ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Two weeks after its season seemed lost, Michigan has new life. Mike Hart ran for 153 yards on a career-high 44 carries and scored early in the fourth quarter, leading the Wolverines to a 14-9 win over No. 10 Penn State on Saturday.
The Wolverines (2-2, 1-0 Big Ten) have climbed back to .500 after starting the season with two of the worst losses in school history.
“Some people will still talk about us in a bad way,” Hart said. “But a lot of people will see that Michigan is back.”
The Wolverines were the fifth-ranked team in the country when they were stunned by Appalachian State in the opener. The next week, they were blown out of the Big House by Oregon.
Michigan always seems to get well against Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions (3-1, 0-1). Penn State has lost nine straight games to Michigan, the longest winning streak by one team over the famed coach and almost doubling the second-best run against him.
“It’s always frustrating when you lose,” said Paterno, whose second-longest skid is five against Iowa. “I don’t necessarily think it matter that it’s Michigan.”
Michigan held Penn State’s lackluster offense to three field goals and after the final one, midway through the fourth quarter, freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett converted a pair of third downs on passes to take 4 1/2 minutes off the clock and force JoePa to use all of his timeouts. The Nittany Lions got the ball back at their 13 with 1:28 to go, setting up a TD-or-bust drive. Anthony Morelli threw the ball away on the first two downs, avoiding sacks, and almost threw interceptions on the next two attempts to seal the loss. Morelli finished 15 of 31 for 169 yards. Mallett, starting for the injured Chad Henne, was 16-of-29 for 170 yards with an interception and he scored the first TD of the game on a 10-yard run.
Hart ran for more than 100 yards for the 23rd time in his career, breaking Anthony Thomas’ school record, and he barely stretched the ball across the goal line for what turned out to be the deciding score.
“Nobody said to challenge it because nobody saw it,” Paterno said. “I asked the official on the sideline, and he said, ‘It wasn’t my call.”’
Michigan’s Lloyd Carr improved to 17-8 against Top 10 teams after the much-maligned coach lost five of his previous seven.
The Nittany Lions outscored Florida International, Notre Dame and Buffalo by a combined 135-34, but acknowledged they would know a lot more about themselves by Saturday night. What they found out wasn’t good, at least on offense.
The running back tandem of Austin Scott and Rodney Kinlaw wasn’t effective, especially because Scott fumbled again, and the heralded receiving corps is limited when Morelli can’t make accurate throws.
Kinlaw ran for 69 yards on 12 carries, Scott had 35 yards rushing and no receiver had more than three receptions or 33 yards receiving. Just when Penn State finally showed signs of promise on offense midway through the third quarter, Scott lost his fourth fumble — on his 57 carry of the season — giving Michigan the ball at its 9.
Michigan gave the football right back at its 35. Mallett mishandled a snap, his second turnover of the game, but the Nittany Lions could only get in position for a 29-yard field goal by Kevin Kelly to pull to within 7-6 in the final minute of the third quarter.
Hart’s 1-yard run came after a pass-interference call in the end zone on third-and-goal kept the drive alive. Penn State responded with a solid drive, but was held to Kelly’s third field goal and had to settle for a 14-9 score midway through the fourth. “We moved the ball up and down the field on them a bunch of times,” Morelli said. “We just didn’t score enough points.”
The Nittany Lions got off to a rough start when Morelli, holding the football like a loaf of bread, fumbled.
Two plays later, Mallett scored on a crafty play. He dropped back, pump faked to the right and ran to the left untouched. Mallett flipped the football underhanded as he crossed the goal line in a move befitting his moxie.
“He’s showtime,” Hart said. “He loves the spotlight.”
Henne, looking like a coach with a cap and headset, greeted his replacement on the sideline. A protective sleeve covered his right knee, which has held him out for 2 1/2 games. Michigan might elect to hold him out for the next two games at Northwestern and against Eastern Michigan.
Carr said Henne is day-to-day, and Mallett said he won’t have a problem going to the sideline when the senior is ready.
“This is Chad’s team,” Mallett said.