My Favorite Game #2: Michigan vs. #3 Penn State, 2008
On October 18, 2008, Happy Valley was roaring over their third ranked Nittany Lions. The previous week, Joe Paterno’s squad soared past Wisconsin, beating the Badgers 48-7 at Camp Randall Stadium. This Penn State team had been relatively untested throughout their first seven games, going 7-0, with their closest margin of victory being 14 points. Starting the season ranked 22nd, they climbed the rankings behind new starting QB Daryll Clark, the Spread HD offense, and a swarming defense, that had played very well despite losing All-America candidate Sean Lee in the preseason.
A team that had been untested was now facing what had been one of their biggest tests every year since joining the Big Ten, the Michigan Wolverines. The Wolverines were riding a nine game winning streak against the Lions dating back to 1997 and some of those games still haunt Penn State fans to this day. One example is Tom Brady’s comeback in 1999, down ten points in the 4th quarter to 6th ranked Penn State at Beaver Stadium, Brady showed a glimpse of what was to come for the next two decades by leading the Wolverines back to a 31-27 victory, adding another loss as part of an end of season slide in 1999. Another is the 27-24 defeat in OT in Ann Arbor in 2002 where Tony Johnson was ruled out of bounds on a crucial catch, despite having two feet in bounds. However, without instant replay, officials kept the call on the field and the Lions were the ones on the losing end. Lastly, and perhaps most painful was the 2005 loss on the last play of the game where Michigan QB Chad Henne found Mario Manningham in the end zone to give the Wolverines a 27-25 victory and giving Penn State their only loss of the season.
With all the heartbreak from losing to Michigan, Penn State fans thought that finally, this was the year to beat Michigan, as the Wolverines were struggling under new head coach Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez led the Wolverines to a 2-4 start, struggling to use former coach Lloyd Carr’s pro offense personnel in a spread offense. On a beautiful day in State College, this was finally the year Penn State was going to overcome the Michigan Wolverines.
The homecoming crowd was ignited by a fly over by F-18 jets during the National Anthem, but was quickly quieted by a dominating performance by the Wolverines from the opening kick. Penn State’s highflying offense went three and out to start the game and allowed Michigan running back Brandon Minor to find his groove. Minor led a dominant drive down the field, running over Penn State defenders, and found the end zone from five yards out to give Michigan an early 7-0 lead.
On Penn State’s next drive, they were threatening to advance into Michigan territory until Clark fumbled on a QB run, giving Michigan both the football and more momentum. Then, Minor continued to dominant the ground game, continuing his punishment of Penn State defenders by bulldozing over them as he made his way down the field. The Wolverine drive sputtered in the red zone, but resulted in a 27-yard field goal to bump Michigan’s lead up to 10-0.
Freshman return man Chaz Powell quickly swung momentum back in Penn State’s favor by taking the ensuing kick return close to midfield. One play later, future Penn State all-time leading rusher, Evan Royster took a handoff from Clark. He was hit at the line, was lost in the shuffle of lineman and the shadows on the Beaver Stadium grass, and seemed like he rushed only for a minimal gain. However, Royster spun around and quickly emerged from the line and shadows into the sunlight as he galloped down the field for a 44-yard touchdown run. In a first quarter where nothing went right for the Nittany Lions, making many fans restless in the crowd, Royster sent a friendly reminder that everything would be okay.
Penn State tried to keep the momentum going when Sam McGuffie took the kickoff from Kevin Kelly up the field, only to be wacked by freshman LB Michael Mauti, who forced the fumble on the big hit. Unfortunately, for the Lions, Michigan recovered and set out for another touchdown drive with QB Steven Threet making some big throws and Brandon Minor continuing to be a battering ram, finding the end zone from one yard out, making it a 17-7 deficit.
Trailing by 10 points was the largest margin Penn State had faced all season. With their struggles against Michigan over the past decade, doubts of continuing their undefeated season and potential National Championship run crept into the minds of over 110,000 fans at Beaver Stadium. It was time for the Nittany Lions to eliminate all of those doubts.
