If you’re still wondering whether or not No. 5 Michigan is a legitimate College Football Playoff contender, you can stop now. It is. That’s no longer up for debate after Michigan throttled No. 14 Penn State 42-7 in the Big House on Saturday. It was as thorough a victory we’ve seen in college football in 2018 this side of an Alabama or Clemson box score.
Karan Higdon led the way for the Michigan offense, as he typically does, rushing for 132 yards and a touchdown. He was one of three Michigan players to score a rushing TD, joining Chris Evans and quarterback Shea Patterson. Speaking of Patterson, he didn’t light up the box score, finishing with only 144 yards passing and 42 yards rushing, but he didn’t need to. Those numbers don’t do him justice as he continues to be just what Michigan needs in its QB, and he seems to get better and more confident in his role with each passing week.
His counterpart on the day, Penn State’s Trace McSorley, struggled. McSorley was clearly at less than 100 percent as he’s been dealing with a leg injury. He completed only 5 of 13 passes for 83 yards and an interception. The leg injury affected his mobility as well, as he finished with -6 yards rushing after being sacked five times.
Here are four takeaways from Michigan’s latest statement win.
1. Michigan is the best team in the Big Ten: There’s no more debate. Now, that doesn’t mean Michigan is a lock to win the conference, or that it’s going to the College Football Playoff. All of those things must still be determined, as the Wolverines have to play Rutgers and Indiana before heading to Columbus to take on their personal bogeyman Ohio State to finish the regular season.
Still, no matter what happens, it’s hard to look around the Big Ten right now and even pretend there’s a team in the conference better than Michigan, especially after watching Ohio State put together another uninspiring performance against Nebraska on Saturday. I don’t know who is going to win the West Division, but is there anybody there you’d take over the Wolverines right now? I wouldn’t. Even if this win doesn’t clinch a Big Ten title or a playoff berth, it practically assures the Wolverines will be playing in a New Year’s Six bowl at worst. That might not have been the preseason goal, but coming off an eight-win season in 2017, it would be hard to consider 2018 a failure.
2. That said, Michigan will be in the top four on Tuesday: With No. 1 Alabama playing No. 3 LSU on Saturday night, one team will lose and fall out of the top four. No. 4 Notre Dame could lose to Northwestern as well. This win is going to put Michigan in the top four, so now it’s only a question of where within the top four it’ll be ranked.
3. Michigan’s defense is exceptional: The Wolverines held Penn State to 186 yards of offense on the evening, and 75 of those yards came on Penn State’s TD drive at the end of the fourth quarter. Penn State managed only 68 rushing yards on 30 carries for 2.3 yards per carry. It’s a performance that is nothing new for this unit. In six Big Ten games, the Michigan defense has now allowed a total of 1,117 yards; that’s an average of 186.2 yards per game and 3.6 yards per play. As far as the scoreboard, Michigan’s defense has now allowed a total of 75 points. Only Maryland managed to break 20 points as the Wolverines are allowing 12.5 points per game. They’re just dominating the rest of the Big Ten.
4. Penn State avoided being shutout for the first time since 2001: The Nittany Lions got on the board with a touchdown run from backup quarterback Tommy Stevens with 1:59 left in the game. Ironically enough, the last time it happened was a 20-0 loss to Michigan on Oct. 6, 2001. It would have only been the third time in school history that the Nittany Lions had been shutout.
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