The Wolverines beat the Lions in a defensive battle that they really had to win. Many fans were convinced that they would have a hard time winning another game this season due to offensive inefficiency, and an aerial defensive disaster in their last outing at Rutgers.
But this one was in the friendlier confines of Michigan Stadium. It was a crisp autumn evening in Ann Arbor. There had been a “blood” moon, a bright red moon, a few nights before as the result of an eclipse. What I wouldn’t have given to see that pretty red ball hang over lit up Michigan Stadium, but there was eventually a pretty, if not red, moon hanging above the rim. It was spectacular prime time setting, enhanced by a half time light show.
While the setting was all that could be asked, this was not an offensive master piece by either side. Still, it was a welcome win as Michigan stopped its two game Big Ten losing streak, and defeated predictions some made after the Rutgers game, that they might not win another game this season. Players and coaches alike aren’t concerned that it was not an offensive masterpiece. Just happy.
Fall was in the air, and it was pumpkin time. Maybe it was a little on the too crisp side, but the field was thankfully dry. The lights in massive Michigan Stadium had been turned on, along with ESPN’s TV cameras. What every young man’s fancy sometimes turns to in the fall, was about to begin as kick off neared. There was a crowd just short of sell out, announced at a seemingly generous 113,085.
Another Big Ten football game was at hand, the first Big Ten Night game in the history of M Stadium, with its attendant unique atmosphere and spectacle. Night games are not without inconvenience, especially to those who do not live on site, but they do draw crowds.
What wasn’t present were the great PSU or M football teams of yore. Before the game, the Wolverines had lost three straight, and lost four of their last six. It looked as if their season was heading for the dumpster. PSU was 4 and 1, having lost to Northwestern. Both were noted for ineffective offensive lines.
In this one, Penn State and the Wolverines seemed well matched. So it seemed a close game was in the offing and it worked out that way. Both were considered to have decent QBs, PSU’s defensive line was considered most adequate against the run, as was Michigan’s, with PSU having the edge. It turned out M defensive line out performed PSU’s. By only a little, but it was a significant little.
The Penn State Nittany Lions had rolled into town touting one of the most hyped, and actually maybe the most talented, quarterback in the Big Ten. Fortunately PSU’s offensive line is not in that class.
The PSU defense had picked off Rutger’s Nova 5 times, but they only got one from Devin Gardner, in Michigan territory. On a screen pass Devin did not arc the ball high enough over talented PSU Defensive Lineman Anthony Zettel, and Zettel grabbed it with a nice leaping catch.
Rutgers, the sometime Chanticleers (defined as feisty chickens) transformed into Scarlet Knights, had embarrassed the Wolverines struggling pass defense to the tune of 404-yards in getting their first Big Ten win. The Wolverines can opener could not open the armor of the Scarlet Knights that evening, but this Saturday night they held the Lions to 160 net–yards passing on 21 completions in thirty-three attempts, and held them to a single TD.
Rutgers had perpetrated an 8o-yard pass, and a 33-yarder, plus a 53-yarder, and a pair of 26-yarders. At times that evening, the Wolverine pass defense reminded more of Wile Coyote than Wolverines, but not this Saturday. There was a better scenario for this Saturday’s game as Coach Mattison had a better result in store.
We owed PSU. Last year the Lions had engineered a spectacular four-overtime victory at home in a see saw game in which Michigan kicked away its opportunities after first making one of the decade’s most spectacular FGs to garner a last second tie in regulation. But the Wolverines then demonstrated that was just a teaser, by missing multiple OT field goals which would have been game winners, thus sealing a 40-43 Wolverine defeat. While revenge is never supposed to be a team motivator, the same doesn’t hold true of fans. While I half expected such a disappointing scenario again, it did not materialize, as the Wolverines were up to the task.
GAME HIGHLIGHTS AND A FEW LOWLIGHTS:
- The defense battled, and a number of individuals had good games. Jake Ryan had ten tackles. Brennan Beyer had two sacks. The defensive line produced as it had eleven TFls. Jourdan Lewis had an important interception and M had a Delonte Hollowell fumble recovery and TD run overturned on review. The defense penned in PSU late in the game in its own territory, forcing PSU to a safety. This added tothe final margin of victory in a close game.
- Special teams contributed as Wile connected on FGs of 37, 42, and 45-yards. Dennis Norfleet exuberantly danced to music prior to KO, but still was focused enough to gain 52 valuable return yards. They recovered a critical possession late in the game on an side kick to preserve the lead. They got a second chance at an onside recovery because of an offside call by an official that is much disputed by PSU partisans. How perfect!
- Devin Gardner was up to the task, sat out hurt for a time, and was the key to Michigan’s points. Replaced late in the third quarter by Russell Bellomy, Devin returned and preserved just enough momentum for the victory. He is still a perplexing combination of high risk, high reward but he is the best right now that the Wolverines have at the position. He is 6th amongst M’s all-time career passing leaders with 6,350-yards. Still it is difficult to live with all those inexplicable miscues that happen every game.
- Devin Funchess made an outstanding grab for the Wolverine’s only TD. It seemed that the defender had it but with strong and quick hands, it was Devin’s. He caught 7 for 69-yards, among which was the TD of 43-yards.
- M’s offense still struggles to produce points in spite of the fact they are great in the red zone (16 of 16). They have trouble this season getting to the red zone. Also, one pines for the excitement of the likes of Denard Robinson.
- The alternate uniforms do not do it for me. Liked the yellow shoes, but the totally blue uniforms with illegible letters, should be gone for good.
- The QB sneak for 4th and 2 that failed was a poor call.
- 64 rushing yards on 31 attempts for a 2.1 average is a sign of continuing OL woes, as is the ability to score only one lonely TD.
- The defense picked a good time to hold an opponent to 54-yards rushing, and 214 total net yards. M outgained them by 42 net yards.
- The defense did not allow a hurry-up end of second quarter drive to score. This had spelled doom is some prior games.
- ESPN did not show the start of the game. Fans at home could not see it on TV.
PSU marched to the M red zone with the opening KO but stalled due to the M defense throwing them back 7-yards via Ben Gedeon sack. PSU got a 35-yard FG, and the Blue was down by 3.
M answered with a 75-yard drive featuring passes to Butt and Darboh, and the 43-yard TD toss to Funchess and it was 7-3.
PSU produced another drive of runs and short passes, culminating in another field goal. This one was from 32-yards. 7-6 felt uncomfortable at the end of the first quarter.
PSU scored on a 10-yard pass, after the Devin Gardner interception. 7-13, PSU. I thought the dam would now break, but the Wolverines stayed after it, and hit a 45-yard FG. It was 10-13 at the half. Michigan’s sluggish offense produced 4 net yards rushing in the half. A remarkably poor result.
Late in the third quarter, Jourdan Lewis broke the third quarter offensive stalemate with an interception. His interception resulted in a 42-yard M FG to tie it up 13-13.
Michigan’s defense held to start the 4th quarter, and M went ahead on another Matt Wile FG, a 37-yarder. 16-13.
PSU elected to snap the ball over their punter’s head for the safety described above. That made it 18-13, and Michigan finally had a win in its third night time game in the Big House ever, and its first Big Ten win of the season.
Fortunately, the defense played its best game in a while.
While at times this was a dull and boring football game, this win benefits the Wolverines, and it was long overdue. Because it was so long overdue, it was even more welcome.
Michigan has steep challenges in coming games as the schedule steels. After a welcome bye week to heal and scheme, they have the Green Meanies at the refurbished Spartan Stadium. It is a travesty of scheduling to have to play there two years in a row. Somebody pass the Krypton.