Penn State blown apart by Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — No. 5 Michigan came into Saturday’s contest against No. 14 Penn State with the top-ranked defense in the country and left no doubt why that is, dismantling the Nittany Lions, 42-7, at Michigan Stadium.

“In no way would I have expected this to be the outcome that we had,” quarterback Trace McSorley said after the game. “We just weren’t able to get it done and we didn’t play up to our standards.”

McSorley and the offense failed to muster any sort of rhythm throughout the game save for a late 75-yard touchdown drive led by backup quarterback Tommy Stevens. McSorley was 5-for-13 for 83 yards and an interception in what was his worst game in a Penn State uniform.

The Wolverines defense did an excellent job keeping the Nittany Lions uncomfortable on offense throughout the game.

“Defensively, they kicked our butts,” head coach James Franklin said following the game.

It was a Big Ten butt whooping for Penn State as Michigan played keep-away while on offense and dialed up loads of pressure on defense recording five sacks on the evening. The Wolverines dominated time of possession holding on to the ball for 37:56 or just over two and a half quarters of play.

The Nittany Lions ran a total of 47 plays and mustered only 186 yards of total offense, 75 of those yards coming on their lone touchdown drive of the game. Although, of those 47 plays, Penn State had plenty of chances to move the football as well as put it in the end zone.

McSorley had a pristine opportunity to find DeAndre Thompkins up the side line in the second quarter, but the ball sailed over the head of Thompkins and McSorley would be sacked for a loss of seven yards on the next play.

Stevens nearly had Brandon Polk up the sideline, but wound up finding Michigan’s Brandon Watson for a pick-six which ultimately put the game out of reach for Penn State.

“There was a lot of stuff we missed on that against a defense as good as they are you just flat out can’t do that and that’s going to get you beat 42-7.” McSorley said.

Missed opportunities aside, Penn State just did not have any type of answer for what Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown dialed up against them. It was as dominating a performance as a defense has had against the offense of the Nittany Lions since the Wolverines beat Penn State 49-10 in 2016.

“We gotta give them credit, they’re the number-one defense in the country for a reason,” Franklin said. “That was the bigger difference tonight.”


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My top three performers:

1. Karan Higdon
Michigan running back

Higdon carried the ball 20 times for 132 yards and a touchdown.

2. Shea Patterson

Patterson made very little mistakes en route to an 11-for-17, 144 yard, two touchdown performance. He also rushed the ball 11 times for 42 yards and a touchdown

3. Jan Johnson
Penn State linebacker

Johnson had a game-high 10 tackles, seven of those solo and one tackle-for-loss.


If there’s a bright spot for this afternoon’s game it would be the Penn State defense’s play through the first three quarters.

Yes, in the end they wound up giving up 35 points, but they played much better than that would dictate.

They kept Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson at bay for most of the game and forced the Wolverines to use a ground and pound attack. Penn State neutralized Michigan on the ground aside from a first quarter where they gave up 99 yards on the ground, with 75 of those coming on the first drive.

The downfall though for the Nittany Lions defense is they just can’t get off the field. Coupled with the ineptitude of the offense and giving up third and fourth down conversions, they just were not able to get off the field and it showed late in the game as the Wolverines ran up the score.

“Our defense has been on the field way too many reps the last couple weeks,” Franklin said.


The biggest opponent Penn State has struggled against this season has truly been themselves. They just can’t seem to get out of their own way on any side of the football.

Defensively, the continued the trend of third down penalties resulting in easier third down opportunities for the opponents and not getting off the field when it was direly needed.

Offensively, McSorley was never really in sync with his receivers and threw quite a few passes in spots where his receivers were unable to catch them.

“There were opportunities we had that we didn’t convert on. I had DeAndre (Thompkins) wide open down the sideline and I missed,” McSorley said.

On special teams, Nick Scott blocked a Michigan field goal that Garrett Taylor subsequently took to the end zone only to have the play called back due to an illegal block penalty. The penalty negated what was a game-changing play and the Nittany Lions would fumble two plays later.


Tommy Stevens was thrust into the game at quarterback to set a spark the Penn State offense desperately needed. Stevens ran for 18 yards on his first play and then this happened…

“I saw Brandon Polk up the sideline, was rolling left, tried to give him a chance,” Stevens said after the game. “Obviously, it didn’t go the way it was planned. That’s 100 percent on me. I gotta make that throw.”


Beginning late in the third quarter, Franklin alternated quarterbacks seemingly trying to spark his team and it ended in both Stevens and McSorley throwing interceptions and not much of a spark.

“When we threw the interception there, we felt like we needed to put Trace back in,” Franklin said. “Obviously, you make the decision that you probably could’ve made the change a little bit earlier the way they were pressuring us.”

Stevens did lead the lone touchdown drive of the night against the Wolverines late in the fourth quarter, but it really only thwarted a shut out and was not against the defensive starters.

Trotting an your injured starting quarterback in and out of the game when it was already a blow out was a terrible call for Franklin and company. It was clear McSorley was not playing at full capability and having him on the field when the game was out of hand was completely unnecessary.


Michigan set out on a revenge tour this year against teams that beat them last season and Saturday was Penn State’s turn. The Wolverines scored on their first drive of the game and controlled the ball for a whopping 37:56.

The Michigan defense dominated the entire game allowing only two drives to go for longer than 18 yards. In the second half, the Wolverines forced both McSorley and Stevens into costly turnovers which were ultimately turned into points for the victors.

Running back Karan Higdon did a lot of damage in the run game accounting for 132 yards on 20 carries for the Michigan offense which ran the ball a total of 52 times on the afternoon.

Michigan’s ground and pound attack wore down the Penn State defense to the tune of 259 yards while Patterson threw for 144 yards on 11-for-17 passing.


Trace McSorley, quarterback, was injured last week against Iowa and sported a brace on his right knee against Michigan. He played the entire game but was nowhere near his usual playing level.

Juwan Johnson, wide receiver, played sparingly last week against Iowa but was not on the travel roster roster for Saturday’s game.


No. 14 Penn State returns home to Beaver Stadium to take on Wisconsin with a start time yet to be announced. It’s the first time these two have squared off since their classic Big Ten Championship game in 2016.


Visit our Penn State team page for everything from this game.