It was a raucous atmosphere in Happy Valley on Saturday night for Penn State’s most important home game of the season. The No. 7 Nittany Lions hosted No. 16 Michigan in a must-win for both teams. Boosted by a strong first half and a wild white-out crowd, Penn State defeated the Wolverines 28-21, keeping their undefeated record intact.
Nittany Lion quarterback Sean Clifford out dueled his opponent Shea Patterson of Michigan, throwing for 182 yards and 3 touchdowns. Clifford and the offensive game plan once again effectively balanced rushing and receiving, battering a Wolverine defense that has suddenly struggled in the last month. Sophomore wide receiver K.J. Hamler also played his best game of the season thus far, catching two touchdowns and 108 receiving yards.
Despite putting up 28 points and a victory, there are lingering concerns about Penn State’s offense. The offense sputtered in the second half, and a quiet third quarter gave Michigan a chance to get back into the game.
Head Coach James Franklin understands the concerns, admitting they aren’t playing well enough in his post-game press conference. The Nittany Lions have emerged as legitimate College Football Playoff contenders and Franklin knows an offensive lapse could cost them in the future.
It was a huge win for Penn State, giving them a much needed strong in-conference win. The Playoff committee values strength of schedule and Penn State has played a weak schedule. The Big 10 has few good teams in 2019, so those with playoff aspirations have to take advantage against ranked opponents.
On the opposite side of the field, not only has 2-loss Michigan has been knocked from the playoff conversation, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s seat is getting awfully hot. Harbaugh cannot beat Michigan’s top rivals. The Wolverines are 1-10 against Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State during Harbaugh’s tenure.
Also on Saturday, number six Wisconsin was upset by unranked Illinois, shaking the Big 10 to its core. Wisconsin crushed Michigan earlier in the season, surely setting up a three team race between Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State.
Wisconsin’s loss is a dagger in their hearts as the Badgers arguably had to go undefeated to make the College Football Playoff. Thanks to Wisconsin’s loss, Penn State jumped to number six in the AP Poll. This week, Penn State travels to another conference rival, 4-3 Michigan State.