ANN ARBOR, Mich. — By halftime, Michigan’s Big Ten Conference opener was all but decided. Simply put, Michigan dominated Penn State in every facet of a 49-10 win Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
Michigan’s defensive line manhandled Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley. The defense held the Nittany Lions to 199 yards — including minus-7 yards rushing in the first half — and received an added boost with the return of defensive end Taco Charlton and cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
Saturday’s win sets up a midseason Big Ten showdown next week in Ann Arbor, where the No. 4 Wolverines (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) will host Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at 3:30 p.m.
Here are five things we learned today about Michigan:
5. Jourdan Lewis is in midseason shape.
Lewis, an All-American cornerback made his season debut after missing Michigan’s first three games with back issues and a muscle strain, and he finished with a pass breakup and two tackles in his first start. Lewis was part of a pass defense that allowed 121 yards to six Penn State receivers.
4. The passing game continues to progress.
Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight was again consistent, completing 21 of 34 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown.
More and more, Speight continues to show not only his consistency but his mobility and resourcefulness, including a shovel pass on the fly in the second quarter that allowed the Wolverines to sustain a drive.
3. Michigan’s defense successfully stopped the run.
Five minutes into the second quarter, Michigan’s rushers had outgained Penn State, 75-0, and by halftime, Penn State had minus-7 yards rushing, as McSorley’s five carries for minus-26 yards negated Saquan Barkley’s eight carries for 19 yards.
Michigan’s defense bottled up Barkley, who entered as one of the Big Ten’s top 10 rushers with 258 yards on 51 carries. On Saturday, he finished with 59 yards on 15 carries, significant yards per carry decrease. Penn State finished with 78 yards on 28 carries.
2. The defensive line exploited a Penn State offensive line that is a perpetual work in progress.
Entering the Big Ten opener, McSorley was sacked five times in PSU’s first three games. By halftime Saturday, he had been sacked five times by Michigan. Michigan simply took advantage of a shaky offensive line that has been symptomatic of Penn State under coach James Franklin, and finished with six sacks.
1. The running game made strides against the Nittany Lions.
Michigan needed to produce on the run, something it has struggled to do since the second game of the season, when UM finished with 119 yards against UCF, a team that stacked the box.
Against the Nittany Lions, who have one of the Big Ten’s weaker rush defenses, the Wolverines accrued 326 rushing yards, including 107 from De’Veon Smith, who broke free for a 39-yard carry late in the first quarter that helped set up Michigan’s third touchdown.
Smith became Michigan’s first 100-yard-a-game rusher since Chris Evans (112 yards) on Sept. 3 against Hawaii. Karan Higdon gained 81 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, including a 40-yard touchdown run with 6:11 left.
Question answered: There’s optimism for the running backs, even though growth might be better measured by inches as opposed to miles — or yards. Smith continues to build on his numbers; his 107 yards followed his 87-yard day last week against Colorado.
Question looming: Will Michigan continue its dominance next week against Wisconsin?
The Badgers overpowered Michigan State, 30-6, in East Lansing, which sets up an East-West showdown next week in Ann Arbor. Some already project this as a preview of the Big Ten championship game in December.
Statistically speaking: Penn State converted only two of its 12 third-down conversion attempts. Michigan entered Saturday as the nation’s top third-down defense, having allowed only four conversions on 38 attempts in its first three games.
What it means: Michigan opened the Big Ten schedule with a roar — against a team and against a program that is simply trying to find its identity. Next week’s game against the Badgers will serve as another measuring stick, but in a different vein than its 45-28 win over Colorado on Sept. 17. Next Saturday’s game will determine who has supremacy in the Big Ten pecking order.