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Film Focus: Michigan defense vs Penn State offense

Two sacks on the first drive set the tone for another smothering outing from Don Brown’s defense.

Dustin Johnston

There were a lot of eye-popping numbers from Michigan’s defensive dominance Saturday.

Only seven points from a team that averaged over 37 a game. Only 186 total yards from one that typically clears 400.

It bears repeating that the results were zero points and 111 yards before the scoring drive in garbage time.

You may have see those stats. But here’s another:

As you would expect, the film shows a staggeringly good defense continuing to find new highs.


For the briefest of moments, fans were reminded of last year in Happy Valley. McSorley hits tight end Pat Freiermuth over the middle for 25 yards. The tight end beats a flat-footed Khaleke Hudson on a slant and rumbles towards midfield.

What gets lost on the play is Rashan Gary returning to immediately pop McSorley on a speed rush. Once coverage gets tighter, the Nittany Lions had nowhere to hide from the pass rush.

Next, Carlo Kemp and Bryan Mone show how much improvement the defensive tackles have made since Notre Dame. McSorley reads Kemp rather than the end on an option, but the sophomore stays home. Mone holds firm on a double, allowing Devin Gil to corral Miles Sanders for no gain.

Back-to-back sacks set the tone for the rest of the day, and force a punt.

The first one by Winovich is simply him beating the right tackle with a punch move inside. This is an organic pass rush that doesn’t need to send extra guys.

The second one by Uche is also Brown just sending four, but two twists tangle up the Nittany Lion tackles. Uche rips inside past the left tackle, and Kwity Paye stays engaged with the guard to prevent any protection help.

Drive: Four plays, 11 yards, punt (Michigan scores to lead 7-0)


James Franklin and offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne try to bring back a package that sprung Saquon Barkley for a touchdown last year. McSorley shifts to the running back spot, and Miles Sanders takes the snap to run a read-option.

It only goes for four yards, since Aubrey Solomon successfully absorbs a double at the point of attack.

It’s worth saying that after the first time the Nittany Lions ran this last year, it only gained 15 yards on five attempts.

Josh Metellus then gets beat by Brandon Polk on a slot slant, but the receiver drops it. It usually takes a few series for the safeties to adjust to these a la Northwestern and MSU.

On third-and-11, Rahne goes against tendency and breaks McSorley loose on a draw for what looks like a first down...only he starts his slide before the sticks.

The defense is lucky the drive didn’t last longer, but Rahne’s offense just isn’t executing out of the gate.

Drive: Three plays, nine yards, punt (Michigan leads 7-0)


Another slant beats Metellus, but this time Jahan Dotson snares it for a first down. McSorley is trying to get the ball out quickly to avoid the pass rush. Once the throwing lanes close, he’s going to have problems.

Speaking of quarterback problems, McSorley’s knee restricted his mobility Saturday. This was most evident with Kemp tracking him down to the sideline on a scramble for just a yard.

Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens enters at running back, and powers his way off left tackle for five yards. Gary cuts caught inside a bit, giving Stevens some room to fall forward.

McSorley tries a quick fade to Dotson over Lavert Hill, which falls harmlessly to the turf.

Drive: Four plays, 15 yards, punt (Michigan leads 7-0)


Metellus gets flagged for pass interference despite mutual hand-fighting with K.J. Hamler on the first play. Hamler has a fistful of jersey, so this should be a no call.

McSorley fumbles an exchange with Sanders to relinquish possession.

Just a simple botched handoff. Winovich takes advantage to set up a touchdown.

Drive: One play, 13 yards, fumble (Michigan scores to lead 14-0)


The first play is a textbook way to attack the mesh point on a read-option. McSorley is reading the end, but Winovich bull-rushes his way to the exchange. He’s shading the mesh with his outside shoulder, ensuring Sanders has nowhere to go if he gets it.

When McSorley pulls it, Winovich trips him up to give the rest of the defense time to clean up. One-yard loss.

Winovich tackles Sanders on the next play for a three-yard gain, aided by Gary and Solomon occupying three blockers.

To end the drive, Uche nabs his second sack without any resistance to the quarterback. That’s because Michael Dwumfour engages the the left tackle and guard simultaneously.

