For the first time in 13 years, the #13 Nittany Lions (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) took care of business in da Big House, annihilating the perennial nemesis Michigan Wolverines (5-3, 1-3 Big Ten) 35-10.
Daryll Clark had the kind of day we all knew he could have, throwing four touchdown passes while going 16-27 for 230 yards. Three of the four touchdown passes went to Graham Zug, who also had a breakout day. Meanwhile, the ground game was clicking, although Stephfon Green did not make the trip due to “an ankle.” Evan Royster powered the ball forward 20 times for 100 yards.
For his effort in leading Penn State to the big win, Daryll Clark was awarded Big Ten Player of the Week honors. Aside from his individual performance on the field, Clark’s leadership was a key factor in this game.
Say what you will about Michigan and its 1-3 Big Ten record, but winning in Michigan Stadium has been a rare event in the annals of Nittany Lions history. Make no mistake: this win was big spiritually. It provided renewed hope for a big New Year’s Day payday. It was a helluva confidence builder.
The game started out dismally, as Michigan drove 70 yards for a touchdown, confusing the defense along the way with Rich Rodriguez’ version of the spread and running Brandon Minor down the Lions’ throats. After that score, the first touchdown allowed by Tom Bradley’s defense in the first half of any game this year, the Wolverines were able to score only one meager field goal, while Penn State’s offense steamrolled the hapless Michigan defense.
Penn State answered Michigan’s opening score with a 63-yard touchdown drive culminating in a 10 yard TD pass from Clark to Zug. After holding the Wolverettes to a three-and-out, the Lions added a 34-yard field goal by Collin Wagner.
After trading punts a couple of times, it appeared that both teams were bogged down. Rich Rodriguez brought in Denard Robinson at quarterback, but that proved to be as much of a mistake as it had been in the Iowa game, with the same result, this one being an interception by Navorro Bowman, which he returned to the Michigan 40.
Although the Lions stalled from there, Jeremy Boone’s punt backed Michigan up to their own 8 yard-line. Tate Forcier replaced Robinson at quarterback. Michigan totally spazzed out, losing three yards on a Carlos Brown run, then being penalized for a false start. Forcier tried a pass to Kevin Koger, which failed, and then Michigan was once again penalized for delay of game. In the desperation that followed, Michigan snapped the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
Opportunistically, Penn State struck while the iron was hot. Chaz Powell took the free kick back to the Penn State 40. The first play from scrimmage was a 60-yard touchdown pass from Clark to Andrew Quarless, who completely blew away the Michigan defense and made it look easy. No one could catch the 6’5″, 248-pound tight end. Penn State 19, Michigan 7.
It appears to this Turkey that the Penn State offensive line is finally coming together, although they still had difficulty handling Wolverines defensive end Brandon Graham. The key to Clark’s success has always been good pass protection. Without it, he sulks and worse, he makes mistakes. He made none in the Michigan game. The line did their job. Furthermore, Royster’s 100 yards against Michigan adds confidence that the line is jelling. Now, if they could only cease and desist with the dumbass penalties…
Hey, what is it with officials adding time to the clock when Michigan is on offense in crucial, end of half and end of game situations? No Penn State will ever forget the two seconds that Lloyd Carr cajoled the officials to add to the clock in 2005, which gave Chad Henne the opportunity to toss a game winner to Mario Manningham, who had squirmed free from Alan Zemaitis in the end zone. It was deja vu all over again when at the end of the first half, a clock malfunction wound up giving Michigan 12 seconds of extra time as they drove toward the Penn State goal. Fortunately, this time no damage was done. After a fumble by freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, the Wolverines were forced to spike the ball to stop the clock and kick a short field goal, which was their final score of the day.
In the third quarter, Penn State scored two touchdowns in five minutes to throw a great big wet blanket over da Maized-Out Big House. The dispirited Wolverines played out the remainder of the game ineffectually and the Nittany Lions added one more score, a Collin Wagner 34-yard field goal.
Speaking of Wagner, he did well kicking field goals, going 2-2 on field goal tries and 3-3 for extra points. However, he is still not driving his kickoffs deep, and this remains a point of Turkeyesque concern.
It appears as if Evan Royster won the battle of mouthoffs with Brandon Graham. In the week leading up to this game, Royster publicly declared Penn State the better team. Graham said they’d see about that. We did, and Royster was right. Penn State is by far the better team.
“People aren’t going to remember this,” Graham said. “They are going to remember how we finish.”
Yeah, right, Graham! We saw, but now you want to erase this game from everyone’s memory.
All in all, with the offensive improvements we noted in this game and the solid defense, things are looking up for Penn State. Hopes for a BCS bowl are still alive.
The key now for the Nittany Lions will be to maintain their focus on the second leg of this road trip as they head on to Evanston to take on the Northwestern Wildcats. The danger is that looking ahead to the big battle with #17 Ohio State at Beaver Stadium on November 7. This Turkey will be back later this week with a look at the Wildcats, who came back from a huge deficit to beat Indiana on Saturday.