One thing was clear by halftime of No. 5 Michigan’s showdown with No. 10 Penn State.

Either the Wolverines were going to win in classic Michigan style, or they were going to lose in the most ridiculous fashion of the series’ 26 games.

At home, in front of 100,000+ Maize sweatshirt-clad, yellow pompom-waving fans, Michigan dominated so thoroughly that — to borrow a tired but apt phrase — if it was a boxing match, the referee would have stopped it. Michigan dominated with its offensive line, its backs, its defense. Even young QB JJ McCarthy had his role down early, taking mostly easy throws and connecting on 12 of his first 15.

Penn State didn’t look like it was going to be in the game. It looked like it was going to be embarrassed.

But the Nittany Lions, playing the role of palooka with eyes swollen nearly shut, landed a couple of haymakers to hang within 2 points at the break. An interception return for a touchdown, a long quarterback run and strong red zone defense kept staggering Penn State on its feet.

But Michigan, which it had proven a week earlier at Indiana, didn’t mind being in a fight and won decisively on points in the end, prevailing 41-17 to reach 7-0 and send a message to the AP poll voters who dropped the Wolverines a spot last week.

Penn State (5-1), which looked tougher up front on both sides of the ball through its strong start to the season, couldn’t beat Michigan at its own game. Its attempted makeover remains a work in progress after Saturday’s reality check.

The Lions allowed 168 rushing yards in the first half, and Michigan was just getting started. In the third quarter, after Penn State had taken a 17-16 lead, Donovan Edwards ran 67 yards for a touchdown and Blake Corum went 61 for another. By the time the quarter had ended, Michigan was already at 336 rushing yards. Penn State had entered the game No. 5 in the country in rushing defense, allowing less than 80 per game. But Michigan’s offensive line changed the equation.

McCarthy, making his 6th start, barely had to throw the ball after halftime (4-of-4, 39 yards). The question of whether he can connect consistently on long balls will have to wait. The question right now if whether he’ll ever need to. Penn State’s stout secondary did knock down his FBS-leading completion percentage a few tenths of a point or so. But the 2021 5-star recruit has bigger things to worry about, like helping his team stay unbeaten through its regular season finale at No. 2 Ohio State.

Michigan’s dominant first half

The Wolverines led in time of possession (23:54-6:06), yards (173-83) and first downs (18-1). Penn State got only 3 drives before Sean Clifford took a knee to end the half with Michigan ahead 16-14. At the break, Clifford was 2-of-5 for 17 yards.

Mike Hart, the running backs coach who had a health scare last week at Indiana, was back on the sideline. Gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps and many members of the 1997 national championship team were on hand.

Michigan led 13-0 before Clifford ran 62 yards on a 3rd-and-1 for Penn State’s 1st first down. A great fake handoff sprung the 6th-year senior for his longest carry as a Nittany Lion. Kaytron Allen cashed in the drive with a 4th-and-1 run. Soon after, McCarthy threw his 2nd interception of the season, a batted pass that caromed into the arms of linebacker Curtis Jacobs. A few second and 43 yards later, Jacobs was in the end zone. After the PAT, the Wolverines trailed 14-13.

After Michigan settled for a 3rd field goal in 4 red zone trips, the Wolverines had a tenuous 16-14 lead. It was dumbfounding that the score was that close given the stats. Star running back Blake Corum had 93 yards on 21 carries; Penn State had 7 on 7 attempts outside of Clifford’s long run — a total of 6 from highly touted freshman running backs Nick Singleton and Allen.

Michigan’s big day

Corum, No. 7 in the nation in rushing yards per game entering the contest, finished with more than 160 yards and 2 more TDs, giving him 13 on the season. Edwards was at 173 after his 2nd TD gave Michigan a 41-17 lead. McCarthy was 17-of-24 for 145 yards and had 57 rushing yards by that time — just over 5 minutes remaining.

The defense registered a couple sacks and held Penn State to 268 yards and 10 first downs. Clifford made a few plays in the pass game early in the third quarter, but Penn State was otherwise stymied.

Jim Harbaugh’s record vs. James Franklin improved to 5-3 and the Wolverines lead the all-time series 16-10.

Penn State gets a look at Drew Allar

Clifford left the game early in the fourth quarter with Penn State down 34-17. Reports suggest he was hurt, perhaps a shoulder injury, rather than just replaced.

Drew Allar, a 5-star true freshman who had already played in 4 of the Lions’ first 5 games, couldn’t do much against Michigan’s dialed-in defense. He started out 1-for-4 for 8 yards. He finished 5-of-10 for 37 yards.

Up next for Michigan

The Wolverines have a well-deserved bye after playing for 7 straight weekends. After that, they’ll look for revenge the following week at home against Michigan State. They’ll be favored in each of the 4 games (Spartans, at Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois) leading up their season-finale Nov. 26 at Ohio State.

Up next for Penn State

The Nittany Lions head home for their White Out game next Saturday, when Minnesota will visit for a 7:30 start on ABC.