Sunday Five: Defense Headlines Complete Performance

Our Sunday Five breaks down five things from different categories about the game.

Our Sunday Five breaks down five things from different categories about the game.

The Wolverines continued their revenge tour with a 42-7 dismantling of Penn State, the team’s eighth victory in a row. Our Sunday Five Looks at the best of the best from the win.

Michigan’s five best players:

DE Josh Uche

The junior continues to produce at an elite level, totaling three solo tackles and a team-high two sacks against the Nittany Lions. Uche is up to seven sacks on the season, the most on the team. Back in September, the idea of Uche leading Michigan in sacks sounded ridiculous. Now, it comes as no surprise, which speaks to the kind of player he’s become.

RB Karan Higdon

Michigan sports a perfect 12-0 record in games where Higdon goes over 100 yards. The senior finished with 132 on 20 carries, good for an average of 6.6 yards per rush. Higdon’s effectiveness early in the game allowed Michigan to get aggressive through the air knowing Penn State’s defense was focused on stopping him.

LB Devin Bush

Another game, another magnificent performance from Bush and the Wolverines’ defense. His seven total tackles, four of which were solo efforts, paced the team. It’s possible Michigan holds the Nittany Lions to 186 total yards and 3.96 yards per play without Bush but having him on the field certainly didn’t hurt. A real argument can be made he’s the best middle linebacker in the country.

CB Brandon Watson

It’s only fair to show some love to someone in the secondary after what they did to an offense that came into the game averaging 41 points a contest. Watson blanketed every receiver he lined up against, as he normally does, and got to demonstrate his playmaking ability on the interception return.

QB Shea Patterson

There were some struggles with the deep ball early, but Patterson ended with another efficient and effective performance. He went 11-of-17 for 144 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 42 yards on the ground. In his last six games, Patterson has only thrown one interception. During that same time frame, he has eight touchdown passes.

Michigan’s five best plays:

Shea Patterson touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones

In a half where Michigan struggled to keep the chains moving at times, the 23-yard reception by Peoples-Jones on third-and-7 was a positive sign. Even better, it resulted in the Wolverines’ second touchdown of the game. Patterson extended the play by getting outside the pocket and delivered a precise throw on the run. That kind of accuracy and improvisation is what sets great quarterbacks away apart from good ones.

Karan Higdon 50-yard run

On the third play of Michigan’s first drive, Higdon exploded to the outside for a 50-yard run, taking the ball to the Penn State 11-yard line. The Wolverines finished off the drive with a Shea Patterson rushing touchdown to open the scoring. When Higdon is getting chunks of yardage like he did on this play, it sets up everything else Michigan wants to do on offense, most notably the read option.

Nico Collins 47-yard reception

Michigan started the second quarter with a first down at its own 16-yard line. One play later, the ball was on Penn State’s 37. The play action drew Penn State’s defense in, allowing Nico Collins to get behind his defender. Patterson underthrew the ball a little but, but Collins made an outstanding adjustment and still came down with it. Even though no points came out of the drive, being able to go over the top of a defense forces defensive backs to be more conservative in coverage.

Brandon Watson 64-yard interception return for touchdown

Already trailing 21-0, Penn State’s backup quarterback, Tommy Stevens, threw the ball right to Brandon Watson. Watson promptly raced 64 yards for his second pick-six of the season. If there was any hope of a furious rally by the Nittany Lions, this just about put the game to rest. It was a fitting reward for a secondary that’s been nothing short of elite all season long. The ability of Michigan’s defense to score points on its own make the unit even more special.

Zach Gentry touchdown reception

On the surface, nothing really stands out about this play other than in resulting in a touchdown. However, it’s a perfect example of what happens when Michigan’s offense is at its most effective. The Wolverines successfully utilized play action, drawing the defense’s attention to what’s happening in the backfield because of their success on the ground. Meanwhile, Gentry slipped into the end zone and Patterson found him with a well-placed throw.

Five most interesting stats:

  • Penn State rushed for -6 yards in the first half.

The Nittany Lions had 14 rushes in the half, four of which were sacks by the Michigan defense.

