Wolverines recover from disastrous start, trail by eight at the half

Saturday, October 21, 2017 - 8:42pm

Saquon Barkley took the direct snap, cut away from the teeth of the defense and ran off into the night.

And that was just the second play of the game.

In what was billed as a fight between two heavyweight contenders, No. 2 Penn State wasted no time in hitting No. 19 Michigan in the mouth —  and continued doing so all night long. 

After a disastrous start, the Wolverines clawed their way back into the game. But Michigan could not keep pace with an explosive Nittany Lion offense, and Penn State pulled away, dashing the Wolverines’ playoff hopes in the process.

The victor: Penn State, by knockout decision, in a 42-13 rout.

Michigan’s top-ranked defense entered Saturday having shut down any and all comers. But none of those teams had Trace McSorley or Barkley in the backfield.

Before Saturday, the Wolverines allowed an average of 85.8 rushing yards per game. It took Barkley three carries to eclipse that.

Michigan entered the game with the nation’s second-ranked passing defense. McSorley threw for 282 yards and one touchdown, while also rushing for 76 yards and three more scores.

The two were dangerous on their own. McSorley hit tight windows all night, exposing Michigan’s secondary for the first time all year. Barkley was simply electric, averaging over seven yards per carry while leaving defenders grasping at air.

The Wolverines had no answer when the two worked in tandem, either. On the second drive, McSorley drew a defender in before pitching the ball to Barkley, who waltzed in for a score. Later, in the third quarter, McSorley saw a linebacker isolated in coverage and lofted a ball down the sideline into Barkley’s hands for a 42-yard touchdown.

There was a slight glimmer of hope when cornerback David Long intercepted an errant McSorley pass in the second quarter. Michigan drove down the field, capping off an impressive 59-yard drive with a with a crucial 1-yard touchdown from running back Karan Higdon on 4th-and-goal.

Two possessions later, a six-yard touchdown from running back Ty Isaac cut Penn State’s lead to one point, temporarily quieting the home crowd.

That was the closest the Wolverines would get.

Led by McSorley, Penn State put together an impressive response. A well-placed throw to DaeSean Hamilton picked up 36 yards. A back-shoulder fade to Gesicki gained 17. And then McSorley kept it himself and ran in unscathed for a three-yard touchdown that stretched the lead back to eight entering halftime.

As the Nittany Lions picked up steam, Michigan’s offense ran out of gas. Dropped passes, missed blocking assignments and poorly-timed penalties ended several promising drives.

McSorley continued dealing, Penn State’s defense clamped down and the rout was on.

After the game, Penn State wasted no time in celebrating. Still unbeaten, the Nittany Lions still have all their goals in front of them.

The visiting team, meanwhile, trudged slowly into the locker room, its season irreparably damaged.