ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan’s defensive line had the opportunity to make a statement in the Wolverines’ Big Ten Conference opener.
By the time that defensive line registered its fourth sack against Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, it wasn’t just about making a statement. The defensive line made its presence known with a loud roar, and a handful of bone-jarring hits.
Michigan wasn’t going to show much, if any, mercy on McSorley or the already-battered Nittany Lions in a 49-10 victory on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
Michigan (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten Conference) sacked McSorley six times and held the Nittany Lions to 70 rushing yards. Boosted by the return of defensive Taco Charlton, who missed the last two games because of an ankle injury, Michigan’s defensive line and its linebackers were more than just efficient.
Michigan, said defensive lineman Chris Wormley, takes the following mentality into its games: “Start fast and don’t let up.”
McSorley and the Nittany Lions found that out.
“It’s embarrassing,” McSorley told reporters after the game. “I’m sorry to all our fans, how we came out and played. It wasn’t the Penn State we want to be or the Penn State we need to be.”
Blame Michigan for that apology.
This defense ended the 2015 season as one of the top units in the nation, finishing third in pass defense (158.5 yards) and fourth in total defense (280.7)
Statistically, the Wolverines haven’t missed a beat. They lead the Big Ten in pass defense (147.3 yards per game) and entered the weekend third in the nation in pass defense.
Saturday, though, belonged to the defensive line, which sacked McSorley five times in the first half.
McSorley barely had time to prepare for the force that Michigan sent at him; by the time he appeared to get situated, Michigan had sacked the redshirt sophomore twice — on Penn State’s opening drive.
Penn State’s offensive line has been inefficient for much of James Franklin’s three-year tenure in Happy Valley. Last year, the Nittany Lions allowed 39 sacks. (Former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg might be safer in the NFL now.)
In three games this season, McSorley has been sacked five times.
Michigan simply exploited a Penn State offensive line that has been a continuous work in progress.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was understated, though, in his praise for the unit.
“Good effort,” Harbaugh said of Michigan’s defensive line. “Our guys were running and being aggressive, and that’s a heck of a good back (Saquan Barkley). He showed that a few times, but, for the most part, our guys were there and swarming.”
Harbaugh’s demeanor may have been subdued for good reason; he told the media following the win over Penn State that it has likely lost starting cornerback Jeremy Clark to a possible ACL tear, likely for the season, just as All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis had returned to the lineup.
Michigan’s defensive line and its linebackers, meanwhile, made life a little easier for Lewis and Michigan’s defensive backfield. The Wolverines entered with the Big Ten’s top passing defense and gave up only 121 passing yards to the Nittany Lions.
“They are always effective,” said Lewis, who had two tackles and a pass breakup in his season debut. “Those guys are getting the job done, whereas we don’t have to be as hard in our coverage. Those guys are definitely getting it done.”
The defensive line’s motor, Lewis said, simply doesn’t stop running. McSorley finished 16 for 27 passing for 121 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Chris Godwin. Barkley finished with a paltry 59 yards on 15 carries.
“The way they went and attacked the quarterback and got those types of losses, and got the running back (Barkley) on the ground?” Lewis said. “He’s a great running back, and the way they got him on the ground: it was amazing.”