While the Penn State offense continued to struggle throughout the first half, with a missed field goal by Kelly being their only threat to the Wolverine defense, Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley and his defense finally figured out how to stop Minor and the Maize and Blue from going up and down the field with little resistance. Bradley’s defense forced three consecutive three and outs, with Michigan only gaining 8 yards over those three drives combined. This allowed the Penn State offense to find their rhythm as they looked to end a rough first half on a positive note. A mix of passing and running by Clark and Royster led to a 3-yard touchdown catch by WR Jordan Norwood just before the conclusion of the first half. Despite trailing 17-14 going into halftime, Joe Paterno’s 3rd ranked Nittany Lions had all the momentum heading into the locker room, with their offense driving down the field before halftime and their defense stepping up to hold Michigan scoreless over the last 13 minutes of the first half.
As many of the past Penn State-Michigan matchups, this was sure to be a close second half. As ESPN’s Lee Corso would say, “not so fast, my friend!” Penn State’s momentum from the first half carried over after halftime and seemingly snowballed to a level that “RichRod” and his Wolverines could not handle. Although the Wolverines mounted a small drive to begin the second half, they were forced to punt after crossing into Penn State territory. Clark then led the Lions on a 14-play march, ending with a 42-yard field goal by Kelly to knot the game at 17 all.
Michigan then got the ball back at their 15-yard line and continued to go backwards as the drive went along. A holding penalty forced the Wolverines to snap the ball from inside their own 10-yard line with the Penn State Student Section directly behind them. Two negative rushing plays by backup QB Nick Sheridan set up the Wolverines with a 3rd and 20 from their own 5-yard line. With the Penn State defense returning to their stout form following Brandon Minor’s second TD of the day; it was their time to make a big play that would secure all the momentum for the rest of the night. As Sheridan dropped back to pass with the Penn State Student Section donned in white, pink, and black and with their hands up signaling and hoping for a safety right behind him, DE Maurice Evans emerged from his block up the middle. While Sheridan avoided Evans, he could not avoid DT Jared Odrick who emerged from the right side of Sheridan and sacked Sheridan in the end zone, forcing a safety, and giving the Nittany Lions a 19-17 lead that they would not relinquish.
The Lions then turned what was a competitive first half into an onslaught of the Wolverines. The defense did not surrender another Michigan first down until their very last drive of the game, pitching a shutout over the last 43 minutes of the game. Meanwhile, the Penn State offense scored on every possession of the second half, putting an exclamation point on the game with an 80-yard screen pass from backup QB Pat Devlin to RB Stephon Green to extend their lead to what would eventually be the final score of the game, 46-17.
It didn’t seem to matter that Michigan was on their way to a 3-9 record, the worst in school history, this beat down was long awaited for Penn State, making it even more joyous that it kept them undefeated heading into their biggest game of the year the next week in Columbus. Offensively, RB Evan Royster ran for 174 yards, averaging close to 10 yards per carry, and setting a personal career high in rushing yards for a game. WR Deon Butler eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark as Clark’s main target throughout the day. On the defensive side, LB Navarro Bowman continued his breakout 2008 season as he led the team in tackles with 11, while Jared Odrick picked up a safety to go along with his 2.5 tackles for loss.
Overall, it was an honor to be a part of the 110,017 fans who packed Beaver Stadium on that beautiful October day. The little bit of doubt that swept over the stadium in the first half made the Odrick safety, along with the rest of the second half that much sweeter for Penn State fans like me. Finally, the Nittany Lions overcame the Wolverines, and did so in convincing fashion.
This 2008 Penn State team went on to go 11-1 in the regular season, losing only at Iowa on a last second field goal, 24-23. Despite that loss, Penn State won the Big Ten title and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl, where they lost to USC, led by future top ten pick Mark Sanchez, 38-24.
With Penn State ending their decade long losing streak against the Wolverines, there was one thing that became certain following that game.
No matter what time it is, Michigan still sucks.
I hope you enjoyed reading For The Glory’s latest installment of the “My Favorite Games I Ever Attended” series. Stayed tuned next week as Cory unveils his second favorite game before Cory, Brandon, and I reveal all three of our favorite games the following week. Continue to let us know your favorite game is in the comments and tell us what you remember from this game, as well!