STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — When Michigan‘s team plane touched down Friday afternoon, coaches and players learned that the Big Ten had suspended coach Jim Harbaugh for the final three-regular season games, beginning with Saturday’s showdown against No. 10 Penn State.
“Horrific timing,” offensive lineman Trevor Keegan said.
But the eleventh-hour discipline for Harbaugh in the sign-stealing scandal couldn’t derail the third-ranked Wolverines, who outclassed Penn State 24-15 to improve to 10-0 on the season. Michigan didn’t complete a pass in the second half — its only attempt resulted in a pass interference penalty on Penn State — and ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns against the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense. The Wolverines became the first Big Ten team not to attempt a pass in a half since 2013 (Ohio State against Florida A&M) and the first non-service academy to do so since both Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern in 2018.
Despite Harbaugh’s watching the game with his family from the team hotel in nearby Boalsburg, Michigan flustered Penn State throughout and then celebrated afterward. Chants of “Go Blue!” filled Beaver Stadium as Penn State fans filed out, and Michigan acting head coach Sherrone Moore, tears streaming down his face, pumped his fist toward Wolverines fans encircling the team’s tunnel.
“We know that there’s a target on our back right now and we love that s—,” Keegan said. “As players and staff, having a one-track mind and staying together. The storm’s coming. We are the storm. That’s our mentality.”
Michigan players celebrated with Harbaugh afterward. Running back Donovan Edwards called him on FaceTime, and the team conducted its traditional singing of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
“He was the jolly good fellow,” quarterback J.J. McCarthy said of Harbaugh.
Earlier in the week, Harbaugh told Moore to be ready to serve as acting head coach. The assignment became a reality less than two hours before kickoff, when Michigan learned there wouldn’t be an immediate ruling on its motion for a temporary restraining order to block the Big Ten’s suspension. Moore, who coaches Michigan’s offensive line, called the team’s offensive plays, showing bursts of emotion during the game and shedding many tears afterward.
The 37-year-old said he’s “a pretty calm guy,” but the emotions had “built up” during the past 24 hours.
“For us to come in this environment and win was huge,” Moore said. “Then I just think about [Harbaugh], love that man with all my heart. He’s just such a great person, great human, great coach. I just want to do it for him.”
Running back Blake Corum acknowledged the team “has been going through a lot” since the NCAA’s sign-stealing investigation, focused on former staff member Connor Stalions, began in mid-October. Michigan has been aware of the mockery and criticism of its success, including a social media clip Penn State posted of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz making hand signals to encourage fans to show up early to Saturday’s game.
Several Wolverines players pointed to their wrists, like Diaz did in the video.
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) November 9, 2023
“They left some bait out there this week,” said Corum, who recorded season highs in both carries (26) and rushing yards (145) while scoring twice. “You know what that was, you saw it. I don’t have to see too much about it, but it was clickbait for sure.”
Michigan went through its normal routine Friday night, and Harbaugh addressed the team. But the coach did not travel on Michigan’s buses to Beaver Stadium, barred from the facility by the Big Ten’s suspension.
“People can make all the accusations and comments they want, but we take it to heart,” Keegan said. “The players who have been here for a while, we did everything we could to turn this program around and bring it back to where Michigan needs to be. … We really changed this program as one. People can say whatever they want, but we know who we are, we know who’s in this locker room and we trust each other.”
Michigan’s defense held Penn State quarterback Drew Allar to just 70 passing yards on 10 of 22 attempts, and allowed just 4 of 14 third downs to be converted. Defensive end Rayshaun Benny forced an Allar fumble early in the second half, leading to a Wolverines field goal, and Michigan allowed only one play of longer than 13 yards.
The team likely will learn Nov. 17 if Harbaugh will return for next week’s game at Maryland.
“I saw this quote the other day on Instagram that said: ‘The mindset you choose when adversity hits is the determining factor if you win or lose,'” said McCarthy, who completed 7 of 8 passes for 60 yards. “I just feel like anything that comes at this team, we’re going to be ready for it and we’re going to use it to our advantage.”