David HaleESPN Editor9 minute reading
Michigan played its fourth game of the season without head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh began serving his second suspension of the season after the Big Ten imposed a three-game ban for violating sportsmanship rules during spot-checking of opponents’ signs. And the Wolverines played, for the first time this season, against an opponent that actually looked like they had a chance to win.
All of this constituted potentially seismic shifts in the Big Ten’s power structure, and yet when the dust settled on Michigan’s 24-15 victory, we were left with the same story we’ve seen all along. season.
Michigan won, and although the game was seemingly close for much of the game, the Wolverines were never in any real danger.
Penn State lost and James Franklin is now 4-16 against Michigan and Ohio State during his career in Happy Valley.
Harbaugh’s future remains uncertain, but his impact was still felt, as Michigan players spent Friday on social media pledging to send a message and spent Saturday on the field at Beaver Stadium to categorically punish Penn State for the perceived crimes against them committed by — well, as their caps and T-shirts indicated, everyone.
(If you’re following along, it’s Michigan vs. Everyone and Ohio State vs. the World. However, we’re not entirely sure either party wants to take on the SEC.)
The Wolverines were relentless on offense, running the ball over and over again — at one point on 20 straight snaps — against a depleted Penn State defense. They moved the ball a few yards at a time, methodically demoralizing the Nittany Lions, killing them by a thousand paper cuts, until Blake Corum sniffed the end zone and ended the misery.
Penn State was listless on offense, ignoring, once again, any thought of a downfield passing game and leaving Drew Allar dancing around the backfield, eyeing one target after another before searching for another lost cause. If Michigan overwhelmed Penn State 3 yards at a time, the Nittany Lions demoralized their own fans by moving the ball 3 inches at a time.
Even if Michigan had all of Penn State’s signs, a CliffsNotes version of the Lions’ playbook and James Franklin’s ATM PIN, none of that would have been necessary.
So, after a season in which Michigan’s first nine games were little more than batting practice before Saturday’s showdown with Penn State, it should feel like something important, an official announcement that , despite any schedule-based skepticism, Michigan is a championship contender.
But no. The story concerns Harbaugh, a story written in court files and electronic message board fury and last minute alerts.
It’s a story told by Sherrone Moore, who was working as interim coach Saturday, sobbing (and dropping a few expletives) during his postgame interview. It was, depending on your point of view, an emotional catharsis or yet another moment of Michigan victimizing itself.
It’s a story that will be shrouded in mystery, like where Harbaugh will spend game days from now on in the showdown against Ohio State. We assume he spent Saturday in his underground lair, perfecting the space laser he’s designing to blow up the moon, but in reality, anything is possible.
This is a story that will be judged – by the Big Ten, by the fans, by the media, by the courts, by the investors in Connor Stalions’ vacuum company – with only a passing nod to due process , to an objective truth or a reasoned context.
After all, it’s nice to discern the opponent’s signs from a TV copy, or the All-22, or to call former graduate assistants to talk about their old team, but that’s not not good to buy a ticket, sit in the stands and watch. Whether this makes sense might be a valid question, but the only question that arises is whether Michigan broke a rule – a literal written rule and, perhaps, the unwritten rule in which the game is acceptable unless it’s too convoluted, entirely stupid, and run by a guy with a hilarious name. (Note: Our solution is a college football “Purge Day,” during which all cheating is legal one Saturday per year.)
How the scandal ends is, at this point, more interesting than how Michigan’s season ends, and that’s a shame.
Because JJ McCarthy remains a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, but whose success comes with an asterisk due to this scandal.
And Corum, as he announced after Saturday’s game, returned to the field to do something special, but any accomplishment will be accompanied by a “yes, but…” from the fans at outside of Ann Arbor.
And Michigan proved to Penn State that neither poor scheduling nor Mr. Bean-like espionage were the foundations of its success. But that’s the story the 2023 season will be remembered for, no matter where things go from here.
The Wolverines can keep winning, and scandal will likely follow them as far as they can.
Milroe scores six
Since being benched in Week 3, Jalen Milroe has completely rewritten his — and Alabama’s — season.
In Saturday’s dominant 49-21 win over Kentucky, Milroe threw for 234 yards, ran for 36 more and found the end zone six times – three through the air and three on the ground.
Milroe’s line over the last six weeks: 67% success, nearly 11 yards per attempt and 21 touchdowns scored.
What’s been most impressive about Milroe’s evolution is how he and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees have gradually added more and more to the repertoire. Most of Milroe’s early success came from the deep ball (he entered Saturday with 22 completions on throws of 20 yards or more, disproving Penn State’s theory that the field is actually only 20 feet long). , but he added more and more throws of 20 yards or more. the ground game in recent weeks, making life almost impossible for opposing defenses.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Milroe is just the third SEC QB with consecutive games with three rushing touchdowns in the last 20 years. The two others? Cam Newton and Jayden Daniels. Not a bad company.
While Milroe has grabbed all the headlines for Alabama, it’s also worth noting that the Tide defense has flourished as well.
After hearing his fair share of criticism in 2022, the Crimson Tide’s D carried the team early and has only gotten better since. On Saturday, the Tide pressured Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary on 41 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, resulting in just five completions, three sacks and one interception.
This win officially punched Alabama the ticket to the SEC Championship Game, and if you’re on the playoff committee, you’re praying that Nick Saban doesn’t make your life impossible by winning it.
The under-the-radar game of the week
The official highlight scale goes from 0 (Mark Sanchez’s fumble) to 10 (Odell Beckham Jr.’s one-handed stretch), and on Saturday, Clemson’s Tyler Brown delivered something awfully close to a perfect 10 .
Clemson freshman did his best OBJ impersonation to score a touchdown Cade Klubnik, as the Tigers beat Georgia Tech 42-21 in what might have been their most complete game of the season.
Klubnik threw a career-high four touchdowns. Will Shipley returned from a concussion to score 107 yards and a score. And Dabo Swinney led a raid on a local QT, where he now controls the area’s supply of takeaway pizza.
But no moment in Saturday’s victory was more important than Brown’s, which seemed to be both the highlight of the Tigers’ season and yet another reminder that, yes, this team still has some ridiculous talent. The win also ensures Clemson will be bowl eligible this season and puts the Tigers at 2-0 since Swinney attacked a caller on his radio show.
Note: It’s time for James Franklin to start getting a few callers to his radio show each week.
Kansas offense collapses
A quick title suggestion designed to appeal to young people: Without its Bean, Kansas has no magic.
OK, we’re told we went too young on this one. Apologies.
Until its third QB, Kansas lacked anything approaching offensive firepower in a 16-13 loss to Texas Tech on Saturday.
The Jayhawks entered play ranked 16th by the College Football Playoff committee, their highest ranking in a poll since 2009, but it was short-lived.
Jason Bean, who was playing in place of the injured Jalon Daniels, was injured late in the first quarter. He returned to play briefly in the second, but it was clear he couldn’t go. Cole Ballard went the rest of the way and completed just 9 of 20 throws for 124 yards and a pick.