No. 14 Michigan beats Penn St., but title hopes take hit
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Jim Harbaugh was sure after Saturday's win over Penn State that his team was ready for a shot to compete for its first Big Ten title in over a decade.
He felt even more confident when he overheard return man Jourdan Lewis make a bold proclamation before a late kickoff return. With the Nittany Lions needing a quick stop for a chance to win a one-possession game, Lewis predicted he'd break Penn State's back and he did just that, bouncing off tacklers for a 55-yard return. No. 14 Michigan punched in a score six plays later to seal the 28-16 win.
''He was just competing like a maniac throughout that return, refusing to go down,'' Harbaugh said.
A few hours later, Harbaugh's goal of a title took a significant hit but it still could happen. No. 9 Michigan State downed No. 2 Ohio State on a last-second field goal, 17-14, meaning the Spartans control their destiny in the East.
And Penn State could play a part. The Spartans, Wolverines and Buckeyes are all 6-1 in the division, but Michigan State has beaten both and if it wins against Penn State next week, it will be in the title game. However, if the Nittany Lions pull off the upset, the winner of the annual Michigan-Ohio State rivalry would be in the title game.
The Wolverines (9-2, 6-1, No. 12 CFP) managed to stay one step ahead of those Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3) on Saturday.
''Every time the momentum was shifting or about to shift, our offense responded with a big drive, touchdown drive,'' Harbaugh said.
Jake Rudock was 25 of 38 passing, threw for 256 yards and completed touchdown passes to Jake Butt and Amara Darboh. Sione Houma and De'Veon Smith scored on 1-yard rushes while Michigan's defense stymied Penn State's running game and sacked quarterback Christian Hackenberg four times.
Both of Rudock's touchdowns came immediately after Penn State scoring drives.
A week removed from throwing six touchdown passes against Indiana, Rudock hit Butt on a crossing route for a 26-yard gain to give Michigan a 7-3 lead in the first quarter. Toward the end of the half he zipped a quick pass toward the sideline to Darboh who zigzagged through Penn State's secondary for an 11-yard score and a 14-10 halftime lead.
Rudock took a brutal shot from Anthony Zettel in the second half but didn't miss a play. Zettel was initially called for targeting but it was overturned and he got a roughing-the-passer penalty.
''I just know if you're the quarterback, guys want to hit you,'' Rudock said. ''They want to hit you hard, and they want to hit you in the face ... but our defense is that way, too.''
And that's what Michigan's defense did, despite being flagged for 10 of the Wolverines' 13 penalties.
At one point in the third quarter following a pass interference call, Harbaugh ripped off his radio then tossed his jacket before screaming at officials.
While the penalty was still assessed, Harbaugh's rant fired up his players.
''Everyone on the team would follow him no matter what,'' Butt said.
But Michigan's defense made up for its infractions with a solid performance overall.
The Wolverines held Saquon Barkley to just 68 rushing yards on 15 carries, with 56 of them on Penn State's second play from scrimmage. It set up the first of three Tyler Davis field goals but the running game wouldn't do much for the rest of the afternoon.
Penn State managed just six rushing yards in the second half and Hackenberg had trouble throwing down the field under consistent pressure.
He completed a 38-yard strike to Chris Godwin late in the third to set up Davis' second field goal but was just 3 for 10 the rest of the way.
In addition to the four sacks, Hackenberg was hit a few more times and knocked out of the game. Backup Trace McSorley entered, fired an incomplete and Penn State let go one of its six punts on the afternoon.
''My heart hurts for these seniors,'' Penn State coach James Franklin said. ''Last time they'll play in Beaver Stadium and they're leaving not on a positive note.''