Coming off one of the most disappointing losses in Michigan history, the Wolverines started the game against Penn State looking as if there were lingering effects from surrendering the little brown jug. Solid on defense, the Michigan offense could muster only a field goal in the first half, and the story was beginning to write itself once again. Wisconsin...Minnesota...I had seen this game before. Let a team hang around enough until something odd happens and the game slips away.
The third quarter began with a touchdown scoring drive by the Wolverines that included a 15 yard run by Kevin Grady. It was the first offensive touchdown of the season by Michigan in the 3rd quarter. Now up 10-0, it seemed as if things were going to finally be different. The defense then let up their first big play of the game, a sideline pass that ended up going for 56 yards. But the Wolverines held Penn State to a field goal, and went into the fourth quarter up 10-3.
Michigan went 6 and out, gaining only 11 yards in just over 2 minutes and put the defense back on the field much too quickly. A 61-yard run followed by the same QB draw for a touchdown we saw against Wisconsin, and suddenly we were back to where we had been so many times before, tied late. 11 seconds later the "odd" play occurred. A Henne 35 yard scramble ended in a handoff to Alan Zemaitis of Penn State and was taken the other way for a touchdown. Better yet, a bad snap results in the midget kicker running it in for a two point conversion, and Penn State scores 15 straight points in 17 seconds, and the same shell shock we've felt so many times this season set in again.
A 33-yard touchdown pass from Henne to Mario Manningham followed by a Mike Hart two-point conversion tied it at 18. Penn State stalled and punted to Steve Breaston who returned the ball to the Michigan 43. But the Michigan drive stalled at the Penn State 30, and forced Garrett Rivas to bang home a 47-yard field goal, giving Michigan the lead 21-18. It couldn't have been scripted any better for Penn State. 3:27 to go with all of their timeouts, and a touchdown needed to win the game and remain in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten at 7-0. But on the second play of their drive, Leon Hall intercepted a pass. After a holding penalty on the interception return, Michigan took over on the Penn State 41, and with a touchdown or a time consuming drive, the Wolverines could put the game away. They got neither. A 2-yard run, a 3-yard pass, a 2-yard run, and a 15 yard punt...all sandwiched between Penn State timeouts, gave the Nittany Lions the ball back with 2:37 remaining. And once again, Michigan fell apart. Penn State went on an 12-play, 81 yard drive that ended in a touchdown, a 25-21 Nittany Lion lead, and less than a minute remaining on the clock. Several fans began to file out of the Big House in disgust of the impending 3-4 start. I personally felt sick to my stomach. Everyone remaining began to look around for answers, and the only hope we could cling to was in the hands and legs of Steve Breaston.
Breaston returned the kickoff to the Michigan 46, leaving 54 yards in 37 seconds for victory. An 18 yard pass complete to Jason Avant was followed by a 4 yard pass to Carl Tabb, who had no chance of getting out of bounds. An immediate timeout, and the clock read :28 to go. In his most masterful coaching move of the season, Lloyd Carr lobbied the referees to get the clock reset to :32. They met him halfway, adding two seconds on the clock, one of which would be one of the most important in Michigan history. 6 plays later, with time expired, Henne hit Mario Manningham once again for a touchdown, this time on a slant in the endzone, and the House erupted.
A melee ensued in section 30, and as my eyes (and the eyes of a 47 year old man with a cowbell) welled up with tears of joy, a message was sent to the students that sat around our rogue group of elders. Some youngsters were in maize, some in blue, some in red, and some in green...despite the call to arms for the maize out. They wished that they had put their hearts and souls into this team the way we had, so they could somehow get a taste of the feeling we were feeling now. As the team traversed the playing field to give love to the students for the first time this season, they realized that this was all for them. That they were a part of it. What takes place on the field is in many ways a derivative of what is going on in the seats, in the University, and in the community. It may have been exactly what everyone on the field and off the field needed. It's tough to find a bright side in 3-3, but perhaps you don't know what you've got until it's gone...and it feels so good to get a little bit of that magic, and a little bit of that feeling back.
Now at 4-3, nobody knows what the coming weeks will bring, but Saturday's game is the kind of thing that can change a team. That level of joy makes you hungry for more whether you're a player or a fan. At this the halfway point of the Big Ten slate, Michigan, with a little help, a little heart, and a little luck, can find itself right back in the race.
But first things first. Hawkeyes. 11am. Saturday. Be there.
Deep Fried Tailgate with Chili on the Side
Attempting to manage without the Godfather, the Captain led us in the 7-hour affair that included about 60-pounds of turkey and 6 full pots of chili. A slightly smaller but just as spirited crowd seemed to get a little drunker than usual and packed in the food like never before.
The Captain presented me with my 75th Game awards, which included an engraved business card holder from the Godfather, and a hand-painted penny sculpture created by the Captain himself. After the game under the light of a full moon, the Captain was became the first Michigan man to be carried off of the field since Bo Schembechler. It was a great game, a great day, and a great tailgate...and we'll see you all back at the corner in a month for the home stretch. Go Blue!!!