Nothing is guaranteed in big games. Opportunities come and go like the wind, and momentum can shift at the drop of a hat.

In a moment, a game that looks fully in control can unravel, testing the mettle of both teams involved. The side that responds best is the one that takes home the victory.

On Saturday, the No. 5 Michigan football team (7-0 overall, 4-0 Big Ten) responded to the adversity it faced in a big way in its most challenging game of the season thus far. Following a first half marred by self-inflicted wounds and failures to convert, the Wolverines pulled away after the break, defeating No. 10 Penn State (5-1, 2-1), 41-17, in their first ranked matchup of the year.

“Good game, (I) thought the team made a real positive statement today,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Saturday. “Call it a statement game? OK, call it a statement game.”

But the Wolverines’ statement started out on unsteady footing.

On its first drive, Michigan drove deep into the red zone, moving like a well-oiled machine before sputtering out just short of the endzone, only coming away with a field goal. After forcing a three-and-out, the offense had another shot to punch it home. But once again, it failed to put six on the board, instead settling for three points.

Another three-and-out gave Michigan its third chance to put up six. After a well-orchestrated drive culminated with junior running back Blake Corum powering through the middle, the Wolverines finally gave the maize sea of fans at the Big House a reason to get on its feet.

Michigan appeared to have seized control. But just as quickly as the Wolverines claimed it, the Nittany Lions knocked it out of their hands. On third and one — Penn State at risk of for its third straight three-and-out — Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford broke free for a 62-yard run, landing at the Michigan four yard line. Four downs later, Penn State netted a touchdown to vault itself back into the game, trailing just 13-7 after capitalizing on Clifford’s big play.

“You just got to step up,” senior edge rusher Mike Morris said. “I feel like nothing really went through our head, (though), because we know we shot ourselves in the foot.”

While the Wolverines looked to recover from the misfire, the Nittany Lions dialed it up another notch. In a ricochet play like an old-school pinball machine, Penn State defensive end Chop Robinson blocked a pass from sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy, which bounced off defensive tackle PJ Mustifer’s helmet and into hands of linebacker Curtis Jacobs for a pick six. The play looked just as confusing as it sounds; nonetheless, the Nittany Lions put six more points on the board.

And just like that, Penn State was in the lead.

“I mean, in the game, there’s gonna be ups and downs,” graduate center Olusegun Oluwatimi said. “There’s going to be tips that go their way, and there’s gonna be tips that go our way. So in that instance, they had one that went their way, so we weren’t too worried about it. There was a whole game left to play.”

Michigan managed a field goal to end the half up 16-14, but the momentum had swung the other way. The box score screamed blowout — the Wolverines led 18-1 on first downs, 274-83 in total yards and 4-1 in red zone trips —, but clung to a two point lead only by two points heading into the locker rooms.

After an uneasy and inefficient first half, and with the biggest game of its season thus far on the line, Michigan had to come out in the second half and deliver.

It exceeded that demand.

After a Nittany Lions field goal, the Wolverines retook the field. On the fourth play of their drive, sophomore running back Donovan Edwards bounced outside, bursting past defenders before cutting back inside for a 67-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion to fifth-year receiver Ronnie Bell put Michigan up seven. Despite their previous circumstances, it seemed like the Wolverines never panicked. 

“Our spirits were up; we knew that we beat ourselves (in the first half),” Oluwatimi said. “So we just wanted to come out in the second half and execute, and we felt like we did that.”

After forcing a turnover on downs with Penn State in Michigan territory, the offense trotted back out and assumed its position, Michigan Stadium buzzing with energy.

The next play only gave it more.

Corum blasted up the middle, leaving Nittany Lions defenders in his wake en route to a 61-yard touchdown run. The game was back in the Wolverines’ hands. And an increasingly suffocating defensive attack paired with the rushing explosion was the perfect recipe for a Michigan victory.

As the third quarter bled into the fourth, Penn State couldn’t stop its own bleeding, and the Wolverines didn’t let up.

“We always have that 0-0 mentality,” McCarthy said. “… But we never lost confidence, we never stopped pushing, and it just showed in the second half.”

Ultimately, Michigan claimed the top-10 win, 41-17, battling through setbacks and uncertainties, and silencing any doubts that remained going into the game.

“I feel like (the win) shows a lot,” Morris said. “… People want to look at it as if we haven’t played anybody, but in reality we have, and we showed up and showed out. … And now Penn State; again, we showed up and we showed out. So that narrative can keep going, but we’re in the business of proving people wrong.”

And if the Wolverines plan to continue that business, now might be just the right time to buy stock.