Penn State’s Keyvone Lee entered Saturday’s game against Michigan with 93 rushing yards in five games this season.
The true freshman running back more than doubled his season total against the Wolverines, rushing 22 times for 134 yards and a touchdown in a 27-17 victory at Michigan Stadium.
The Nittany Lions have been without their top two running backs since Week 2 and were also without their third-stringer Devyn Ford on Saturday, leaving freshmen Lee and Caziah Holmes as the top two options in the backfield. Holmes added 34 yards on 10 carries, while the Wolverines (2-4) also lost contain on quarterback Sean Clifford multiple times as he had 73 yards on the ground, including a 29-yard touchdown run.
Meanwhile, Lee went untouched on his way into the end zone on his 6-yard touchdown run.
“I’d have to go back and watch the film to be able to digest everything that happened,” defensive end Taylor Upshaw said after the game. “I do know that we lost the edge a couple times. I do know we got to tackle better. But as far as why they had so many rushing yards, I’d have to go back and watch the film to see that why that is.”
The Wolverines have been picked apart by opposing offenses all season. Wisconsin rushed for 341 yards against Michigan on Nov. 14. The Wolverines held Rutgers to 105 rushing yards on 40 attempts last week, but the Scarlet Knights quarterback gashed their secondary and threw for a career-high 381 yards.
Michigan’s struggles against the run returned Saturday. Whether it was the freshmen backs or Clifford, they were able to frequently slip through tackles and pick up chunk yardage.
Wisconsin primarily had success running jet sweeps and getting to the edge. Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh said the team made adjustments to contain the edge, but PSU was able to bounce outside multiple times and find holes.
“We put in two new schemes that set the edge better,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of the plays today weren’t initial edge plays, but they started inside and the back was able to find the crease on the edge. They folded in or we did make the tackle on the edge.
“We got to tackle better. There’s too many missed tackles. Got to take away what their offense is trying to do to you as well with the right call at the right time. A lot of things that came together that weren’t effective as we wanted to be.”
The Wolverines rank 10th in the Big Ten in rushing defense at 178.8 yards allowed per game, and they now lead the conference in rushing touchdowns against with 14 after giving up three Saturday.
Upshaw said there is no excuse for the team to be regularly missing tackles at this point in the season.
“When it comes to tackling, it’s pretty simple,” he said. “You run into the person, tackle him to the ground. We’ve been doing this. It’s just something you got to do. We’ve been taught our whole lives to tackle as long as we’ve been playing football.”
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