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

ap-psu-whiteout-game-fireworks.jpg
AP Images

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.

Gameday
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.

Undermanned Penn State cruises past Columbia at home

uspresswire-psu-shep-garner.jpg
USA Today Images

Undermanned Penn State cruises past Columbia at home

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Shep Garner scored 18 of his 26 points in the first half and Penn State beat Columbia 79-65 on Friday.

Lamar Stevens added 14 points and Mike Watkins had 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Nittany Lions (4-0) who played without starting guards Tony Carr and Josh Reaves.

Garner was 10 of 18 from the floor with five 3-pointers.

Mike Smith led Columbia with 18 points while Quinton Adlesh and Nate Hickman added 11 apiece for the Lions (1-2).

Penn State led for all but 4:52 and by as many as 14 midway through the first half. Columbia chipped away to cut the halftime deficit to 38-35 but the Nittany Lions opened the second half with a 13-5 run over the first 4:14 to take control.

Carr sat out with a sprained ankle he suffered on Wednesday while Reaves was out for an undisclosed reason.

Big picture
Columbia: The Lions need to do everything better if they want to compete in the Ivy League. Columbia hasn't won back-to-back games since Jan. 27-28 last season. The Lions won two in a row just twice a year ago when they went 5-9 in conference play.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions' depth was tested for the first time this season with Carr and Reaves unable to play. Nazeer Bostick and Jamari Wheeler played well in their places and Satchel Pierce has been tough to play against down low with Watkins in early foul trouble.

Up next
Columbia: Travels to Army on Tuesday.

Penn State: Plays Pittsburgh in the Legends Classic at the Barclays center in New York on Monday.

Penn State holds off Montana in 2nd half to reach 3-0

uspresswire-psu-lamar-stevens.jpg
USA Today Images

Penn State holds off Montana in 2nd half to reach 3-0

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Although his nose was bloodied and swollen, smashed at the bridge and packed full of gauze, Shep Garner was all smiles on Wednesday night.

His nose, possibly broken in a collision with a teammate late in Penn State's 70-57 win over Montana on Wednesday, will heal. He's happier his shooting stroke appears to be on the mend, too.

Garner finished with 12 points and hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the pesky Grizzlies away after they had pulled within three with 4:11 remaining at the Bryce Jordan Center.

"Talk about a kid that hasn't really been stroking the ball the first couple of games," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "Misses two free throws then drills two 3s. That's what a senior does. That's what a leader does."

Lamar Stevens scored 15 of his 25 points in the second half and Josh Reaves added 12 apiece for the Nittany Lions (3-0) who led for all but 2:58.

Ahmaad Rorie led the Grizzlies (2-1) with 16 points and Michael Oguine chipped in 15, including a 3-pointer that cut Penn State's lead to 58-55.

The Grizzlies took advantage of Penn State's depleted lineup as they mounted their comeback. Penn State led by 10 with 13:06 left but was down two of its starting guards.

With Garner off the court for nasal repairs after colliding with Nazeer Bostick, Penn State was also without leading scorer Tony Carr who suffered a sprained ankle earlier in the second half. He did not return to the game.

Stevens took on the scoring load with most of his points coming while Carr rode a courtside stationary bike, trying to get loose.

"It just shows you, we have some players on this team," Chambers said. "On any given night, anybody's going to step up."

The teams swapped the lead six times before the Nittany Lions went ahead for good on a Bostick dunk with 12:09 to play in the first half and Penn State led 34-29 at intermission.

"I think Stevens and Garner scored the ball in a timely fashion and that was the big difference tonight," Montana coach Travis DeCuire said.

Shep’s shaky start
Garner, the team's top 3-point shooter last season, was struggling from all over the floor coming into the game. He had made just 2 of 16 field goals in the first two games.

"I was confident going into the game," Garner said. "But the shots down the stretch when we really needed them, they gave our team a boost and they gave me a boost so I felt great after making those shots."

Oguine shaken up
Oguine appeared to hurt his right wrist after getting tangled up under the hoop with Garner early in the second. The Grizzlies' leading scorer was unable to shoot the ensuing foul shots but did return to the game with his wrist taped after a brief respite.

Watching Carr
Chambers said Carr probably could've played, though he admitted he wasn't sure of the severity of the sprain and would know more on Thursday.

Carr, who scored 53 points over the first two games, was bringing the ball up slowly, waiting for his offense to set up when he crumpled to the floor grabbing at his right leg. Rorie went the other way for an uncontested layup and Carr limped off with help.

Chambers said he'd meet with Carr and team doctors Thursday to determine if Carr can play on Friday.

"When Tony went down, everybody had to step up," Miller said. "And tonight my teammates found me in the right spots and I was able to make my shots."

Big picture
Montana: The Grizzlies have plenty of talent. Rorie and Oguine are going to keep putting up points and will give this team a chance to win the Big Sky conference if they play like they did against the bigger Nittany Lions.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions are off to the type of start coach Patrick Chambers wanted to see. Fueled by an aggressive defense, Penn State has held teams to an average of 63 points per game thus far.

Up next
Montana hosts Oral Roberts on Monday.

Penn State hosts Columbia as part of the Legends Classic on Friday.