

WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT THE FBS

Just give Lamar Jackson the Heisman now. Jabrill is having the type of season that could make him the first non-RB/QB to win the Heisman since 1997 (Charles Woodson), but his timing is somewhat unfortunate. Lamar Jackson is putting up touchdowns and yards at a historic rate for Lousiville.

Tennessee finally found a way to beat Florida. While I'm no Tennessee or Butch Jones fan, I do find it encouraging when a team finally turns the corner on its rival. Hoping to see a certain Big Ten team do the same thing on October 29 and November 26 this year.

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