Shea Patterson, Michigan Dominate Penn State 42-7 to Improve CFP Hopes

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistNovember 3, 2018

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson (2) scores on a one-yard touchdown run as Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons (11) defends in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Michigan added to its resume for the College Football Playoff selection committee after Saturday's dominant 42-7 win over Big Ten rival Penn State at Michigan Stadium.

Since losing the season opener to Notre Dame, the Wolverines have reeled off eight straight wins. Their victory over Penn State—ranked No. 14 in the first playoff standings released this week—is their only one against an opponent currently in the Top 25.

In defeat, the Nittany Lions have been eliminated from contention for the Big Ten Championship Game. They are 3-3 in conference play and three games behind Michigan with three contests left to play.

The Wolverines' combination of Karan Higdon and defense continues to be the perfect formula for success. Higdon had his seventh straight game with at least 100 rushing yards (132), while the defense held Penn State to 184 yards.

Quarterback Shea Patterson also found moments to shine despite throwing only 17 passes. He tied his season high by accounting for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing).

                

Michigan Belongs in CFP Top Four After Statement Win

Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Notre Dame were ahead of Michigan in the first CFP rankings.

It would be difficult for anyone to argue against Alabama and Clemson's positions based on 2018 performance. And Notre Dame does have a distinct advantage over Michigan based on the Fighting Irish's head-to-head win on Sept. 2.

That leaves LSU as the main hurdle between Michigan and Top Four spot. The Tigers could end Saturday with a second loss when they host Alabama, which would likely assure the Wolverines of a standings bump Tuesday.

But even with all things being equal, Michigan's dominant win over Penn State adds to an impressive resume.

Speaking about the initial rankings, playoff chair Rob Mullens cited Michigan's resume during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

"Michigan has a very strong resume," Mullens said. "Their only loss is to the No. 4-ranked team on the road, in the first game of the year. ... Strong road winsMichigan State and Northwestern. Great on defense. Michigan is a very, very good team."

Among the Top Four in the playoff standings, only LSU has played a more difficult schedule than Jim Harbaugh's team.

Michigan is putting on a defensive clinic this season. Only three teams have scored at least 20 points against that unit, and the Wolverines' last three opponents—Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State—have combined for 27 points.

With the offense coming together, it's difficult to argue against Michigan as one of the country's four best teams. By the time Tuesday's rankings are released, the playoff committee should have the Wolverines among that group.

                

Shea Patterson Is Perfect QB for Jim Harbaugh

Even though most of the eyes are on Michigan's defense, Patterson has developed into the perfect quarterback for the way Harbaugh likes to play.

Patterson's numbers this season won't immediately jump off the stat sheet. He's completing 66.7 percent of his attempts for 1,667 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Even his stat line on Saturday doesn't indicate how impressive he was:

Upon closer inspection, though, the Wolverines haven't had a quarterback like Patterson since Harbaugh took over. Jake Rudock in 2015, Harbaugh's first year, is the closest example with 3,017 yards, but nearly one-third of his 20 touchdowns came in one game against Indiana (six).

In terms of efficiency and consistency, Patterson has essentially turned himself into 2011 Alex Smith, which is when Harbaugh was in his first season with the San Francisco 49ers.

After looking like a draft bust for years, Smith turned into an efficient quarterback in 2011. His 1.1 interception percentage on 445 attempts was the lowest in the NFL. Even though he only threw 17 touchdowns, it was ideal for what that team needed.

That 49ers squad finished second in the NFL in scoring defense and had the third-most rushing attempts. Harbaugh knew what his strengths were, played to them and had Smith play well when necessary.

Michigan's offense will operate through Higdon, but Patterson has been the biggest difference in bringing the program back among college football's top tier.

     

Penn State's Lack of Playmakers Continue to Hurt Trace McSorley

This has been a difficult season for Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, and it was made even worse by a knee injury he suffered last week against Iowa that forced him to wear a brace Saturday.

McSorley's performance has been especially bad over the past three weeks. The senior has gone 35-of-74 with 470 yards, four touchdowns (three rushing) and three interceptions.

With McSorley at less than 100 percent, it's clear how lacking in offensive playmakers Penn State is.

Per Football Outsiders, Penn State's offensive line ranks 64th in the nation with a 6.3 percent sack rate and 98th in sack rate on passing downs.

Through the season's first five games, Nittany Lions receivers had the most dropped passes in the Big Ten (17).

McSorley addressed the offense's struggles last month with reporters:

"We've had issues all across the board. From a quarterback's perspective, it's making more accurate throws, giving guys better chances to make contested catches and putting it in an area where our guys can adjust and get it. Some of it is route depth, winning against man coverage and finishing plays. If we take care of all those things, our passing game can be sharper."

Running back Miles Sanders, who was given the unenviable task of replacing Saquon Barkley, was averaging a healthy 6.1 yards per attempt before Saturday. But he's also been inconsistent with 480 of his 834 yards heading into the game coming against Pittsburgh, Illinois and Michigan State.

The Nittany Lions also had to replace tight end Mike Gesicki, who led the team in receptions last year (57), and leading receiver DaeSean Hamilton (857 yards, nine touchdowns).

Even in a rebuilding year for Penn State's offense, McSorley has been given no help.

Having a lack of skill-position playmakers and a bad offensive line against a defense like Michigan's is a good way to get run out of the stadium. Penn State discovered that the hard way and will be scrambling to find answers in an effort to finish this season on a high note.

     

What's Next?

Penn State's run through the heart of the Big Ten schedule continues Nov. 10 against Wisconsin at Beaver Stadium. Michigan will go on the road Nov. 10 to take on Rutgers, which is winless in conference play.

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