Penn State was far from perfect on Saturday night in its biggest game of the season to this point, but the Nittany Lions did just enough to earn a victory against Michigan.
Here is a closer look at some of the game defining plays from Penn State’s White Out performance.
Early in Saturday’s game, Penn State’s offense was rolling and a big reason why was Sean Clifford was connecting on the deep ball.
The quarterback has previously struggled this season with deep passes down the sideline but this ball to Jahan Dotson was absolutely perfect.
Dotson also did a fantastic job finding the ball in the air and hauling it in along the sideline with a defender on his back shoulder.
The offensive line also did a great job on this play for Penn State giving Clifford a clean, comfortable pocket.
Michigan often stacked the box and forced Clifford to make these throws with one-on-one coverage on the outside and on this instance, Clifford and Penn State won.
Penn State also won on the very next play as Clifford found Pat Freiermuth on a slot fade route that is quickly becoming a staple in the Nittany Lions offense.
The whole play Clifford looks comfortable and is able to step into this ball thrown down the sideline and for the second play in a row he believes a perfect strike to Freiermuth.
Even though he is a tight end, Freiermuth is athletic enough to create just enough separation from the Michigan linebacker to haul in the touchdown pass.
Penn State went back to this route later in the second quarter, this time with KJ Hamler who scored on this exact same play against Purdue.
With Hamler matched up in the slot and Michigan playing one-on-one man defense, Hamler is matched up with a safety who just can’t keep up with him.
Hamler exploded off the line using his well known speed and there are very few players in the country who can contain him and his underrated route running in this situation.
Michigan, when faced with short yard opportunities throughout the game, tried to pound the ball past the Penn State defense and for the first three quarters, it got them nowhere.
On this play Penn State brings pressure, but not to the right gaps and Michigan is able to open up a hole and seemingly has an easy first down.
But Tariq Castro-Fields makes an exceptional read and is able to tackle the running back at the line of scrimmage.
The Wolverines have no receivers split out wide, so Fields is able to check in and buzz his feet on the snap.
Once he sees the hole develop, he flies downhill and makes a big collision, meeting the running back in the hole and saves Penn State from giving up a first down.
Penn State’s defense also flexed its muscles early in the White Out game just physically outplaying Michigan.
On this early third and short, Michigan tries a little trickery with a direct snap to its running back, but Penn State’s defense wasn’t fooled in the slightest.
Yetur Gross-Matos flew down the line and absorbed a block from a pulling guard and did enough to keep the hole closed.
The running back was then forced to cut it back where Shaka Toney was waiting for him. Micah Parsons then came in with the finishing blow and did a fantastic job driving his feet through the tackle to finish the play.
While Penn State did start fast on both sides of the ball, as the game wore on Michigan was able to disrupt the Penn State offense.
Penn State gave a very conventional look early in the third quarter and Michigan was able to read it the whole way.
A Michigan linebacker was set to spy on Clifford this play and as soon as Noah Cain took his steps to the Penn State sideline for a familiar play, the Michigan defense pounced.
Penn State’s offense struggled in the third quarter and a big reason was the creativity shown earlier in the game was gone and the Wolverines were able to adjust and shutdown the Nittany Lions offense.
On Michigan’s first touchdown of the day, the Wolverines executed a perfect play and flat out beat the Penn State defense, something that not many teams can say.
Michigan is running an RPO, pulling two guards to the right side of the field. The design for this play is if the hole is there give the ball, but if it isn’t Patterson will pull the ball and throw backside after the Penn State defense is flowing towards the right side of the field.
The Nittany Lions’ offense runs this exact same play.
Michgian’s guard deserves a lot of credit on this play as they were able to get to the edge. The Michigan tight end also does a fantastic job of sealing Jayson Oweh.
The playside guard is then able to get to the edge and cut off Castro-Fields leading to an easy score for Michigan.
The backside pulling guard also does a good job of coming back and cutting off Parsons who was scraping into the hole created in the offensive line.
As the game wore on and the Penn State offense continued to struggle, the defense got tired and when it got tired it stopped doing the things that have made it so great this season.
In general, Penn State has struggled with defending screen passes all year and the Wolverines were able to exploit this early in the fourth quarter.
Jaquan Brisker is able to get up the field and get in position to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage, but he doesn’t slow down and buzz his feet making it easy for Ronnie Bell to make him miss.
Penn State’s defense ends up not having the best pursuit angles on this play and instead of coming up and finishing plays, they started leaning and diving to make tackles insteado driving through them.
Tackling for the Penn State defense has been an issue in past seasons but so far this season it has been solid, but Michigan was the first team to be able to make the Nittany Lions defense miss tackles, something that can’t become a habit for that unit.