The Michigan football team entered Saturday’s game at State College needing a win to keep its championship aspirations alive. The Wolverines left euphoric and optimistic, their hopes still intact — and a clash with Ohio State looming two weeks away, one that could be a defacto Big Ten Championship play-in game.
“How about those Wolverines?” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh exclaimed after the game, his voice teeming with enthusiasm. “If that’s not great, I don’t know what is.”
The Daily breaks down a few takeaways from Michigan’s comeback victory.
Haskins embraces workhorse role
When Harbaugh began his postgame press conference after Saturday’s victory, he couldn’t stop talking about senior running back Hassan Haskins.
“He’s just got a quality about him where he wants to and will take the team on his back,” Harbaugh said. “That’s his mindset. That’s what he did. … You know I love Hassan. He’s incredible, so I just enjoy the incredible of what he can do.”
Sophomore running back Blake Corum didn’t travel to State College due to an injury he suffered in the first quarter of last Saturday’s game against Indiana. And, for the second consecutive game, Haskins proved undaunted by the heavy workload.
He carried the ball a career-high 31 times for 156 yards and also helped fill a void in the passing game, leading the team with five receptions for 45 yards.
As much as anyone, Haskins has come to embody Michigan’s identity as a gritty, hard-nosed football team — one that doesn’t flinch. He routinely drags extra tacklers with him, churning his legs and plowing forward for extra yards.
“Hassan is really one of the dudes that’s the heart and soul of this team,” junior quarterback Cade McNamara said Saturday. “His grittiness, his toughness is hard to compare to. His performance today was big for our offense and big for his team.”
That mentality shone through when it mattered most. On the penultimate drive, which resulted in the game-winning touchdown, Michigan leaned on Haskins. He kickstarted the possession with a smashmouth 17-yard run, carrying defenders with him. Then, he carried the ball four more times, giving the Wolverines some momentum and vaulting them into Penn State territory.
And, after Michigan’s defense forced a stop, it was fitting that Haskins put the game away for good. He turned the corner for a 12-yard run with 1:44 to play, staying inbounds to keep the clock running.
“It’s incredible,” junior tight end Erick All said. “He saved my butt a few times. Anytime when a running back is breaking tackles and making plays out of nothing, it’s just incredible to watch. Man runs hard and plays with pride.”
Pass rush wreaks havoc
From the game’s opening drive, it grew apparent that Penn State’s offensive line was overmatched. Senior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, junior edge rusher David Ojabo and freshman linebacker Junior Colson each notched a sack, setting the tone for how the game would go for quarterback Sean Clifford.
All in all, Michigan’s defense recorded seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
“Those were havoc plays by the defense,” Harbaugh said. “… Got hits, got hurries. We’re creating havoc back there in the pass rush. And great game, great game by the pass rushers.”
Even when Michigan’s defense couldn’t sack Clifford, the pressure induced rash decisions on his part. Most notably, on Penn State’s final offensive play, the Wolverines brought a blitz package; sophomore defensive back R.J. Moten stormed through a gap and reached Clifford first, forcing him to loft a pass attempt downfield that would fall incomplete.
Ojabo and Hutchinson are the obvious headliners. Saturday, with Hutchinson notching three sacks and Ojabo recording two, the pair became the first teammate duo in program history with double-digit sacks in the same season.
But the impact extended beyond them.
“Inside pass rush was really good, too,” Harbaugh said, referencing junior defensive tackles Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith. “… They made a lot of plays, we made a lot of plays. We made more.”
Secondary shuts down Dotson
Last Saturday against Maryland, Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson reeled in 11 receptions for 242 yards and three touchdowns, setting the school-record for single game receiving yards.
Michigan, though, limited Dotson to nine catches on 16 targets for just 61 yards, a far more pedestrian statline.
As expected, he was the focal point of the Wolverines’ defensive gameplan.
“A lot of the downs we were doubling him and he’s just a really good player,” Harbaugh said. “I thought (junior cornerback) D.J. (Turner) had a heckuva game. I thought (senior cornerback) Vince (Gray) did as well. Press coverage and throwing deep balls, they weren’t able to get him. You’re not gonna totally shut a guy like that down. I thought it was outstanding play.”
Most importantly, Michigan avoided surrendering the big play, the likes of which Dotson often contributes. His longest reception went for 17 yards. Last week, by comparison, he hauled in four catches for greater distances.