State College, Pa. — Michigan has desperately been searching for a signature road victory against a ranked team since 2006.
The Wolverines will have to wait.
They were installed as double-digit underdogs and resembled one in a 42-13 loss to No. 2 Penn State before a Beaver Stadium record 110,823 during a whiteout Saturday night. That equals the most points Michigan has allowed since the 2015 game against Ohio State.
The 19th-ranked Wolverines are now 5-2, 2-2 Big Ten, while Penn State is 7-0, 4-0. The Nittany Lions were stung last year in Ann Arbor in a 49-10 loss before putting together a Big Ten-championship run and have not lost a regular-season game since. They snapped a three-game losing streak to Michigan.
Penn State dominated every aspect of the game and lived up to its ranking, while schooling Michigan’s top-ranked defense, which gave up 506 yards, including 282 passing. That’s the first time Michigan has allowed 500 yards or more since Indiana gained 527 in 2015.
The Nittany Lions dynamic duo of quarterback Trace McSorley and Heisman favorite running back Saquon Barkley accounted for Penn State’s six touchdowns.
Barkley took a direct snap the second play of the game, catching the Michigan defense on its heels, and ran 69 yards for the game’s first touchdown. With 10:11 left in the first quarter, Barkley scored against to give Penn State a quick 14-0 lead.
“We haven’t seen that on film,” Michigan linebacker Mike McCray said of the direct snap.
Penn State coach James Franklin and his staff used the previous week without a game to come up wrinkles for Michigan.
“Just the fact we were able to show some different looks that we haven’t showed,” Franklin said when asked in his postgame news conference why he thought the direct snap to Barkley would work. “Lining up in empty and staying in empty, we hadn’t really shown that. That was a big self-study deal.
“Being able to disguise which side Saquon was on with the motion across and the motion across and back. The wildcat was mainly because I know how much everyone loves the wildcat. We didn’t show it. So instead of lining up and putting the quarterback out wide, we’re able to shift to it at the last minute so they can’t go to a wildcat check. We had some wrinkles in there.”
McSorley ran for three and threw for one, a 42-yarder to Barkley, who bobbled it initially before making the play to build a 35-13 lead. Barkley rushed for two scores. The Nittany Lions entered the game averaging 456.2 yards and were ninth in total defense (285.2), and they lived up to those stats.
Wolverines coach says Nittany Lions' offense was as good as advertised.
“I thought their offense played extremely well,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Understatement. They were hitting on all cylinders. The back (Barkley) was really good. As advertised. The quarterback McSorley played extremely well. They were hitting on all cylinders. The quarterback was hot and receivers made plays downfield and it was impressive.”
Michigan’s top-ranked defense, which entered the game allowing an average 223.8 yards a game, and its rush defense, ranked sixth nationally allowing an average 85.8 yards, had no answer for Penn State’s high-powered offense.
John O’Korn, making his third start for Michigan in place of injured starter Wilton Speight, and the offense struggled. He took seven sacks for 49 yards, receivers dropped passes, and the running game that had 271 yards a week earlier at Indiana, barely broke 100 yards, finishing with 103 and an average 2.5 yards a carry. Penn State averaged 6.4 yards per rush.
Not exactly the recipe for an upset.
Karan Higdon and Ty Isaac rushed for first-half scores, but Michigan was shut out in the second half. Michigan had 269 yards, including 103 rushing.
Wolverines quarterback credits Nittany Lions defense. Angelique S. Chengelis
“We weren’t able to make the big play today,” said O’Korn, who was 16-of-28 for 166 yards. “We put drives together, we were moving the ball nicely. The big plays were missing. Last week we had a lot of big plays that carried us (at Indiana), and that was missing.
“To me, that was the biggest thing. They made the big plays, and we didn’t. They picked up huge chunks of yards on third down, and that was huge for them to be successful. We weren’t able to match that.”
After giving up a late score in the first half to trail 21-13 just after the Wolverines had pulled to within 14-13, Michigan needed to come out with a statement drive to open the second half. But two dropped catches and a six-yard loss on a sack forced Michigan to punt from the Penn State 46-yard line.
The Wolverines were shut out in the second half, 21-0.
Wolverines quarterback says team wasn't able to make enough big plays against Penn State. Angelique S. Chengelis
“I’ve got to give credit to their defense,” O’Korn said “They showed some looks that we weren’t expecting, and they continued to get after it all game. We’ll go look at the film and there will be some things we could have done better, but I don’t think it will be as bad as the score showed. I think we did a lot of good things tonight. We improved in the passing game, in the protection from last week.
“I think we’re going to be pleased with a lot of things and we’re going to be disappointed we left a lot of plays out there at key points in the game where we could be having a completely different conversation right now.”
Grant Perry led the team with 46 receiving yards on three catches, and Donovan Peoples-Jones had three for 43 yards.
“They made it hard on us to get open, something we saw film,” O’Korn said. “All year long, they’ve made it really tough on opposing receivers to get open. We had success at times, but throughout the entire game as a whole, they were able to get a lot of coverage sacks. I give the credit to their defense. For whatever reason, we weren’t able to get guys open.”