Without Jim Harbaugh, No. 3 Michigan tops No. 10 Penn State 24-15 to stay undefeated

Even without Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan train keeps chugging along.

In the midst of a tumultuous week that included Harbaugh being suspended by the Big Ten amid the ongoing sign-stealing saga, the No. 3 Wolverines went into Happy Valley and handled business against No. 10 Penn State with a 24-15 win at Beaver Stadium.

With the win, Michigan improved to 10-0 with a trip to Maryland on deck before the highly anticipated showdown with No. 1 Ohio State.

Michigan hadn’t faced many tough teams to this point in the season, and the Wolverines were able to stay undefeated in a tough road environment in a game that proved to be a defensive struggle.

The Wolverines and Nittany Lions combined for only 134 passing yards as both teams leaned heavily on the ground attack. At one point in the second half, Michigan ran the ball on 20 consecutive offensive plays as it was content to chew up the clock and play the field-position game.

In the first half, the approach worked as the Wolverines reeled off a few explosive runs, including a 44-yard burst from Blake Corum and a 22-yard touchdown run from Donovan Edwards.

Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) led the way in a win over Penn State on Saturday, Nov.11, 2023, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) led the way in a win over Penn State on Saturday, Nov.11, 2023, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

The Wolverines were able to build a 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter, but Penn State put together its best offensive drive of the game before halftime. The Nittany Lions went 75 yards and 10 plays and reached the end zone when quarterback Drew Allar plunged in from 11 yards out on a designed run.

PSU went for two and failed, so the Michigan lead was 14-9 at halftime.

Penn State was back on offense to open the second half and appeared to be putting a drive together. Allar picked up a first down on a third-down run near midfield, but was stripped. Michigan recovered the fumble on what proved to be one of the most pivotal plays of the game.

The turnover gave Michigan good field position, and the offense went to work. The Wolverines called 12 consecutive runs and eventually stalled inside the 10. Instead of trying to make it a two-score game, Michigan kicked the short field goal to go up 17-9 with 3:36 remaining in the third quarter.

With Penn State’s offense on the other side, that margin was insurmountable. On their next four drives, the Nittany Lions gained a total of 23 yards. The fourth of those drives came with the clock ticking under five minutes, so James Franklin kept his offense on the field on fourth down. Predictably, Allar’s pass fell incomplete to give the ball back to Michigan.

And on the first play of the ensuing drive, Corum broke loose for a 30-yard touchdown run to increase the lead to 24-9 and put the finishing touches on the Michigan win.

The Nittany Lions would get back into the end zone in garbage time, but it was too late. Michigan recovered the onside kick, ran out the clock and got out of State College with the win.

Michigan would finish the day with 227 rushing yards. Corum led the way with 145 yards and two scores on 26 carries while Edwards pitched in 52 yards and a score on 10 attempts. McCarthy, who had 34 rushing yards of his own, ended up attempting only eight passes. He completed seven of them for 60 yards.

And because McCarthy's lone pass attempt of the second half did not count because of a pass interference penalty, Michigan closed out the game by running the ball 32 consecutive times.

What's next for Michigan?

The off-field drama has been swirling in Ann Arbor since the news broke that the NCAA was investigating Michigan staff member Connor Stalions for allegedly running an in-person scouting operation where he sent friends to games to video record the sideline play signals of future Michigan opponents.

The Big Ten finally levied its punishment on Friday as Michigan was on its flight to Pennsylvania ahead of Saturday's game. While Harbaugh watched the game with family at the team hotel, offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore served as acting head coach in the biggest test for the Wolverines to this point in the season.

Penn State has one of the best defenses in the country, so Moore and the UM coaching staff smartly relied on the running game, avoided mistakes and leaned on their defense against the anemic PSU offense. It worked to perfection.

Looking ahead with regard to Harbaugh's suspension, Michigan will present its case during a hearing in Washtenaw County (Michigan) court next Friday in the hopes of a temporary restraining order being granted. If that comes to fruition, Harbaugh would likely be back on the sideline next Saturday in College Park — and then the following week at home vs. rival Ohio State.

What does this mean for Penn State?

On the Penn State side, it was another disappointing result in a big game.

For the third consecutive season, the Nittany Lions lost to both Ohio State and Michigan, its two biggest competitors in the Big Ten East. And like it did on the road in Columbus, the offense put together a horrific performance.

Allar, the prized recruit in his first year as PSU's starter, struggled mightily in another perplexing game plan from Franklin and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.

The Nittany Lions have a national championship-caliber defense, but the offense has routinely come up small this season even against much weaker competition. PSU is now 8-2 and likely headed to another 10-win season with games against Rutgers and Michigan State ahead, but this program has routinely fallen short on the biggest stages during Franklin's tenure.