At Mike’s Garage, Artificially Sweetened’s prayers to St. Joe, patron saint of State College, were answered and a season was redeemed, as was a successor head coach who had just the previous week caused many to doubt his sanity. Well, he’s still crazy, but this week, balls won over brains. This win was just what the doctor ordered on so many levels.
The Penn State Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-1 B1G) outlasted the #18 Michigan Wolverines (5-1, 1-1 B1G) to hand them their first loss of the year in a four-overtime thriller. The final score was 43-40, on an upset Saturday that saw three ranked teams fall to underdogs.
For a while, it looked as if both teams were trying to give away the game — literally. Michigan committed three turnovers and Penn State, four. Both quarterbacks did their best to solidify their reputations for tossing the ball away. But in the end, the Lions seemed to want the win just a little bit more, and for them, ballsy coaching coupled with some clutch plays saved the season. Back-to-back conference losses would have been devastating.
Clearly, some leadership qualities have emerged on this team. Heads were hanging and bodies were exhausted after PSU blew a 21-10 halftime lead to a 24-point scoring binge by the Wolverines, able to answer with a puny 3-pointer. They seemed to wake up at 34-24. Courage and confidence conspired to commence the tying effort. A spectacular catch by Allen Robinson, who in Keyshawn Johnson fashion had been complaining that he wasn’t getting the damn ball, got the Lions to the two yard-line with 27 seconds on the clock in regulation time. Hackenberg “snuck” it in for the TD and Sam Ficken’s extra point tied it. Michigan still had life, but a 52-yard try by hapless Brendan Gibbons fell short of the mark to send the game into overtime, re-energizing the listless Lions.
It was almost a replay of the 2006 Orange Bowl in overtime, only more so. That one was three extra periods of who could screw up worse, but this one took four to resolve. All seemed lost when Ficken missed his 40 yard field goal attempt in the first OT. However, the aforementioned Gibbons had his own 40 yard try blocked. (Low kicking trajectories’ll kill ya.) Geno Lewis must have a 64″ vertical leap—did you see how high that sumbitch got? So then, in the second OT, conservatively coached Michigan managed to make a 25-yarder, and fortunately, Sam Ficken answered with his own 36-yarder. In the third OT, all seemed lost when “Gimme da damn ball” Allen Robinson fumbled on an end-around. Handing the ball to the enemy in OT usually spells disaster, but do da name Brendan Gibbons ring a bell? Yeah, another miss, this one from 33. It was then Michigan’s turn on offense for the fourth OT period.
Brady Hoke seemed to be playing strictly for field goals, an anal retentive game of attrition. He got what he played for, as his boy Brendan Gibbons came through with a 40-yard field goal. Penn State got the ball and looked like it was headed for disaster or a fifth overtime — anything but a win — when their drive stalled on the Michigan 16. Fourth and one. A Beaver Stadium crowd of 107,884 whited out fans all knew that Ficken was going to come out for better or worse, but one man in the stadium, standing on the Penn State sideline, had a different idea. His was the only one that mattered. He would risk losing the game going for it on fourth down. His players were out of gas; Hoke’s attrition strategy was in danger of working. Bill O’Brien put the game — and the season — on the line right there. Bill Belton made the conversion with a yard to spare.
The gods, assembled by St. Joe, were surely guiding the Nittany Lions at that point. After an incomplete pass and a short run, the officials actually called pass interference on Michigan in the end zone, paving the way for the final scoring play from the two yard-line, in which Bill Belton got a decent block from much maligned fullback Pat Zerbe, getting the edge and a clear shot at the end zone. At Mike’s Garage, we had to replay it for Artificially Sweetened, who could not watch it the first time.
So what do I have to say about the inept defense now? Great performance by Olaniyan, a Michigan lad. The secondary — not so great, but a decent pass rush takes some of the pressure off those dudes. Mike Hull, still not fixed up, played a good game. The predicted mismatches were there, but Gardner was rushed enough that they didn’t do the damage they could have. Funchess was pretty unstoppable, although he screwed up a couple of times, winding up with “only” two touchdowns and 112 yards on four receptions, while Gallon had seven catches for 95 yards and one TD. It could have been lots worse, had the pass rush not been there. Michigan had 389 total yards, one fewer than Penn State. Devin Gardner was 15-28 passing with three TDs and two INTs passing, and 24-121 yards rushing. So, no, not exactly great defense. Just good enough to outlast the Wolverines.
Meanwhile, Penn State’s performance included scoring the first rushing touchdown on Michigan thus far this year. Belton and Hackenberg each had a rushing touchdown. Belton wound up with 27 carries for 85 yards. Zach Zwinak was pulled after just eight carries for 24 yards, fumbling the ball away on his last try. Hackenberg’s passing performance was about on par with Gardner’s, 23-44 with three touchdowns and two interceptions. It was Felder minus Moseby who was getting the ball instead of GMTDB Robinson. Felder had six catches for 97 yards and two TDs, although Robinson was there when it counted, adding five receptions for 84 yards. Jesse James added six for 67 yards.
Both teams sucked at third down conversions. Michigan was 4-18 and PSU 3-16. Michigan never tried to convert a fourth down. Penn State tried three (including one early WTF??? moment that evoked deja vu memories of the Indiana game) and made two, one with the entire game on the line right then and there. Balls of brass.
Fewer people will be second-guessing O’Brien now, I bet. Funny what a big win can do to silence critics and turn the fan base around from negative to sanguiarialistic.
As for this Turkey, I am heartened by this victory, but not to the extent that I’m going to change my 6-6 prediction, which included winning one game that PSU wasn’t supposed to win and losing one that PSU wasn’t supposed to lose. Those are both now behind us, so I’m looking for it to go as predicted from this point. If they had lost this game, they might well have given up on the season. Sloppy game, but a most excellent win!
The large aggregation of potential recruits attending the game certainly witnessed an impressive display. Who wouldn’t want to play for a brass-balled coach who puts his faith in his players to pull off a magical fourth down conversion with everything on the line? Who wouldn’t?
Meanwhile, in downtown State College, the beer and whiskey flowed well into the night and the mobile puke vacuums were deployed in the wee hours so that the little Happy Valley town would look pristine for its Homecoming visitors once again.
Good show, boys!