Penn State played the type of game Saturday that its fans had been waiting for – no turnovers, an effective rushing attack, solid play by the defense – and finally achieved that elusive first win of the season, 27-17 over Michigan at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Here’s a look at the game:
Defense stands tall
The Penn State defense, which had given up more than 30 points in each of the first five games, came up strong after Will Levis’ 2-yard run put the Nittany Lions (1-5) up, 27-17, midway through the fourth quarter. First, the unit had to withstand a disheartening call when Shaka Toney was called for illegally batting the football after tapping a Michigan fumble to teammate Jayson Oweh, turning a Penn State recovery into a first down for the Wolverines. However, the Lions got the ball back four plays later on a fourth-and-1 when Toney pulled 243-pound quarterback Joe Milton short of the line, and linebacker Ellis Brooks kept him from going forward. Despite the protestations of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, the officials marked Milton short, giving Penn State the ball back with 5 minutes, 37 seconds to play, and the visitors ran out the clock.
Finally, a fast start
For the first time since their opening game, the Nittany Lions received the opening kickoff and marched right down the field, scoring in 10 plays behind a solid running game. Freshman Keyvone Lee ran the ball seven times for 50 of the yards, including a touchdown on a 6-yard run. Quarterback Sean Clifford also was effective with completions of 20 yards to Parker Washington and 16 yards to Isaac Lutz. Penn State also had a decent drive going on its second possession, reaching the Michigan 26. But on fourth-and-1, backup quarterback Will Levis came in cold off the bench and Lee false-started, moving the ball back to the 31, resulting in a 49-yard field goal attempt that Jordan Stout sliced wide to the right. But it was progress.
There is a running game
Running back Devyn Ford missed the game with an injury suffered last week against Iowa, and the ABC-TV announcers mentioned that Ford was not with the team because of a death in his family. The Nittany Lions went with their two freshmen, Lee and Caziah Holmes, and both were effective. The strong running of the 230-pound Lee set up touchdowns in the first and fourth quarters, and he finished with 134 yards on 22 carries. Holmes came on and effectively relieved Lee. Clifford also had a pair of strong runs, a 28-yard bolt down the left side for a second-quarter TD, and a 29-yard run that set up a field goal in the third quarter. He carried nine times for 73 yards. For the game, Penn State rushed for a season-high 254 yards.
Clifford to the rescue
Clifford returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench last week and had some good throws early, mostly on short slant routes to freshman Parker Washington, who caught seven passes in eight targets in the first half for 79 yards and finished with nine receptions for 93. Deep shots were kept to a minimum, and the play calling tended to lean on the conservative side. That part of it worked – the Nittany Lions went without a turnover for the first time this season after coughing up the ball 13 times in their previous five games. Clifford also raced 28 yards for a touchdown, and set up a field goal with a 23-yard scamper.