Quarterback Chad Henne and the Michigan offense had 53 seconds left on the clock and 53 yards to go to win the game.
It was up to the offense to keep Michigan from dropping below .500 and rescue a defense that had just surrendered what could have been Penn State’s game-winning touchdown.
But Henne led the offense down the field and stole the win with a 10-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Mario Manningham with no time left on the clock.
That was two years ago, and this time around, the defense wanted the chance.
“We won it on defense,” linebacker Chris Graham said. “Our offense did their job. Call off the dogs, and we’re going to go out and bite.”
The Wolverines held a 14-9 lead Saturday when their offense sputtered in Penn State territory with 1:28 left on the clock. After the ensuing punt, the Nittany Lions’ offense took the field at their own 13-yard line with a chance to win the game.
But the Michigan defense wasn’t about to let that happen.
The first two snaps saw Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli throw the ball to the sidelines under pressure from defensive end Brandon Graham.
Safety Jamar Adams deflected away the next two Morelli passes. The senior signal caller tried to thread the first over the middle to Jordan Norwood, but Adams reached over the top to swat it down. The second, intended for wide receiver Chris Bell, never had a chance. Adams jumped over a Michigan defender to turn the ball back over to the Michigan offense.
After two Ryan Mallett kneeldowns, the game ended with another Wolverine win.
“(Defensive coordinator Ron English) was saying, ‘Turn it up,’ ” Brandon Graham said. “Every time we huddled he said, ‘Turn it up, turn it up, beat ’em down until they’re finished.’ And that’s what we did.”
Two years ago, the defense had to walk off the field knowing it hadn’t done its part in the come-from-behind victory. The offensive players were the heroes.
That day, Penn State trailed 21-18 when the Nittany Lions took possession on their 19-yard line with 2:46 remaining. Robinson marched Penn State down the field and scored the go-ahead touchdown in just under two minutes.
Saturday, defensive tackle Terrance Taylor and the defense sauntered off the field with their heads held high because they silenced their critics.
“We knew it was going to come down to us,” Taylor said. “That’s one of the things we practice. . It’s one of the things where we can show what kind of defense we are, when it comes down to something like that.”
The final Penn State drive was just the finishing touches on a game the defense competely dominated.
It forced two fumbles, one coming early in the first quarter when Brandon Graham stripped Morelli and Chris Graham recovered. The Wolverines cashed in with a Mallett touchdown to take the lead.
The second fumble stopped a long Penn State drive when Nittany Lion running back Austin Scott lost the ball after defensive end Tim Jamison hit him.
After taking heat the first two weeks of the season, the defense reiterated the statement it made last week with its performance against Notre Dame.
“I thought we had just unbelievable intensity,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I thought the coverage was really good. I thought we made some great hits down the field.”