Drive: Three plays, -1 yards, punt (Michigan leads 14-0)


McSorley dumps off to Miles Sanders on second down, and the former five-star back stops on a dime to juke Khaleke Hudson out of his socks. He gets nine yards to set up a short conversion.

The defensive line ratchets down the aggressive stunting, giving McSorley time to operate late in the half. Good coverage forces a short scramble on first down, but three seconds without pressure allows him to find Freiermuth over the middle for another first down.

Hamler, a speed merchant expected to test Michigan safeties, records his only catch after McSorley is able to read for four seconds in another clean pocket. Tyree Kinnel is in coverage, but you can’t expect him to stick with Hamler for that long.

A promising drive almost reaches the south end zone as Deandre Thompkins busts wide open. McSorley pulls the string and misses long. Brandon Watson had tripped up his hip swivel.

Brown deploys Jordan Glasgow at Viper on the blitz, and ends the threat. The tackles are staying in their rush lanes, so the quarterback has nowhere to go when he steps up in the pocket.

Drive: Nine plays, 44 yards, punt (Michigan leads 14-0 at halftime)


McSorley is just all sorts of uncomfortable now. Even without excessive pressure, he sails a pass to Hamler by not stepping into the pass.

Next, Devin Bush tracks down Sanders to the sideline for only four yards. Credit Watson with maintaining leverage on a stock block to cause Sanders to hesitate.

A lead to McSorley against a three-man front finds room, but the quickness of Winovich and the line takes him down from behind before the line to gain.

Drive: Three plays, nine yards, punt (Michigan leads 14-0)


Rahne tries the Sanders Wildcat shift again, but it goes for minimal yardage. He’s called the play three times, so far, which has only gone for eight yards.

With little room to throw downfield, McSorley fires a pass high to Mac Hippenhammer, then settles for five yards on third down. This is the fourth three-and-out, so far, and seventh punt.

Drive: Three plays, six yards, punt (Michigan scores to lead 21-0)


Stevens replaces McSorley for this drive, and gashes the defense on a lead play for 18 yards.

He then throws perhaps the worst pass by an actual quarterback in years.

It looks like he wants to throw downfield to Thompkins towards the sideline, but short arms it by...25 yards? Meanwhile, Watson bolts past two pursuing linemen for his second pick-six of 2018.

Drive: Two plays, 18 yards, interception returned for touchdown (Michigan leads 28-0)


Paye has done a lot of dirty work this year in occupying blockers on Uche stunts. On this play, he disengages from a block to chase down McSorley for a minimal gain on first down.

A three-man front obliterates four blockers on second down, allowing Noah Furbush to slice behind a lead block for a negligible gain.

Uche polishes off a fifth three-and-out by tracking down Stevens a la Paye earlier.

Drive: Three plays, six yards, punt (Michigan scores to lead 35-0)


It may be garbage time, but Long’s interception furthers the progression of Brown’s coverage schemes.

Everyone knows Brown stresses press coverage. However, Long lets Khaleke Hudson take his assignment in a deep zone, which puts him right in the path of Freiermuth on an out route. Furbush is in coverage and tips the pass the Long for the pick.

There was some hogwash last week from PennLive about Brown only running press-man coverage and not having any other tricks up his sleeve. I guess that person didn’t watch the Wisconsin game.

That’s similar trap coverage baiting Alex Hornibrook into a bad throw to Metellus.

The variety of coverage weapons in Brown’s arsenal is growing by the week.

Drive: One play, zero yards, interception (Michigan and PSU score in garbage time, game over at 42-7)


Michigan dominated, in case you didn’t know already.

Sure, McSorley missed a throw here or there, and the safeties allowed the occasional slant. Overall, there was nowhere to run, throw or hide.

The startling thing for future offenses is that Michigan was able to tally five sacks and relentless pressure by usually only sending four rushers.

Can the defense afford to send only four in three weeks against Ohio State? The Buckeyes do boast a line that ranks No. 15 in adjusted sack rate, as compared to PSU at No. 89.

With Dwayne Haskins getting little support from the No. 88 S&P+ rush attack, this pass rush will be able to key on him.

Brown has befuddled every other passing quarterback on the docket. The biggest test awaits in Columbus just after Thanksgiving.