A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the Big House is one of our favorite college football venues. In fact, it is #4 on our list. Given that until this weekend we hadn’t won there since 1996, it’s a credit to Michigan and its fans that we have enjoyed it that much. But it’s an even better experience when we win! Even if the weather included a soggy cold drizzle that was chilling to the bone. We needed, for the second week in a row, all the foul weather gear in our possession to survive that game.
The currently in progress stadium renovations at the Big House include stadium suites on the East and West sides. The net effect of building up the sides is an even noisier stadium than before, and a different look from street level. Our seats were at the top of the south end-zone – 94th row - so we had a great view of plays as they developed. Looking down from that height into a “bowl” full of mostly maize is always an awesome experience.
During the first three minutes and forty-nine seconds of the game, Michigan was in control. They controlled the line of scrimmage and engineered an 11-play, 70 yard drive. They handled our defense handily, and scored a touchdown. Terry and I looked at each other in despair. Michigan made it look too easy! And just like that, the Penn State defense allowed the first touchdown of the season in the first half. The defensive streak was broken in the 8th game.
At that point, we thought we were in trouble – serious trouble! But when Penn State’s offense took the field, they answered right away with a 68-yard, 4 play touchdown drive on their own, tying the score. From that point on, Penn State dominated the game, although there were times when I thought that Michigan just made too many mistakes. The score was 19-10 at half time.
During the second half, it was all Penn State. Our offense scored another 16 points in the second half, making the final score 35-10. Michigan could not score again. Michigan had a chance when they blocked a punt on the Penn State 30, but Penn State forced a fumble and recovered it on the Penn State 20.
The offense had a great day. Quarterback Darryl Clark completed 16 of 27 passes including four touchdowns (no interceptions). Running Back Evan Royster had another 100 yard game. The defense contained Michigan’s usually prolific running game or created turnovers – two interceptions and two fumbles.
Perhaps that first Michigan touchdown was a wakeup call to our defense. Michigan’s total offense was only 250 yards on 73 plays. We held them to 110 yards rushing on 40 attempts (2.75 yards per carry). We controlled time of possession, especially in the second half.
In other words, it was a solid win, perhaps the best and most balanced performance of the season so far. And it happened in the Big House! Finally. As John Black, editor of the Penn State Football Newsletter, so aptly predicted that morning, it would be a game to finally “get the monkey off our back” and relegate those years of back-to-back losses against Michigan to a distant memory. We've now won two in a row against Michigan. So a new streak has begun, I hope!
As for the noise in the Big House, it was much more subdued in the second half. In fact, perhaps due to the nasty weather, a lot of Michigan fans started to leave in the third quarter. Penn State fans, of course, stayed until the end, enjoying the celebration with the entire Penn State Blue Band and the football players who rushed towards the Penn State fans after the game to celebrate with us.
Before Saturday’s game, a lot of us were still wondering what type of team we would have this year. The win at Michigan gave us more answers – it appears that we have a very good team, one that might even be great if they win out the rest of the season. But of course Penn State can’t overlook Northwestern coming up in Evanston this Saturday. Ohio State and Michigan State both loom large as “must wins” against stiff competition. We still have a long way to go.
Saturday evening, back at the hotel, Penn State fans gathered in the lounge to celebrate our victory and watch the Michigan State-Iowa game. For a while, it looked like Michigan State could pull off an upset win. The Penn Staters around us were cheering the Spartans on as they could feel at least a share of the Big Ten Championship coming our way. But Iowa again managed to find a way to win! And many Penn Staters went to bed after that game disappointed. I wasn’t one of them. I found myself excited about Iowa achieving 8-0 for the first time in their history. Kudos to them! Iowa still has to play Ohio State at the Horseshoe, and their archrival Minnesota at home. So a lot can happen to keep Penn State’s chances alive.
Our team needs to be focused on winning, one game at a time. The rest of the Big Ten and other national contenders will win or lose each week and we will all have fun cheering for this team or that hoping that the right combination of wins or losses will put Penn State in position for a great conclusion to the season. National championship? There’s a very slight chance. Big Ten Championship? A decent shot at a share of the title. A BCS Bowl? It’s an awesome possibility.
Penn State has a lot to play for. There are lots of football games to be played. The team itself needs to take it one game at a time and hope that winning the rest will position them well for post-season play. That’s all we can ask of them.
Beat Northwestern on Saturday!