Penn State Tops Michigan for the White Out Win
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines Saturday night, 28-21 in Beaver Stadium’s annual "White Out." The Nittany Lions improved to 7-0 on the season, 4-0 in Big Ten play. Meanwhile, Michigan fell to 5-2, 3-2 in Big Ten play.
This was an unusually close contest between the two eastern division rivals, with the prior three matchups being decided by at least 29 points.
Each coach came into Saturday’s clash with a chip on his shoulder. For coach Jim Harabaugh of Michigan, he was looking to improve upon his 1-7 mark against top-10 opponents, while coach James Franklin was looking for just his second win against the Wolverines in his sixth attempt.
The stage was set in front of a crowd of 110,669 - the fourth largest turnout in Beaver Stadium history.
Penn State came out hot in the first half. Sean Clifford connected with Pat Freiermuth for a 17-yard touchdown before rushing for a 2-yard score of his own. He then connected with KJ Hamler for a 25-yard touchdown pass, off an interception by Tariq Castro-Fields. This gave the Nittany Lions a commanding 21-0 advantage a little under halfway through the second quarter.
However, after this point, momentum began to swing towards the Wolverines.
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson responded to the previous series’ turnover by leading the offense down the field, capped off by a 12-yard touchdown rush by running back Zach Charbonnet, cutting the Penn State lead to 21-7 going into halftime.
The Nittany Lion offense continued to stall into the second half. Deep downfield threats in the passing game, which were available early, faded away due to defensive adjustments by the Wolverines, which included getting more pressure on Clifford.
“We missed some shots," Franklin said. "We got pressured and weren’t able to really hold the ball long enough to get it out.”
Penn State also struggled to produce any type of consistency in the running game. After rushing for over 100 yards in back-to-back weeks, Noah Cain was held to just 19 yards on five carries
“We feel like we have four guys who we have a lot of confidence in and are doing really good things," Franklin said. "But that team’s difficult to run the ball against.”
No Nittany Lions eclipsed 50 yards rushing, and the offense went three-and-out five of its final eight drives after taking a three score lead.
The Wolverine offense began to find even more rhythm in the third quarter against a fatigued Penn State defense. With 1:39 to go in the third, Zach Charbonnet accumulated his second 12-yard touchdown rush of the night, making it 21-14.
The Nittany Lions were in need of a quick response. On the following drive, they got that response when KJ Hamler found space in the defensive backfield. Clifford hit him in-stride for a 53-yard touchdown reception to restore Penn State’s two touchdown lead, 28-14.
Hamler finished as the game’s leading receiver, with 108 yards on six catches. Michigan would not go down quietly in the fourth quarter, however.
The Wolverines found consistent success moving the ball in man coverage against the Penn State secondary. Patterson got the ball to the Wolverines’ mismatch receivers, including Nico Collins, due to a lack of success from the Penn State pass rush, which only managed a single sack throughout the contest.
The methodical Michigan offense, which possessed the ball for nearly 38 minutes of the game, marched back down the field. This time Patterson scored from a yard out on 4th & Goal, and the Wolverines were back within a touchdown with 8:48 remaining in regulation.
It was the first time the Nittany Lion defense had conceded more than 14 points, becoming the last team in the FBS to do so.
Michigan got the ball back with 7:32 remaining just across midfield. Patterson and the offense continued to expose soft Penn State coverage against the athleticism of its wide receivers. The ballgame eventually came down to a goal line stand scenario with just over two minutes to play.
The Nittany Lions’ defense got that key stop. Two minimal rushes, followed by a pair of Shea Patterson incompletions, forced the Wolverines to turn the ball over on downs.
Penn State had a chance to ice the game with a conversion on 3rd & 3. It was an option run to Hamler around the perimeter, against a stacked box from Michigan, that got the job done.
In a second half subject to plenty of ineffective play calling from coach Franklin and offensive coordinator Ricky Rhane, it was a rather creative design to finish off the victory.
“Instead of just handing the ball off, with them overloading the box right there, we needed to go to one of our read plays where Sean has an opportunity to keep it or KJ can get it on the perimeter,” Franklin said.
While the Nittany Lions nearly mirrored another late game blunder against a Big Ten East rival, a concept which this program has become synonymous with, Penn State, much like the week prior against Iowa, found a way to get the job done.
“We didn’t play our best in all three phases tonight," Franklin said. "We played well enough to win the game. We made plays when it was needed.”
The Nittany Lions will travel to East Lansing next Saturday and take on a Michigan State team fresh off a bye week.
Andre Magaro is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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