By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 12, 2013
STATE COLLEGE — One was bold. One was not.
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In the fourth overtime of Michigan’s 43-40 loss to Penn State, the Nittany Lions went for it on fourth and inches, risking the outcome of the game instead of attempting the field goal to tie.
They converted, and four plays later, running back Bill Benton was in the end zone.
The game got to the point of four overtimes after Michigan coach Brady Hoke decided to forgo a 52-yard field goal attempt that would have sealed the game at the end of regulation. Hoping to pin Penn State deep in its own red zone, Hoke instead opted for a punt, which landed in the end zone. The net gain on the play was about 15 yards.
With less than a minute left, Penn State got the ball on its 20-yard line and promptly drove 80 yards in 29 seconds for the game-tying touchdown behind freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who took advantage of missed assignments in the secondary, especially from freshman cornerback Channing Stribling. Penn State tied the game on a one-yard touchdown run — the first touchdown on the ground Michigan has allowed all season — with 27 seconds left in the game.
On the play before the punt, Michigan was called for a delay-of-game penalty, which factored into the decision on fourth-down. It was deafening inside Beaver Stadium on Saturday, and redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner said that there was a miscommunication on the play call.
“We considered the field goal, but if we could pooch it down there… I like those odds a little better,” Hoke said. “Without the delay? Could’ve (kicked the field goal). Would we have liked to execute the pooch better? Sure.”
After a quick drive at the end of regulation, Michigan was given another chance to win the game on a 52-yard field goal, but fifth-year senior Brendon Gibbons’ attempt came well short of the crossbar and the game entered overtime. Michigan usually relies on junior punter Matt Wile for long-distance attempts, but he remained on the sideline as Gibbons missed the potential game-winner.
The two teams matched each other in the first three overtimes, each missing field goals in the first stanza and making them in the second. In the third overtime, the defense gave the Wolverines a great chance to win the game when junior defensive end Frank Clark recovered his second fumble of the game. It was the defense’s fourth turnover.
But Gibbons missed again, this time from 33 yards out.
In the fourth overtime, Gibbons made a 40-yard attempt, leaving the outcome in the hands of Penn State’s offense. The gutsy fourth-down call was followed by a pass-interference penalty in the end zone to give Penn State the ball on the two yard line, and it won the game with a rush to the left side on the next play.
“We couldn’t finish,” Clark said. “We had a lot of opportunities to win the game. We missed tackles and missed out on a lot of opportunities.
Before the decision to forgo a punt at the end of regulation, Michigan had the ball with six minutes left in the game and was eating up the clock. Instead of relying on Gardner, though, who had 301 of Michigan’s 324 total yards up to that point, offensive coordinator Al Borges continued to feed the running backs. The two running backs, freshman Derrick Green and fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, combined for 28 yards on the night. Toussaint alone had 27 carries for 27 yards.
The cautious play-calling was much of the same in the first overtime, which set Gibbons up for a blocked 40-yard attempt. All week, Michigan had stressed the need to be aggressive in State College, where the energy was rampant from the get-go
Michigan knew the noise was coming. Beaver Stadium would bring no surprises. It was a night game and a white-out against a team that’s not eligible for post-season play this year — games like Saturday are Penn State’s bowl games. The Wolverines had practiced for the ruckus, and practiced for an offensive game plan that didn’t live and die with Gardner.
Still, nothing could go right for Michigan in the first half. Gardner had another half of disarray, giving Michigan big plays while also single-handedly keeping Penn State in the game. His two interceptions gave the Nittany Lions two easy scoring opportunities, and Penn State capitalized en route to an 11-point halftime lead.
Things started to go right when the defense began to take some of the pressure off Gardner, which happened almost immediately after the halftime siesta.