STATE COLLEGE — Late in the first half against No. 3 Penn State, Michigan looked as if it might have the moxie to pull off an upset.
But the Nittany Lions proved there is no replacement for talent and experience, coming back from 10 points behind late in the second quarter to win 46-17 in front of 110,017 fans at Beaver Stadium — the fourth largest crowd in stadium history.
The loss snapped a nine-game winning streak for Michigan over Penn State, dating back to 1997. It also extended the Wolverines losing streak to three games, the program’s longest slide since 1967./>
It had to sting that much more for Michigan because everything was clicking early on.
Near the end of what had been, to that point, an outstanding first half for Michigan, the errors and inexperience of past weeks reappeared.
Leading 17-7, the Wolverines went three-and-out on their last two drives of the half.
With 2:01 to play, Andre Criswell was called for a personal foul on punt coverage, giving Penn State (4-0 Big Ten, 8-0 overall) great field position for a quick scoring drive. The experienced Nittany Lions took advantage, driving for a touchdown with 23 seconds left in the half.
Instead of heading to the locker room with a comfortable 10-point lead, the Wolverines had plenty to think about and work on at halftime.
Penn State kept up the pressure, tying the game midway through the third quarter on a 42-yard field goal by Kevin Kelly, who became the all-time leading scorer in Big Ten history with an extra point later in the quarter.
Matters got worse for Michigan (1-2 Big Ten, 2-5 overall) when redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet was unable to come out for the next drive.
It was a rude welcome for his backup, redshirt sophomore Nick Sheridan, who was quickly up against the goal line after a holding penalty. On third-and-20 Sheridan made the critical error — he was sacked in the endzone for a safety.
With 4:39 left in the third quarter, the Nittany Lions had their first lead. They would not look back.
Penn State wasted no time extending its lead. Starting from midfield after Michigan’s free kick sailed out of bounds, the Nittany Lions reached the end zone in just three plays, with Darryl Clark crossing the plane on a quarterback sneak.
Threet came back in the game for Michigan’s first drive of the fourth quarter. Instead of flipping the switch back on, he fumbled the ball back to Penn State. It was too late, anyway. With the crowd behind it in full force, Penn State quickly changed the game from upset alert to laugher.
The scene was far different in the first half.
Michigan came into the game as a more than three-touchdown underdog. But in the first half, the Wolverines played like the favorites.
On its first offensive drive, Michigan moved 86 yards down the field in 14 plays, capped off by a five-yard touchdown by junior running back Brandon Minor. It was Michigan’s second longest drive of the season, behind an 87-yarder against Miami (Ohio) last month.
It was one of the best-executed drives the Wolverines have put together all season. There were no penalties, no incomplete passes and a key fourth-down conversion at the Penn State 30-yard line.
Either Minor or Threet ran the ball on the last nine plays of the drive, combining to pick up the final 39 yards.
The early touchdown shocked the boisterous crowd on homecoming weekend in Happy Valley. Three plays later, the Nittany Lion faithful were silenced when Michigan recovered a Daryll Clark fumble at the Michigan 45-yard line.
Minor kept up his ferocious effort when the offense returned to the field. He ripped off a 26-yard run down to the Penn State 19-yard line, setting up a 27-yard field goal by K.C. Lopata to cap the drive.
Just over 11 minutes into the game, the Wolverines had turned the tables.
But Penn State was quick to prove it had earned its No. 3 spot in the national polls. After a long kick return, the Nittany Lions needed just two plays to put up a touchdown. On second down from the Michigan 44-yard line, Evan Royster broke a tackle in the backfield and ran up the middle almost untouched for a touchdown.
Less than a minute after Michigan had taken a 10-point lead, the crowd was back in the game.
The momentum could have swung fully in Penn State’s favor when freshman Sam McGuffie fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but Michigan managed to recover the drop.
The Wolverines marched again, taking advantage of their second chance. Minor pounded the ball in from one yard out on third and goal for his second touchdown of the day, giving Michigan a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.
But as Michigan would learn, a 10-point lead wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough.