Michigan moved to 9-2 on the season with a 28-16 victory over Penn State on Saturday afternoon, setting up a potential Big Ten East title bout with Ohio State next weekend in Ann Arbor.
Here are the takeaways:
Red Zone Defense Saved the Day
Penn State was held to only 207 yards of total offense on Saturday, but they were able to hit on a handful of big plays to get them into scoring position. In fact, 150 yards of their total came on just five plays. Michigan was able to keep them out of the endzone and hold them to field goals, which they in turn traded for touchdowns. That was the biggest story of the game.
The Nittany Lions followed their season script perfectly on offense in this game. They are a team that has big play ability, but cannot put together drives consistently. That will happen when your offensive line cannot protect the quarterback. Christian Hackenberg had some nice, NFL-like throws, but it was a rough day for him overall.
Michigan's secondary got beat a few times, but did the job and did not give Hackenberg many options. The defensive line feasted, as they should have. Willie Henry moved inside and played a great game, while Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley were standout performers as well.
A Stamp on the Passing Game's Emergence
Jake Rudock and the Wolverines lit up two bad defenses in the last few weeks through the air and continued to find success on Saturday against one of the better units in the conference.
The offensive line has given him plenty of time to throw all season long, but now they have really started to put things together. Rudock is the first Michigan quarterback ever to throw for 250+ yards in three consecutive games. He finished the day with 256 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
Rudock has taken a huge step forward and finally has the look of a formidable passer. He has good playmakers in Jehu Chesson, Jake Butt and Amara Darboh and he's been able to spread the ball around and find the matchup he likes.
Speaking of Butt, he is Michigan's most reliable target. He became the sixth tight end in program history to eclipse 1,000 career receiving yards and catches almost everything thrown his way.
With the run game struggling as much as it has, the passing game's emergence is a huge positive heading into Michigan's biggest game of the year next weekend.
Where is the Run Game?
Michigan has not been able to run the ball well since early on in the season and it continued on Saturday afternoon.
Penn State boasts a very good defensive front, so the struggles in this game are not shocking, but they are concerning. The Wolverines only had 87 yards on 30 carries. De'Veon Smith had 39 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown. Jabrill Peppers had five carries for 19 yards.
Drake Johnson did not record a carry on Saturday.
They moved the chains and ate up clock when they had to, but they must find a way to get it going heading into the Ohio State game.
Penalties and Big Ten Officiating
Does anyone know what targeting is? Anyone? Bueller?
Jim Harbaugh damn near had an anuerysm on the sidelines today. Not only did the Wolverines shoot themselves in the foot with so many presnap penalties on both sides of the ball, but the officiating in this game was awful and incredibly one-sided. The Wolverines finished with 13, while Penn State only had three.
Pointing the finger at officials in any game is lame and a copout, but it has been really bad in college football across the board this season.