STATE COLLEGE — After each game, Michigan quarterback coach Rod Smith assesses his quarterbacks’ performance for the media. Following a loss, he typically talks about missed reads by his inexperienced quarterbacks, finishing his explanation by saying he’ll learn more when he looks at the film.
On Saturday afternoon, outside Beaver Stadium, Smith was asked about redshirt freshman Steven Threet’s first half. The Threet-led offense scored on its first three possessions for the first time this season.
In his answer, Smith barely mentioned Threet.
“I thought, first of all, (junior running back) Brandon Minor ran the ball extremely well in the first half,” Smith said. “Pretty much, the whole game he did. He ran hard, the kid played hard. I think we established the run game. That was the good part.”
Minor started for the first time this season and had 23 carries for 117 yards and two touchdowns, after missing the final three quarters against Toledo with bruised ribs. It was the first time this season that freshman running back Sam McGuffie wasn’t the starter and Michigan’s top running back. At Monday’s press conference, Minor was listed at the top of the running back depth chart.
“The biggest thing he brings is that he brings a physical presence when he runs,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a big guy that runs downhill pretty well. We’ve needed that.”
On his first carry Saturday, Minor cut into the Penn State secondary, broke a tackle and carried a couple of defenders before getting tackled 20 yards downfield.
Minor set the tone for the first-quarter offense and continued to tear apart the Nittany Lions in a season-high six-first-down series. He picked up 42 rushing yards on Michigan’s first drive, capping it off with a five-yard touchdown run.
Minor has been one of the few offensive players to make game-breaking plays for Michigan this season, something Rodriguez has been asking of his players all year. Minor is the team’s leading scorer with 30 points (five touchdowns), even though he has touched the ball just 39 times. Against Miami (Ohio), his fourth-quarter score sealed the first victory of the season. Against Toledo, he caught the team’s only touchdown.
At the end of spring practice, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez named Minor as one of the top backs. An injury during fall practice and fumbles limited his playing time at the beginning of the season, but he hasn’t missed a practice in three weeks. Rodriguez also said Minor understands the offense as well as any of the running backs.
His versatility as a runner, pass catcher and pass blocker has made Minor critical to the team’s offensive success — as he was Saturday.
Against Penn State, Minor accounted for 84 yards total yards on Michigan’s first three drives.
“We’ve been seeing little glimpses of that all season,” Minor said. “It’s always times that we look like we could compete for Big Ten any day, but sometimes you know we just not connecting real good so we just going to have to work on that.”
In the final 13 minutes of the first half, the Wolverines didn’t pick up another first down and Minor ran for just 10 more yards. The Michigan offense’s inability to sustain drives gave Penn State’s conference-best offense the opportunity to take the momentum heading into the locker room.
Coming out of the half, the Nittany Lions seized control of the game, outscoring Michigan 32-0 in the final two quarters.
Aside from Michigan’s opening and closing drives of the second half, the offense was stagnant. On those five drives, the Wolverines had minus-six yards of total offense and zero first downs. Minor was also ineffective in those stretches, gaining eight yards on the ground.
And just as it did in the first half, Minor’s performance on the ground set the tone for Michigan’s offensive performance.