  • Michigan ran the ball on every play of its opening drive.

The Wolverines marched 76 yards on eight plays and scored the game’s first touchdown.

  • Penn State gained 320 fewer yards than it did in last year’s meeting.

In their 42-13 win, the Nittany Lions outgained the Wolverines 506-269.

  • Michigan has outscored its three revenge tour opponents 101-27.

The wins are by an average of 24.67 points.

  • In the last two games, Michigan’s opponents are a combined 2-of-23 on third down.

No, that’s not a typo. Michigan State went 0-for-12 and Penn State was 2-for-11.

Five plays Michigan would like back:

Incomplete screen pass to Karan Higdon

When the Wolverines got the ball back after the touchdown on their opening drive, they set up the screen perfectly, but Patterson rushed the throw and couldn’t connect with Higdon. Had Patterson’s pass been accurate, Higdon had all kinds of open field in front of him with blocks set up. Michigan very likely let six points slip through its fingers by not taking advantage.

Blocked field goal

After failing to convert on third down, Quinn Nordin came on to attempt a 50-yard field goal that would extend Michigan’s lead to 10-0. Penn State’s Nick Scott broke through and blocked the kick. The Nittany Lions returned it for a touchdown, but penalties on both teams negated the score. Special teams can change a game in an instant, which is why plays like this are so concerning.

Incomplete pass on fourth-and-2

Moving onto Penn State’s side of the field on Michigan’s second possession, Jim Harbaugh decided to go for it. Patterson stared down Zach Gentry the whole way, allowing Jan Johnson to read his eyes and break up the pass. Instead of moving Johnson away from his intended target, Patterson actually brought him closer to where he wanted to throw the ball. It’s a small mistake in a game where Patterson was really good once again, but something he can learn from.

Zach Gentry holding penalty

In a game where practically everything went right for the Wolverines, getting Tarik Black a touchdown would have been an added bonus. It nearly happened. Patterson found Black in the end zone, but the play was correctly called back due to Gentry’s holding penalty. Reintegrating Black, who hasn’t caught a pass since Sept. 16, 2017, is the next step for an offense that continues to improve.

Pat Freiermuth 25-yard reception

Penn State’s first offensive play was a 25-yard pass from Trace McSorley to tight end Pat Freiermuth, setting the Nittany Lions up at midfield. It was also their biggest play of the game. Giving up 25 yards on the game’s opening play is by no means ideal, but the Wolverines’ defense deserves credit for ratcheting up the intensity after the completion. Penn State’s next three plays were a rush for zero yards and two sacks.

Five performances of note:

RB J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State):

Dobbins carried the ball 23 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns, posting season-highs in rushing yards, touchdowns and yards per carry. It was only the second time all season he went over the 100-yard mark. For a team trying to get its running game back on track, Dobbins’ performance should be a source of optimism.

QB A.J. Bush (Illinois):

The senior completed 72 percent of his passes, throwing for 216 yards. He rushed for 127 more and scored four touchdowns, two through the air and two on the ground. The 216 passing yards and 25 pass attempts both tied season highs. His 18 completions were five more than any other game this season. Bush has thrown for at least 170 yards in three of his last four outings.

WR Terry Wright (Purdue):

With his 146-yard, three-touchdown showing, Wright doubled his season high in catches and more than doubled his touchdown total for the season. He produced an 82-yard touchdown, as well as a 41-yarder. If Wright can turn into a reliable weapon for quarterback David Blough, the Boilermakers’ offense will become even more dynamic.

RB Connor Heyward (Michigan State):

Heyward obliterated his season-high of 48 yards, going for 157 and two touchdowns, including an 80-yarder. He averaged 10.5 yards per carry and also caught a pass. The Spartans have been using a variety of players at the running back position, so it will be interesting to see how much Heyward features against Ohio State next weekend.

RB Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin):

Taylor bounced back from a season-low 46 yards rushing against Northwestern in a big way, gashing the Scarlet Knights for 208 and three touchdowns while averaging 7.7 yards per carry. It was the third game of the season where Taylor scored three touchdowns and rushed for over 200 yards.