The crowd boiled when the 1997 national championship team lined up side by side from tower to tower along the northern end zone.
They gave Lloyd Carr a standing ovation — on the day the tunnel was named after that team’s coach — who took off his hat to thank the fan base. So did Charles Woodson, the recipient of the 1997 Heisman Trophy and the heartbeat of the best team in modern Michigan, as he beat his chest in tribute to the Wolverines stalwart.
On the day the program awarded its last national championship team, at least early on, the Wolverines appeared to be stating that they were in contention for another team this year.
Then, adversity struck.
Quarterback Sean Clifford’s 62-yard rushing at the 3 and 1 gave Penn State a quick score. Five games into Michigan’s ensuing game, JJ McCarthy’s pass was tipped over and bounced off his helmet before being picked by the Nittany Lions at No. 6.
The Wolverines were suddenly behind in a game they dominated for 25 minutes. But they didn’t waver.
“At halftime, it was two big games and everyone knew what the trade was,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We made a mistake on offense that led to them hitting a touchdown, and they played a big role in the quarterback read.
“It’s just those two games, so we’ve got 30 minutes left, let’s keep doing what we’re doing.”
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Wolverine did just that.
Michigan imposed its will on the Nittany Lions’ previously No. 1 player. The No. 5 Charge defense cemented itself as a college football playoff contender for the second straight season in a 41-17 victory.
“The beauty of our offense is that we’re multi-dimensional,” McCarthy said. “When you’re rushing for 400 yards against the 10th-ranked team in the country, I’ll sit down and be a part of that ride every game. .
The Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) rest next week before hosting Michigan State in October. 29.
Michigan difficult to take advantage of early
The disparity in offensive numbers in the first half is staggering. The Wolverines have more first-wave losses (18-1). They have more yards (274-83). They have more fast breaks (50-14) and have a big advantage in possession time, closer to 24 to 6 minutes.
Still, it’s close, in part because Michigan can’t play early in the red zone in time.
“Obviously in the first half, we wanted to be different on the scoreboard,” McCarthy said. “But I mean they only have one first down and we have 18, so we’ll take it any day of the week.”
In the Wolverines’ first drive, they faced Penn State’s 11-team 3 and 3. Donovan Edwards gestured to the backfield from the slot, then ran the swing back to the left when McCarthy called for a steal. But McCarthy passed the ball over his head and Michigan completed a 29-yard Jack Moody field goal.
The Wolverines then advanced for 77 yards in 13 games, but the pivotal game came from a second and goal at the 2. Blake Colomb made a handoff on the left, but Penn State’s Gial Brown pushed past left tackle Ryan Hayes and blew up the game for a 3-yard loss in the backcourt.
Then, Kunlun was tackled for the third at-bat, forcing Michigan to accept another short field goal from Moody’s 24 yards.
Michigan took advantage of a long drive on the third possession, advancing for 70 yards in 13 games, and Kunlun had a 1-yard touchdown for a 13-0 lead. The Wolverines knew they would control the line of scrimmage.
“Start with the jump, start with the first drive,” McCarthy said. “The way (the line) took them off the ball, they didn’t show us anything we’d never seen before.
“I knew it was going to be a dogfight in the trenches and our men would definitely be pulling out.”
In the last time Michigan was in the red zone in the first half, Colum jammed a 3-pointer and a one-pointer from midfield, and Moody’s 23-yard free-kick with two seconds into the half ended the game. 16-14 lead.
The game went on for more than 20 minutes and Penn State (5-1, 2-1) was lifeless. The Nittany Lions were beaten 196-9, Michigan went 35 in 6 games at Penn State and had 13 openers ahead of Clifford and company.
After a well-executed running pass option, that changed three games.
In third and first, Clifford appeared to give the ball to Ketron Allen, and the sixth-year signal caller had nothing but turf in front of him as the Wolverines defense converged. Clifford ran from his own 34 yards to Michigan’s 4 for 62 yards before being chased by Jaymon Green.
Four games later, Allen scored from 1 yard.
The next big play came from the Nittany Lions’ defense.
McCarthy turned right at 3 and 2 to try to find Colomb on the flats, but the expected pass was snapped by Jope Robinson, bounced off PJ Mustipher’s helmet and landed on the waiting Curtie In the arms of Jacobs, the latter ran the ball back for 47 yards. The touchdown gave Penn State a 14-13 lead.
“Our spirits are lifted,” center Olusegun Oluwatimi said. “We knew we beat ourselves because we played really well in the first half, so we just wanted to come out and execute in the second half and we felt like we did.”
It was the last time the Nittany Lions had any real momentum, as big second-half runs went down Michigan’s path.
With 11:12 left in the third quarter, the Wolverines got their first major game after Michigan forced Penn State to make a field goal on its first possession.
Edwards ran behind the tugging Oluwatimi and Zakzint got a block on the second floor, which allowed Edwards to stay put and high into the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown. McCarthy’s screen pass to Ronnie Bell converted 2 points to make the score 24-17.
“The offensive linebacker took the corner, the tackle took the linebacker, and the gap was so big,” Edwards said. “I just hit it and then you’re one-on-one with the safety. Like, what are you going to do with it, are you going to win or are you going to be tackled?
“Then, no matter how long the touchdown is, it needs it.”
Michigan’s next offense was a 61-yard touchdown, this time by Kunlun. Oluwatimi and Zinter are in trouble again. The centre-back and right-back opened a huge hole in the middle, Colson Loveland pulled through the formation to block a potential interceptor from the weak side, and Colombe moved beyond the defensive end zone.
Too many raid attacks to handle
The two long touchdowns were the first time since November that two Michigan ball handlers have scored from more than 60 yards. April 4, 2017 vs. Minnesota — Callan Higdon (77) and Chris Evans (60) finished with 200 and 191 yards respectively — but not only Just two big plays.
Edwards had five rushes for at least 10 yards. There are four in Kunlun. McCarthy has two. CJ Stokes has one.
Of the 55 total attempts, only six were zero or negative yards (two of which were late in the fourth quarter, as Michigan was running out of time). The Wolverines ran for 418 yards — an average of 7.6 yards per attempt — as Edwards led the way on a career day: 16 carries for 173 yards and two points.
“All praise goes to the Lord, I’m very lucky,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been praying for a game like this for a while, I just have to sit back and wait for my turn and show the world what I’m capable of.”
Kunlun finished with 28 carries for 166 yards and McCarthy had seven carries for 57 yards.
It was the first time the Wolverines ran for at least 400 yards against a Big Ten team since Michigan’s 78-0 win over Rutgers in 2016.
“As Coach Harbaugh said in the locker room, it’s a kick ass, kick ass either way,” McCarthy said. “It’s in our house and we’re proud of it and protect our house.”