It's one thing to win a game. It's quite another thing to win a game that nobody expects you to win. Not even yourself. It's just a great deal more fun when Penn State surprises and delights. Which they did last night against Michigan when they achieved a solid 41-31 win.
Yes, that's right. I confess that I held only slight hope that the Nittany Lions would come out on top over Michigan. I wasn't even that excited about a game under the lights. About the only thing I was really excited about was that we had a family member - my husband's daughter Terri Lynn - visiting us from out of town, and we were tailgating with friends - Charlie and Lindley - from Memphis Tennessee who would make it to Beaver Stadium only once this year. We were anxious to see them and catch up.
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I was also quite curious about whether or not the Project 7 initiative by students would fill up the stands by kickoff. And I was glad that the weather was decent, albeit predicted to be a bit cold by game time.
The students didn't quite make it by kickoff, but it was full about 8 minutes into the 1st quarter. You can view a picture of the student section at my blog at www.viewfromstands.blogspot.com
Most importantly, there was a noticeable difference in the decibel level at the game. It was VERY loud and high-spirited.
The students' presence and enthusiasm electrified the entire stadium, and made me realize how much I missed it earlier in the season.
The energy in the atmosphere motivated us all to be noisy and to get out of any slump we might have felt by the Nittany Lions' on-again, off-again performance this season.
Now that it's over, we can say it was a great game. One of our favorites, in fact perhaps a top ten on our list. It was just plain fun.
It was especially fun because our opponent was Michigan. They have a highly capable offense led by quarterback extraordinaire Denard Robinson. And while Michigan's defense is suspect, so has been Penn State's defense and offense.
And so we had this offensive shoot-out at Beaver Stadium under the lights.
Our offense was led by third string quarterback and former walk-on Matt McGloin, who was filling in for the injured true freshman quarterback Robert Bolden. It was anchored by running back extraordinaire Evan Royster, who was due for a breakout game this season. Evan Royster was only 31 yards away from breaking Curt Warner's all time rushing record at Penn State, and he did so with plenty of yards left in his arsenal.
The McGloin-Royster combo turned out to be very potent. Matt McGloin completed 17 of 28 pass attempts for 250 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. Evan Royster achieved 150 yards rushing on 29 attempts, with two touchdowns.
Michigan's offense was led by Denard Robinson, who is often promoted as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Denard Robinson was hard for our defense to stop. He gained 191 yards on 27 rush attempts, and completed 11 of 23 pass attempts for 190 yards and one touchdown, with no interception.
There really wasn't much other offense for Michigan. Of 423 total yards of Michigan offense, Robinson accounted for 381 of those yards.
With a 28-10 lead at half-time, Penn State had a comfortable lead to defend. And defend it had to do! Michigan's half-time adjustments led to three second half touchdown scores, fueled by Robinson's passing, scrambling and running abilities.
With Penn State's defense not able to stop Robinson, the Nittany Lion offense had to score enough to prevent Michigan from closing the gap and leaping ahead. The offense scored ten points in the 3rd quarter.
The Wolverines closed the gap to seven points with 9:25 left in the game.
All of a sudden, the Lions were battling for survival, not domination. It became a tense game, one where a Penn State win was not at all assured. With visions of 2005 at Michigan dancing in our heads, we watched the next five minutes in a grim fog realizing that we might lose the game.
That's where the ball control of the offense really helped. In the second 30-minute half, Penn State possessed the ball 20:35 minutes. Keeping Michigan's offense off the field was critical to winning.
With the score 41-31 and 4:44 left on the clock, Penn State took over the game on downs. Our defense, bolstered by a boisterous crowd that was on its feet when Robinson was faced with fourth down, finally held four times against Robinson and Michigan's offense.
Then, even the special teams got involved with keeping Michigan from another possession. Rather than kick a field goal to make the score 44-31, Collin Wagner executed a fake perfectly and rushed for 7 yards and a first down.
Penn State simply had to execute rushing plays and run down the clock. They took a knee on the 2 yard line rather than score again. A sign of respect for Michigan and also a typical classy act by a coach who knows that a win is a win.
In the end, all we can say is what a game! This was the first truly satisfying win of the season.
Kudos to Matt McGloin for his leadership, to the entire offense for playing a nearly penalty-free game with no turnovers, and to the defense for stopping Michigan when they had to.
Kudos to Evan Royster for his record-breaking performance. He has been such a great contributor to Penn State throughout his career.
And kudos to Coach Joe Paterno for his 399th win!
On to Northwestern. Go Lions! Beat the Wildcats!
Bring us JoePa's 400th game at Beaver Stadium!