No. 2 Penn State vs. No. 19 Michigan: This time, Lions favored in 'whiteout' game

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No. 2 Penn State vs. No. 19 Michigan: This time, Lions favored in 'whiteout' game

This team is back. That team is back. The practice of proclaiming that a struggling traditional college football power has returned to elite status after a big win is fraught with false steps.

The truth is that a return to glory can rarely be narrowed down to a single game. But if there ever was a "they're back" moment in college football that turned out to be real, it was on Oct. 22, 2016, in State College, Pennsylvania.

That night, unranked Penn State — a month removed from getting demolished at Michigan and three weeks after an overtime escape against Minnesota that had Nittany Lions fans booing the home team — beat No. 2 Ohio State in a Beaver Stadium whiteout. For the first time under coach James Franklin, Happy Valley was euphoric about Penn State football.

The Nittany Lions have been one of the best teams in the country since.

One year after that victory, the Nittany Lions have another whiteout scheduled and another Big Ten power visiting for a nationally televised game. The difference is that it will be no upset if No. 2 Penn State (6-0) beats No. 19 Michigan (5-1) on Saturday night.

The Wolverines have one of the best defenses in the country, but a lethargic offense (86th in the nation). Penn State looks like a College Football Playoff team right now with a Heisman Trophy contender in running back Saquon Barkley, a top-25 offense (6.49 yards per play) and a top-five defense (4.01 ypp).

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called Penn State "a well-built team."

"They're really good everywhere," he said.

It's easy to point to last year's Ohio State game as a turning point for Penn State in the post-Joe Paterno era, but the humbling loss to Michigan was also notable. The Nittany Lions were banged up on defense and still working out the kinks of a new offense, but at that moment they looked light years from being able to consistently compete with the best in the country. They have not lost a regular-season game since.

All this talk of turning points does not resonate with Franklin, who just sees a long steady grind that continues to this day.

"Like I say with a lot of things, there's 25 slices in this pie," Franklin said. "The Michigan loss last year was a factor. Development was a factor. Players taking responsibility and accountability was a factor. The coaches building relationships and chemistry with the players was a factor. I don't make it as simplistic as a lot of people want it to be."

Things to know about 21st meeting between Penn State and Michigan, but the first since 2002 in which both teams are ranked:

Brown delivers
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown and Franklin worked together at Maryland under coach Ralph Friedgen in 2009 and '10.

"I would describe Don as a greedy defensive coordinator," said Franklin, who was offensive coordinator. "What I mean by that is, most defensive coordinators are going to try to take something away, but when they take something away, they're giving you something.

"Don doesn't believe in that. Don is going to overload the box. A lot of guys are going to be on the line of scrimmage in blitz demeanor. The defensive backs are going to be pressed pretty much across the board. They're going to try to take your run game away. They're going to take all the easy throws away."

Heisman watch
Barkley's Heisman campaign slowed a bit the last couple weeks as he was held to a 121 yards rushing and 60 receiving. Still, he is without question the focus of Michigan's defense.

"He runs with great balance," Michigan linebacker Devin Bush said told reporters this week. "He can make those cuts. He can hit those small holes."

Penn State's offensive line has had issues keeping defenders out of the backfield and giving Barkley a chance to get rolling. The Nittany Lions rank 122nd in the nation in tackles for loss allowed at 8.33 per game.

"We just have to be more physical up front and sustain our blocks," center Connor McGovern said.

Sluggish Wolverines
Michigan's team passer efficiency rating is 114.41, better than only Illinois and Rutgers in the Big Ten. John O'Korn (one touchdown pass, four interceptions) is expected to start again at quarterback.

For the first time since 2009, ESPN's "College GameDay" pregame show will broadcast from State College. Beaver Stadium holds almost 107,000 people and when almost all of them are wearing white it can be one of the most hypnotic sights in college football. Penn State only holds whiteouts for big games. The Nittany Lions are 6-7 in those games.

St. Joe's routs VCU to win A-10 title, NCAA Tournament bid


St. Joe's routs VCU to win A-10 title, NCAA Tournament bid


NEW YORK — The Saint Joseph's team that was on its way to an Atlantic 10 regular-season title before stumbling down the stretch showed up in Brooklyn this weekend and played like champions.

DeAndre' Bembry scored 30 points and Isaiah Miles had 26 points and 12 rebounds as the Hawks beat VCU 87-74 on Sunday to win the A-10 Tournament for the second time in three seasons.

