Dienhart: Penn State would not be stopped in redemption matchup with Michigan
No one was stopping Trace McSorley. No Way.
As Michigan defenders swarmed the gutsy Penn State quarterback as he approached pay dirt, McSorley clutched the ball with his right hand and extended his arm. He touched the white goal line as he was nestled beneath a raft of Michigan defenders.
It was as if McSorley was punctuating his point as he slammed the ball on the goal line on this triumphant night. The score gave PSU a commanding lead in the fourth quarter. For all intents and purposes, the game was over.
It was one of many impressive plays delivered by the Penn State offense on an electric night in State College, Pa., that took the breath away from Penn State fans while sucking life out of No. 19 Michigan (5-2 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) and its Big Ten East title dreams.
This night belonged to Penn State, which took a 42-13 decision. Most vital: this was another step to defending the program’s Big Ten title. Michigan? It hasn’t won the Big Ten since 2004. And, it’s looking like that drought is going to continue.
No. 2 Penn State (7-0, 4-0) seemingly had been building toward this game for over a year, counting the days since last year’s 49-10 loss at Michigan in which it had just 191 yards.
Truth be told, the defeat cost the Nittany Lions a playoff bid. And, they haven’t forgotten. This one was personal. In the process of eviscerating the Wolverines, the Nittany Lions also sent a message to the rest of the nation: This team is a legit national title threat.
The loss at Michigan last year was the last time the Nittany Lions tasted defeat during the regular season. After that humiliation in Ann Arbor, Penn State ripped off nine wins in a row all the way to an improbable Big Ten title. And the Nittany Lions opened this year 6-0. Add it up, and PSU has won 16 regular-season games in a row.
This victory sets up Penn State for a bigger stage next week, when it plays at Ohio State. The Buckeyes were off this week, watching all of this unfold from their barcaloungers in Columbus. Just like PSU was motivated by revenge vs. Michigan on this night, the Buckeyes will be motivated to pay back the Nittany Lions for the 24-21 loss it suffered last year vs. Penn State. For all intents and purposes, next Saturday’s Penn State-Ohio State game will be a de facto Big Ten East title game. For the Buckeyes, it’s a must-win, since they already have a loss this season.
You know the Buckeyes (6-1, 4-0) have had this visit from Penn State circled in red after losing in Beaver Stadium last season. The Nittany Lions last won in Columbus in 2011, taking a 20-14 decision. PSU lost 63-14 and 38-10 in its last two visits to Ohio State. Want more bad news, Penn State? The Nittany Lions haven’t beaten Ohio State in consecutive meetings since they joined the Big Ten. Penn State’s last back-to-back triumphs vs. Ohio State? In 1978 and 1980.
Beaver Stadium pulsated on this Saturday night. The place was a sea of vibrating white pom-poms during a much-anticipated “white out” that surely shook some rivets loose.
Penn State matched the intensity right from the get-go, racing to a 14-0 lead. And, the man everyone paid to watch led the charge, as Saquon Barkley burst 69 yards for a TD to stake Penn State to a 7-0 lead. The Nittany Lions then came back with more Barkley, this time on a 15-yard scoring scamper. Michigan battled back to make it 21-13 at the half. But Penn State swamped the Wolverines in the second half, as Michigan failed to score after intermission.
In a much-anticipated battle of wits between Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, it was all Moorhead. His Nittany Lion offense was like a stick of dynamite on this perfect autumn night.
The ballyhooed Wolverine defense entered the game No. 1 in the nation in total defense, yielding just 223.8 ypg. And Michigan was allowing only 14.7 points. But Penn State punched holes in the Wolverines’ gaudy resume all night, finishing with 506 yards. And the PSU defense did its part, limiting Michigan to 269 yards.
McSorley was on his game, hitting 17-of-26 passes for 282 yards with one TD and a pick. He also rushed 11 times for 76 yards, scoring on a no-one-is-gonna-stop-me plunge in the third quarter to give the Nittany Lions a 28-13 lead. It was one of his three rushing scores.
But Barkley was the star on this night. He augmented his Heisman resume by rushing 15 times for 108 yards and two TD. He also caught three passes for 53 yards with one bobbling 42-yard TD catch of a McSorley lob early in the fourth quarter that personified his greatness on a night when Penn State looked every bit the part of a College Football Playoff team.