No. 2 Penn State has not lost a regular season game since the blowout in Ann Arbor last year at the hands of the Wolverines.
Head coach James Franklin talked all week that the last result was not the focus for the team, but the Nittany Lions came out with a point to prove — putting up 42 points against No. 19 Michigan in a 29-point rout to move to 7-0 for the first time since 2008.
“That’s a good opponent,” Franklin said after the game. “I’m pleased with how we’re playing right now.”
In 2016, Franklin’s squad appeared like it could not compete on the same field as the Wolverines — falling behind early in a 49-10 loss.
Veteran team leaders Saquon Barkley and Marcus Allen had a discussion in the tunnel following that loss last season, with Allen saying that his team would never again “get embarrassed like that.”
Marcus Allen to Saquon Barkley after the 49-10 Michigan loss: "We'll never get embarrassed like that ever."
Penn State is 12-1 since then. pic.twitter.com/rdCEbbSikj
— Patrick Koerbler (@PatKoerbler) September 22, 2017
Barkley lived up to that vow — rushing for 108 yards and receiving for another 53 yards on his way to scoring three touchdowns. He scored two of those touchdowns within the first five minutes, which helped the Nittany Lions once again break away from their second-half team narrative.
“Last year, we just weren’t making the plays,” said Barkley, who had a 69-yard touchdown run to open the scoring. “We were putting ourselves in great position, but we, the players, just weren’t making the plays. This year, a lot of guys are stepping up.”
The defense also continued its success this year — keeping its nation-leading points against per game total low with just 13 Michigan points on the board.
Senior linebacker Jason Cabinda, who could not play in the game at the Big House last year after suffering an injury ahead of the Pitt game, feels the joy of the victory after a crushing defeat last season.
“That’s huge. That’s what you want. That’s why you come to places like Penn State, so you can compete against teams like that and win games like that,” Cabinda said.
The performance was especially sweet for the defense after it was roasted by Michigan’s Wilton Speight following last season’s matchup. The starting quarterback at the time, who is now out for the season, mentioned postgame that his offense had run the same play “nine or ten” times and there was nothing the Nittany Lions could do about it.
Penn State’s starting linebacker Manny Bowen tweeted the quote in motivation earlier in the week.
— manny bowen (@mannybowens3) October 16, 2017
A ranked Michigan is a big step up in opponent from teams that the Nittany Lions have faced earlier this season, even with the Wolverines’ injury issues. Despite facing the nation’s leader in total defense, Penn State managed to put up its fourth game this year with more than 500 yards of offense.
Heading into the next two weeks of a brutal three-game stretch that included this Michigan game, as well as road matchups with No. 6 Ohio State and No. 18 Michigan State, will not be easy.
The game next week in Columbus may very well decide the Big Ten east winner, which would include a spot in the conference championship game and possibly the league’s only shot at a College Football Playoff spot.
That is not the focus at the moment for Franklin and Co., who are enjoying a big win in front of a record crowd for the White Out.
“I’m not talking about the next opponent. We’re going to enjoy the heck out of this win,” Franklin said.