Program Win

Michigan 24, Penn State 15

Holy hell, where to start?

I've been covering Michigan football for a while here, and I've been a fan even longer. And just when I thought I'd seen it all, a week like this one comes along.

You couldn't script this. College football is messy sometimes, but the 24 hours leading up to this game have to be close to, if not the nuttiest of all time. 

I don't know where Sherron Moore's brief head coaching tenure will ultimately rank in Michigan lore, but holy f__k if it isn't damn near the top. I still can't fully grasp what we saw on Saturday. I think to do so, you have to lay out the whole scenario.

Two days before the MSU game, a report comes out about sign stealing by a Michigan staffer. Tons of evidence gets leaked by a search firm to various media outlets. A staffer gets named. Said staffer gets immediately suspended. The NCAA announces they're going to investigate. Rumors start to swirl...who knew what and when? Did Harbaugh know? How could he not know? 

Said staffer resigns.

Not satisfied with the slow NCAA process, Big Ten coaches and ADs pressure new commissioner Tony Petitti to step in – which he ultimately does, announcing the Big Ten will also investigate. They do. They find nothing tying Stalions to Harbaugh, but decide to proceed with some sort of penalty, for...reasons?

Confident they can legally side-step an impending suspension citing lack of due process by the league, Michigan awaits word...which finally comes after the team plane, with Harbaugh on board prepared to coach the game, leaves for Penn State on Friday. Upon landing, the Big Ten had announced their 3-game suspension of Jim Harbaugh – not by informing Michigan of-course, but leaking the details to ESPN's Pete Thamel 30 minutes before informing Michigan and Harbaugh. 

Michigan and their legal teams immediately jump into action, working their gameplan to keep Harbaugh on the sideline. Word is the Big Ten used a legal loophole to keep a temporary restraining order for being signed by a judge late Friday night.

So with less than 12 hours before the biggest game Michigan has played so far this season, offensive-coordinator and OL coach Sherrone Moore becomes the acting head coach for the second time this season – the first time coming against Bowling Green in week 2 when Harbaugh was voluntarily suspended for the opening 3 games of the season.

We could talk all about how different teams respond under pressure, but if it isn't clear by now that this Michigan team is absolutely built for this, then I don't know what to tell you. Very few programs could do what Michigan did on Saturday. Very few programs can win a game like that against a team like that, on the road, without a head coach, with all of the noise surrounding the program. That would crush most teams.

If you're Sherrone Moore, all you can do is bottle up all of the emotions for 60 minutes, call one of the ballsiest halves of American college football anyone has ever witnessed, and then when faced with trying to answer basic human questions on national television afterwards, start to cry and blurt expletives in all directions.

It was absolutely glorious. 

Off in a hotel room in State College, Jim Harbaugh smiled...maybe even shed a few tears of his own. And somewhere up in football's Valhalla, Bo Schembechler had to be loving it all.


I think the gloves are fully off now. Michigan has been building for this moment since the 2-4 Covid season. This current team, Team 144, feels like just a continuation of Teams 142 and 143. This team isn't a one-off. This is a complete program now.

This scenario, the one Michigan faced on Saturday, would decimate almost all schools. Hell, if Michigan still had their previous president, Harbaugh is probably fired by now. The stars sort of aligned perfectly for this team to be doing what they're doing – and how they're doing it.

Is this the greatest Michigan team of all time?

Maybe a premature question, but one that I keep asking myself these last couple days. This is what great teams do – they block out the noise and just keep pounding. Michigan's identity is so unbelievably fortified right now, that you don't really even need to scout them. The biggest problem teams like Ohio State and beyond are going to face when playing Michigan doesn't really have a weakness.  

They're easily the most complete Michigan team I've witnessed in my lifetime. They're so complete, the head coach can stay back at the team hotel and watch his team dominate a top 10 opponent on the road on TV.

I mean, what more need be said?

Should I break down this game further? Stats, formations and personnel?

On our weekly STAT-O preview, Michigan's biggest advantage was their pass offense against the Nittany Lions pass defense. Michigan has a Heisman-worthy quarterback who only threw one pass in the second half, which was nullified by a defensive pass-interference. That was it. Penn State has a great defense and the #1 run defense in the country, allowing only 60 yards per game. Blake Corum ran for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Donovan Edwards, who's been relatively quiet all season, added 52 more and a 22-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. 

Going up against Michigan is like playing Whac-A-Mole. Only Michigan whacks you back. Repeatedly.

Yesterday, James Franklin fired his offensive coordinator. Which I suppose tells you pretty much everything you need to know about how things went offensively for Penn State. I can't say for certain, but I assume it was Franklin, and not his OC who decided to go for two twice (unsuccessfully). That isn't what lost this game, but it probably didn't help. 

One of their best plays of the game was a Keytron Allen run for 34-yards in the second quarter. The funny thing is, it ended up being a Michigan highlight because Allen was caught from behind in the open field by 340-pound defensive tackle Kenneth Grant. That's just the kind of day is was for Penn State.

Firing coordinators is what head coaches do to deflect blame...and keep their jobs. But sooner or later Franklin is going to have to take some ownership of his record against Michigan and Ohio State.

For Michigan, it's off to College Park to take on the 6-4 Terrapins. Will Harbaugh be back? Will it even matter? Team 144 needs no more motivation than to just play for each other.

With program win number 1000 on the line...BET.

Photo: Ben Herbert

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