STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — All the way back to the second play of the game Saturday evening, with the tailgate tables barely folded and the 110,823 barely in their seats and absolutely in their white, a simple second-and-4 from the 31-yard line hinted at a heap of complicated truths.

The snap whirred past the Penn State quarterback, Trace McSorley. It landed in the fine hands of one of the most dazzling college football running backs anybody would dare dream up, Saquon Barkley. And as Barkley stepped ahead, then shifted left, then went roaming for 69 yards into the easy night air until the pom-poms shook and then Beaver Stadium itself shook. Moments later, he dropped the football in the end zone and these hints upon anyone watching:

The fantastic defense of Michigan, with its impressively puny defensive statistics, No. 1 in total yards per game and No. 4 in yards per play, was in for some fresh wrinkles and some statistical warping. The 12-month whoosh of No. 2 Penn State would gather further steam heading into Ohio State next weekend. The legend of the junior Barkley would annex a few further notches.

Finally, the 42-13 destruction, even with its second-quarter pause during which Michigan clambered back to within 14-13, would entrench further Penn State as a national presence. It would cause Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh to say, earnestly, “It was impressive.” It would go to show just how much untold happiness two people can spread through a town of 40,000, when one of the people happens to be a dazzling running back, the other happens to be a clever cowboy of a quarterback, and the two of them have several friends on the line willing to block for them and for limited credit.

Nobody had gained more than 278 total yards against Michigan, and Indiana might have wanted to hold a mild parade for doing that. Penn State gained 506. Nobody had scored more than 20 points against Michigan, and Penn State had 21 by halftime. Teams had rushed for an average of 85.8 yards against Michigan, and Barkley had 109 by halftime. Michigan yielded 4.01 yards per play through seven games; Penn State helped itself to 8.3. After only six offensive plays, Penn State already had 153 total yards and 14 points, a long way toward the 192 yards Florida got all game on Michigan, or the 189 Purdue got. Barkley already had touchdown runs of 69 and 15 yards.

Nobody had chewed up such gaping gains against Michigan – in two seasons, really – so it looked almost eerie seeing somebody do it.

Soon James Franklin, the fourth-year Penn State coach who seemed almost embattled 13 months ago, spoke of a team playing well in all three football departments. (The defense had seven sacks.) He spoke of a rarity of a team playing well in all three football departments. He told of formations beyond even the direct snaps to Barkley, such as “lining up in empty and staying in empty,” of “disguising which side Saquon was on,” of maneuvering to “get Saquon matched up on a linebacker.” He declared he would not speak about Ohio State just yet, because he declared 37 minutes of further celebration, the 37 that would stretch until midnight.

He had Barkley rushing for 108 yards, receiving passes for 53 yards and treating the witnesses to a rare 42-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, making it 35-13, when Barkley, who clearly doesn’t mind some novel duty running routes like a wideout, went up the right sideline, collected McSorley’s pass, bobbled it forward, then collected it again. Even with all of that, Franklin still could cite another factor as paramount, that of McSorley hitting enough slants and deep passes, 115 yards’ worth to DaeSean Hamilton, leaving Michigan’s defense plenty stretched.

“Typically people can’t hit them enough to make (Michigan) pay for playing that (aggressive) style of defense,” Franklin said, calling it “the biggest factor in the game” that brimmed with factors. He added later, “You’ve got to be able to make them pay for being so aggressive.”

When Michigan did nudge within 14-13 just 1:45 before halftime, Penn State revved it back up after some second-quarter sludge. It answered the visitors’ more methodical success with the brisk stuff of which it is capable, rampaging its next 75 yards in 52 seconds to make it 21-13. That deluge sustained itself into the Nittany Lions’ first possession of the second half. In coordinator Joe Moorhead’s offense from which so much stems from the decisions of two players – McSorley and Barkley – McSorley saw a defender nudging toward Barkley, so he hogged the ball and headed 13 yards to the sideline. He then threw right to Barkley for 9. After he found Hamilton on a third-down slant that kept things going to the Michigan 13-yard line, McSorley started slightly right, then went emphatically left, all 13 yards into the left pylon to make it 28-13.

By then, everybody looked delirious, even a defense profoundly unaccustomed to permitting any kind of delirium.