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Preparation Pays off in Michigan Triumph

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - From the moment head coach James Franklin checked the time at his postgame press conference, Penn State's 37 minutes of uninterrupted enjoyment are long over. While coaches grade out film and make corrections, the team returns to the grind, with week eight on the horizon.

Penn State unsurprisingly remained second in both releases of the AP and the Amway Coaches polls this week. In fact, there was hardly anything surprising to the Nittany Lions in Saturday's 42-13 win against Michigan.

In front of the largest Beaver Stadium crowd in program history, the second-ranked Nittany Lions silenced many of their critics, perhaps going one step further to prove just how little the opinions of those critics even mattered in the first place.

"One of the things we're doing, I haven't been around it very much, we're playing really good in all three phases and that doesn't happen very often where offense, defense, and special teams are all playing good enough to win," Franklin said.

While also noting room for improvement, it's only cause for excitement for Franklin. Looking back on an offense that racked up more total yards in the first half than any Michigan team coached by Jim Harbaugh has surrendered in any half, it's easy to see why. Complimented by its special teams, Penn State's defense rose to the occasion, shutting down the Michigan offense on drive after drive.

Penn State emerged with more than just its first 4-0 start to Big Ten play since 2011 and a 15th consecutive regular season win though.

The Nittany Lion offense accounted for 506 yards of total offense, led by a quarterback who rushed for a career-high three touchdowns, the first Penn State signal-caller to do so since at least 1982.

"I don't think people put enough value on toughness at the quarterback position," Franklin said. "The guy is going to stand in the pocket when you know the blitz is coming and you know you're going to get hit but you still deliver the ball and then being able to run the ball tonight way obviously helped us out." 

McSorley went 17-for-26 against Michigan for 282 yards, targeting his receivers and utilizing his speed in a gusty display.

Leading by one in the second quarter, 14-13, McSorley engineered a 52-second scoring drive spanning 75 yards in seven plays. He found receivers Juwan Johnson and veterans DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki for three key receptions of at least 12 yards, before running in for the 3-yard touchdown. 

"When you're able to complete long balls, shots down the field against a team that is trying to sack your quarterback and trying to play man coverage, you're going to be difficult to deal with," Franklin said. 

The list of words and clever phrases to describe running back Saquon Barkley has been all but exhausted, as he added to the spectacular showing with three touchdowns, including a 42-yard scoring grab from McSorley, that he bobbled before finding control, gliding into the end zone with arm and ball high in the air. 

Penn State's defense shined just as bright, highlighting the night with 7.0 sacks, marking the most for the Nittany Lions against at Big Ten team since 2011.

"All week long everybody was talking about Michigan's defense, we've got so much respect for Michigan's defense, their university, their defensive coordinator, Don Brown does an unbelievable job, but we play pretty good defense around here too." 

The Nittany Lions opened the emphatic statement on the second play of the game after kickoff, as Barkley took a direct snap and ran the ball 69 yards for a touchdown.

That was wrinkle number one that took the Wolverines off their game from the start, something Franklin foreshadowed long before the fireworks lit up the sky to signal the start of the Penn State White Out game.

"It's stuff that we worked on in camp," Franklin said. "We had another play that Joe [Moorhead] wanted to call, and I just said I prefer you not, plays that we've been running in camp and then each week we kind of go back. What do we want to use from our overall playbook? What do we want to use that we ran in camp? The fact that we have some recall helps."

For Barkley, it's building on that recall with the bonus of the bye week, taking in as much film as possible to prepare for what's ahead. 

"Obviously, we knew that they were aggressive, they're a great defense, they have a great defense coordinator," Barkley said. "Sometimes it's going to be like a heavyweight fight, they are going to get some and we get ours. When you get your opportunity you have to score, you got to get a chance to take the fours, take the twos, might even take a negative two, but when you get a chance to split it you got to find a way into the end zone. That's something watching of that I felt that I was capable of using my speed or find a way of finding anyway into the end zone, and we were able to do it and I was able to find a way."

All the extras in the world hardly mean anything unless the Nittany Lions can execute when the lights come on. Utilizing the bye week as added preparation time, Penn State was able to draw on experience on both sides of the ball to find success.

"They put together a great plan," Buchholz said crediting the defensive coaches postgame. "I know we threw in some stuff from the back of the playbook because they thought it would really help and it did help so it was beneficial for both the players and the coaches to prepare. I think it was good to mix things up. That was kind of our game plan to mix up our front and give them a different look to kind of get us on the other side of the ball and get us to trick them a little bit." 

Eight different Nittany Lions accounted for at least a half of a sack against the Wolverines, while senior linebacker Jason Cabinda led the way with 13 tackles. Cabinda was quick to credit the defensive line though, especially when it comes to the season-high sacks total.

"It's huge," Cabinda said. "It's really getting the offense on third and medium, third and long and letting our d-line really get after them. Knocking them off schedule with negative or no yardage plays helps a ton."

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