Football games are won in the trenches — and that’s the way Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and his fifth-ranked Wolverines like it.
Not only did Michigan’s offensive line maul No. 10 Penn State’s defensive front on its way to a 41-17 victory, but its defensive line tamed the Nittany Lions’ offense. It was as thorough a performance on both lines of scrimmage as a team can have, and the Wolverines did it all against a top-10 team.
That much was evident to everyone in the Big House on Saturday, fans, players and coaches alike. After the game, sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy noted that.
Asked at what point in the game he knew his team would control the line of scrimmage, McCarthy answered like someone who has the utmost confidence in his offensive line.
“(We knew) from the jump, from the first drive,” McCarthy said. “I mean, just the way they were moving them off the ball. … And just the way these guys were running the ball right away and the way the offensive line was blocking. I just knew it was going to be a dogfight until the end in the trenches and yeah, our guys pulled out in front.”
It really was clear from the very beginning that Michigan’s lines were better. On the first drive, the Wolverines ran it down Penn State’s throat, always on schedule, and moving the sticks with ease. To add to that, on Michigan’s very first defensive possession, it forced a three-and-out, doing so emphatically with a tackle for loss on third and one.
That’s how things went for both the offensive and defensive lines for most of the game. The offense pounded the ball to great success time and time again. And the defensive line stymied the Nittany Lions’ talented freshman running back duo of Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen to the point where their offense was completely one-dimensional.
Outside of a 62-yard run on a read option from Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, the Nittany Lions’ rushing attack repeatedly ran into a wall at the line of scrimmage. Singleton and Allen combined for just 35 yards on 12 attempts — their worst mark of the season.
It was apparent that the Wolverines were the more physical team on both sides of the ball early on, and that only grew more obvious as the game progressed.
“I felt like we played dominant on both sides of the ball with our fronts,” graduate center Olusegun Oluwatimi said. “We stopped their run game and obviously we had a big game on the ground. So it was just a dominant performance.”
As Oluwatimi spoke, he donned a pair of shades and a smirk fitting of the accomplishment. He exuded the type of confidence you’d expect to see from a quarterback, a wide receiver, a running back, or realistically, any player other than a lineman.
But that’s what the Wolverines are: A program that prides itself on physical, smash-mouth football. A program that elevates linemen — offensive and defensive — to the status of a skill position, one of the utmost importance.
Even McCarthy shares that belief.
“With any successful offense — you could go to any program in the country — you have to have a dominant run game, you have to,” McCarthy said. “You don’t see any air raid offense winning national championships. It’s where it’s done, in the trenches, and that’s where the battle is won.”
Saturday, that was certainly the case. And that’s just how Michigan likes it.