The fourth-seeded Hawks (27-7) locked up an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament (printable bracket), though they were probably getting in anyway. The second-seeded and defending champion Rams (24-10) will likely be in the field of 68, too.

The Hawks lost their last two games of the season, including a puzzling home loss to Duquesne last Sunday, and three of the final five to slip into fourth place heading into the postseason. Coach Phil Martelli said he was nervous heading into Tuesday's practice.

"The Duquesne game I couldn't explain. When we started on Tuesday, once we reviewed the Duquesne game I just moved on ... I took a second to speak to DeAndre' and he did what he's done for all three years that I've had him and he just looked at me said, `I got it, we got it, it's all right," said Martelli, who won the A-10 Tournament for the third time in 21 seasons at Saint Joe's.

Bembry said the late-season problems were simple to explain.

"We didn't play defense," he said.

JeQuan Lewis and Korey Billbury each scored 19 points for the Rams, who lost in the title game for the third time in four seasons.

Bembry, the conference player of the year, and Miles, the A-10's most improved player, sliced up the Rams' half-court defense with sharp passes, hard drives to the basket and mid-range jumpers. The Hawks set an A-10 championship game record by shooting 64.8 percent from the field. Bembry shot 81.3 percent (13 for 16) to set another A-10 title shooting-percentage record.

"I thought the passing was extraordinary," Martelli said.

Miles, who was MVP of the tournament, converted a three-point play that made it 70-49 with 8:05 left in the second half and left VCU with its largest deficit of the season.

"Miles and Bembry were phenomenal tonight. They absolutely killed us," VCU coach Will Wade said. "We just didn't do a good enough job of that. But any time you've got two of the five best players on the court, it gives you a chance."

Moments later, two technical fouls on Saint Joseph's reserve Papa Ndao for arguing a call gave VCU six free throws that sparked a run for the Rams. They made five and had the lead down to 75-68 when Jordan Burgess hit a 3 with 4:15 left.

That was as close as the Rams would get.

Bembry put an exclamation point on the victory, drawing a foul on a fadeaway that had the Saint Joseph's fans chanting "M-V-P!" and with a dunk that made it 85-70 with 1:47 left.

"We didn't end the regular season off how we wanted to, but I'm happy that I won it for this team," Bembry said.

Ndao, who scored a career-high 14 points in Saturday's win against top-seeded Dayton, got an animated lecture from assistant coach Mark Bass, who led the senior off the court and into the tunnel to the locker rooms.

Martelli said he was "embarrassed" with how Ndao acted.

"I've never, ever had that happen, and I am infuriated about that. That's not how we represent ourselves. I apologize to the Atlantic 10 that that would be a way the league was shown nationally," Martelli said.

Saint Joseph's: The Hawks scored 54 points in the paint Sunday and 46.3 percent of their points in three tournament games were scored inside. ... The previous record for field goal percentage in an A-10 title game was set by Pittsburgh in 1982.

VCU: The Rams were making their sixth straight appearance in a conference tournament final, including their last two seasons as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association. ... The Rams trailed 43-34 at the break, their first halftime deficit in seven A-10 tournament games since losing to Saint Joseph's in the 2014 title game.

Up next
Saint Joseph's: The Hawks are back in the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season. The Hawks are in for the 21st time overall.

VCU: If the Rams get an at-large bid, it will be six straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Jordan Price, La Salle upset Duquesne in A-10 tourney opener


Jordan Price, La Salle upset Duquesne in A-10 tourney opener

NEW YORK -- Jordan Price scored 36 points, one short of his career high, to lead last-place La Salle to an 88-73 victory over Duquesne in the opening round of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament on Wednesday night.

The 14th-seeded Explorers (9-21) advance to play No. 6 seed Davidson on Thursday night at Barclays Center.

Price set a school record for points in the A-10 tournament, breaking the mark of 28 he matched in last season's second-round victory against Massachusetts. The junior also moved into 41st on the school's career scoring list passing, among others, Joe "Jelly Bean" Bryant, Kobe's father (more on Price here).

Micah Mason scored 26 for 11th-seeded Duquesne (16-16), which finished the season losing nine of 10.

Price made three consecutive threes early in the second half to put La Salle up 54-46. Cleon Roberts made a steal and layup with 3:23 left to make it 74-62.

Roberts added 18 points for the Explorers.