STATE COLLEGE Probably more because of the Penn State name than anyone wearing the blue and white this season, Saturday”s game had a lot of dangerous possibilities for the Wolverines, who came into the game ranked 15th with a 3-1 record.
They were playing a school that had lost the last four games in the short gridiron history between Michigan and Penn State. They were facing a coach looking for a record-tying victory. Perhaps most notably, the Wolverines were staring across the line at a team desperate for its first win, always a more concerning opponent than one with a single win under its belt.
The pesky Nittany Lions wouldn”t go away. The winless team made Michigan pay for every inch. But hard work and heart couldn”t get Penn State into the endzone by the time the sun had set behind Beaver Stadium, the Nittany Lions faithful were dwelling on another loss, this time a 20-0 shutout.
“They gave us a run for our money,” Michigan tailback B.J. Askew said.
Legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno had never been shut out at home in his 36 years at the helm. But early on, it was clear that his team was out of its league.
Take its first drive: Quarterback Zack Mills the first Penn State quarterback to ever start a game as a freshman threw to Eddie Drummond. Dropped. On the next play, he went to Bryant Johnson. Dropped. On third down, he passed to tight end John Gilmore. Dropped.
Three passes, none of them broken up, and only the third required any effort from the receiver. But after three good passes, it was fourth-and-10. Michigan”s Anthony Jordan partially blocked the ensuing punt.
“The freshman kid goes in there and throws three perfect passes to start the game,” Paterno said. “All were dropped.”
“Those were three great passes that were catchable,” Gilmore said. “Even though they were great passes, we have to make the play.”
After the game, Paterno was at a loss for words no surprise considering the fact that his team got shut out on a day but efficient in the first half. The Wolverines were inside the Penn State 25-yard line five times in the half, but came away with only 13 points on two Hayden Epstein field goals and a Marquise Walker touchdown.
“The first few series, we came out flat,” Walker said. “It was just a matter of us getting that one good play to get the offense going. We had plenty of chances in the red zone to get three points or six points, and I think we have to do a better job of that.”
Michigan also benefited from another touchdown on the two-minute drill. Up 6-0, quarterback John Navarre drove the team 80 yards in nine plays, with an acrobatic Walker touchdown catch giving Michigan its first touchdown of the afternoon. The drive took only 55 seconds.
Six times this season, Michigan has run the drill, and all six have resulted in touchdowns.
With a Ron Bellamy touchdown catch on the first drive in the third quarter giving it extra insurance, the Michigan defense kept the Nittany Lions at bay.
Led by junior defensive end Dan Rumishek, who recorded three sacks and a forced fumble, the defense again made its opponent one-dimensional, allowing Penn State only 25 rushing yards. As a unit, Michigan is allowing only 51.8 yards per game on the ground.
“You have to give a lot of credit to our D-line,” said inside linebacker Larry Foote. “They just dominated the game. They set the tone and they stopped the run. They just did an outstanding job. They”re bigger, stronger and faster.”
The defense also stopped two Penn State drives off interceptions by Cato June and Marlin Jackson.
The loss gives Penn State its first 0-4 start in school history.