STATE COLLEGE – Saturday could have been that game.
At least it had all the elements.
The revenge factor from the Wolverines’ infamous last-second win in Ann Arbor last year clearly remained a prominent topic of conversation in State College.
No. 2 Michigan, still undefeated, had yet to be really tested in a hostile environment under the lights.
And there was the personal vindication of Nittany Lion quarterback Anthony Morelli trying to prove he was the better than high school rival Chad Henne in the battle between the two Pennsylvania signal callers.
Still, with the upset looming large, the Wolverines, who were last undefeated this late in the season during the 1997 national championship campaign, did their job. They won, and more convincingly than the 17-10 score would have you believe.
The defense knocked out two Penn State quarterbacks – defensive tackle Alan Branch leveled Morelli in the third quarter while defensive end LaMarr Woodley hammered backup Daryll Clark in the fourth.
Penn State (2-2 Big Ten, 4-3 overall), second in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, didn’t even break even in that category. The nation’s No.1 run defense held the Nittany Lion ground attack to minus-14 yards.
And the Michigan offense, sans speedy wide receiver Mario Manningham, bounced back from a shaky first quarter to silence the second-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history for much of the
After a disappointing five-loss season, the Wolverines (4-0, 7-0) have already matched last season’s win total with five games remaining. And Sunday, Michigan, fresh off the road victory, sits in third place behind Ohio State and Southern Cal in the first edition of the BCS rankings, a feat which last year’s squad never imagined.
“Right now, we’ve had an incredible stretch of games,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I don’t remember a season with the schedule like the one that we’ve just come through, with still Iowa going in here next week. We’ve been through the gauntlet.”
The failures of last year seem to resonate the most with the defense. Many of the current players suffered through the embarrassments and took it upon themselves to prove that this Wolverine team was back. They demonstrated it at Notre Dame and cemented it Saturday.
With 1:53 seconds left in the game, the Michigan offense stalled and had to punt it away to a Penn State team brimming with momentum. The crowd took it to another noise level.
And the defense, unlike to so many times last season, made a fourth-quarter stand.
Starting at the Nittany Lions’ 24-yard line, third-string quarterback Paul Cianciolo could muster just one completion as Penn State gained a measly four yards on four plays to effectively end the game.
“I have confidence in my defense,” senior wide receiver Steve Breaston said. “There’s nothing in the back of your mind that says they’re not going to get it done. You just kind of feel that they’re going to go out there, and it’s going to be three-and-out.”
In a much-anticipated homecoming, quarterback Chad Henne calmly managed the Wolverine offense and the hatred from a riled-up Beaver Stadium.
He started in the second quarter with a seam pass between two Penn State defenders to wide receiver Adrian Arrington on a 25-yard touchdown pass for Michigan’s first score.
Even though that was the Wyomissing, Pa. native’s lone touchdown, Henne, who finished the day 15-for-30 for 196 yards, showed why he’s been such a solid play caller for the Wolverines during their seven-game winning streak.
“He showed tremendous poise,” said Breaston, who also enjoyed playing in his home state for the first time in his Michigan career. “You’re not always going to get a blowout, and he just was out there making great calls and checks, and he did a great job getting the ball to our receivers.”
Ever-consistent running back Mike Hart took the ball 26 times and racked up 112 yards, his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season.
None of the yards were more important than the 23 he had in the waning moments of the contest.
Against a stingy Penn State front seven, right guard Alex Mitchell didn’t think Michigan reached the century mark until after the game when he called some people from home.
“It was really satisfying,” Mitchell said on Monday. “I didn’t know until after the game that we’d rush for over 100 yards. I didn’t think we’d had that much during the game.”
The Wolverines have enjoyed the national spotlight ever since their win at Notre Dame, but they remain undeterred by rankings and hype. Being second in the nation and third in the BCS hasn’t changed the motivation that drives Michigan.
Arrington didn’t even know the Wolverines moved up in the poll until reporters told him on Monday.
“I honestly don’t care,” Arrington said. “Our ultimate goal is just to win, so if we win every game, everything has to fall into place. There’s no way that it can’t really.”
By the numbers:
3 – Quarterbacks Penn State used
7 – Sacks the Michigan defense made
-14 – Rushing yards Penn State had