ANN ARBOR — Don Brown might turn into Rip Van Winkle.
After a year of sleepless nights because of Penn State’s offensive fireworks, the Michigan defensive coordinator can rest easy until at least Oct. 19, 2019.
The fifth-ranked Wolverines played the role of rude houseguest, tyrannizing No. 14 Penn State for four quarters, like a cat toys with a mouse. When the game ended, the scoreboard read: Michigan 42, Penn State 7.
The victory wasn’t just another Michigan (8-1, 6-0 Big Ten) win in a string of eight straight. It doubled as yet another statement, a memo to the rest of the Big Ten that perhaps a new leading character has arrived.
“Tonight did feel a little different,” Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson said. “I don’t know if Penn State gets beat like that too often. We were running on all cylinders.”
What happened: Michigan delivered the payback it coveted.
All week the Wolverines talked about getting retribution for last season’s 42-13 drubbing. Their mission was accomplished in an old-fashioned November Michigan-Penn State slugfest. It reeked of Big Ten football — crisp air, fall foliage as far as the eye could see, darkness enveloping the stadium in the second half, and plenty of handoffs.
Patterson did all he needed, engineering five touchdown drives, because Michigan’s defense didn’t allow Penn State (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) to even consider sustaining a drive. The Nittany Lions completed a 25-yard pass on the first play of the game. They would gain 161 yards the rest of the day.
Their touchdown came with 1:59 left in the fourth quarter.
“I’m reminded of the old jingle in the ‘70s, when you’ve said Don Brown, you’ve said it all,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He’s the king of defensive coordinators.”
Penn State was 2 of 11 on third down, averaged 2.3 yards per rush, and turned the ball over three times. One turnover went all the way back to the end zone, a 62-yard interception return by Brandon Watson. The defense had five sacks and six tackles for loss.
Quarterback Trace McSorley, the Big Ten’s eighth-leading rusher with 617 yards, had minus-nine yards and was pulled briefly in the third quarter because of a knee injury. He completed 5 of 12 passes for 83 yards with an interception.
Miles Sanders wasn’t much better. The nation’s 16th-leading rusher, averaging 102 yards per game, was held to 14 yards on seven carries. His longest run was four yards.
“Every guy out there is playing really good football,” Harbaugh said. “There are a lot of impressive things. We could do a list of what impresses us on defense — Chase [Winovich], good to see Rashan [Gary] back out there, secondary was phenomenal, linebackers. You can go right down the roster.”
Penn State entered Saturday’s game as the Big Ten leader in tackles for loss. The Nittany Lions only had two against Michigan, which rushed for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Karan Higdon had his seventh consecutive 100-yard game, totaling 132 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries.
“It’s time for him to be nominated for some big-time awards,” Patterson said.
It was over when: Penn State coach James Franklin opted to have Michigan re-kick when the Wolverines had a kickoff go out of bounds. The bizarre and almost unprecedented decision sent a message that Franklin knew the Nittany Lions couldn’t move the football against Michigan’s defense. It was going to take K.J. Hamler, Penn State’s speedy freshman, making a special teams play for Penn State to create any momentum. The subsequent kick was returned to the 23-yard line, 12 yards shy of the 35.
He said it: “We were going to be aggressive,” Patterson, with a smirk, on if Michigan planned on running up the score.
Wolverine standouts: Patterson delivered another steady performance for Michigan, completing 11 of 17 pass attempts for 144 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 42 yards and a score on 11 carries. Defensive end Josh Uche recorded two sacks, bumping up his team lead to seven. Devin Bush had a team-high seven tackles.
Play of the game: Two plays in the second quarter on consecutive possessions proved to be impactful. Trailing 7-0, Penn State blocked a Michigan field goal and returned it for a touchdown. However, a slew of penalties brought the ball back to Penn State’s own 35-yard line. Two snaps later, the Nittany Lions coughed up the football and Michigan recovered. Penn State never had a semblance of momentum the rest of the game.
■ Michigan’s defeated ranked teams in three consecutive games for the first time since 1997.
■ Dating to the Wisconsin game, Michigan’s opponents are 4 for 34 on third down.
■ In what’s becoming a season-long trend, the Wolverines dominated time of possession 37:56 to 22:04.
Next week: The fifth-ranked Wolverines travel to Big Ten also-ran Rutgers. Rutgers (1-8, 0-6 Big Ten) is winless in the conference and has been outscored 294-93 during an eight-game losing streak.
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