ANN ARBOR — The three-week gauntlet nobody thought Michigan could get through has been laid to rest. Not only did the Wolverines get through unscathed, but they have also emerged as perhaps the second-best team in the country.
Michigan is 8-1, the clear favorite in the Big Ten, and still improving every week. Save for the Crimson behemoth in the south, there’s no team in American coaches would rather avoid right now that Jim Harbaugh’s bunch.
On Saturday, Michigan bullied Penn State all afternoon, avenging last year’s loss and staking its claim as the Big Ten’s best team.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Michigan has the best offensive line in the Big Ten. Who would have ever guessed those words would be uttered this year? The offensive line has been the biggest punching bag for Michigan fans in recent years, failing to protect the quarterback or allow plays to develop downfield. Even after the Notre Dame game, it looked like the more of the same. Two months later, they’ve proven they are, indeed, the conference's best line. Credit miracle worker Ed Warinner. Karan Higdon runs for 100 yards every week, Shea Patterson’s jersey stays clean, and the offense is able to function with few defects. Michigan averages 40 more rushing yards per game this season.
2. The defense has reached a level of production that’s absurd. Michigan ranks first nationally in total defense, allowing just 216.2 yards per game, 48.5 yards less than second-place Miami. It’s silly. The Wolverines hold opponents to 93.8 rushing yards per game and 122.3 passing yards. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 47.5 pass attempts for six touchdowns and nine interceptions. Their tackles for loss and sack yardage both rank in the top 10, and Michigan is limiting teams to a 27.8 percent third-down conversion rate. All of those numbers were evident over four quarters against Penn State. Quarterback Trace McSorley completed 5 of 13 pass attempts and had negative rushing yards, running back Miles Sanders’ longest run was four yards, and the Nittany Lions didn’t score a touchdown until the final minutes.
3. Where is the weakness in this team? The offense and defense have already been discussed. One could point out Quinn Nordin’s field goal kicking woes. But aside from that, Michigan is a team that’s lacking a glaring flaw. In the most important month, the Wolverines are playing their best football. They even got a late-season addition of wide receiver Tarik Black and defensive end Rashan Gary. Michigan’s little jingle “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine” is currently ringing true.
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