During the past decade, the Nittany Lions have lost to the Wolverines in every conceivable manner. There have been blowouts and heartbreakers, last-second collapses and laborious deaths-of-a-thousand cuts.
Penn State's 17-10 loss Saturday night in Beaver Stadium definitely falls into the latter category. There was nothing particularly memorable or spectacular about the game, save for sheer amount of time Michigan's defensive linemen spent in Penn State's backfield. The Wolverines just slowly, methodically put the game away, building enough of a lead to withstand a late Nittany Lion rally.
I thought we played hard, Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. We hung in there against a very fine football team that played a really good game. There was only one turnover in the whole football game, one that we had. It was a good, tough football game. But you hate like the devil to have the kids not come away with a win. We've had too many of those.
The Nittany Lions (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) lost in large part because they couldn't protect their quarterbacks. Anthony Morelli was battered and eventually had to leave the game after a being slammed to the turf in the third quarter by defensive tackle Alan Branch. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Daryll Clark, who joined him on the sideline in the fourth quarter after being hit while scrambling. The Lions finished the game with third-teamer Paul Cianciolo under center.
Paterno said Morelli had a concussion and that Clark snapped his neck. There was no word on their availability for Penn State's game next Saturday against Illinois.
The Lions tried everything to keep Morelli and Clark upright — rollouts, two tight ends, a no-huddle offense — but the Wolverines kept coming. All told, Penn State surrendered seven sacks. Midway through the second quarter, Morelli was sacked on three consecutive plays for 35 yards in losses.
Cianciolo had a chance to lead the Lions to overtime after the offense struggled for long stretches. His 43-yard screen pass to Tony Hunt with 3:18 left to play trimmed Michigan's lead to 17-10. But the Lions couldn't move the ball after getting it back with 1:27 left. Cianciolo overthrew Jordan Norwood on fourth down as the Wolverines clinched their victory.
We told [Cianciolo], 'We're here with you, just go out there like it's practice,' receiver Derrick Williams said. I know he probably went out there nervous. But he made some plays and did a good job.
Fourth-ranked Michigan (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) was playing without star receiver Mario Manningham, the recipient of nine touchdown passes in the team's first six games. Manningham's knee surgery forced the Wolverines to improvise. They got 112 yards from tailback Michael Hart, while Chad Henne completed 15 of 30 passes for 196 yards. But even with those performances, they were held 16.5 points below their season average.
I thought our defensive guys did a great job, Paterno said.
The Nittany Lions squandered a good start, missing a 46-yard field goal on their first drive after A.J. Wallace returned the opening kickoff 46 yards to the midfield stripe.
Later in the first quarter, the Lions wasted a big defensive stop as Williams fumbled a punt return that would have given them the ball at their own 48-yard line.
The Wolverines eventually got their offense unstuck. They took a 7-0 lead on a 25-yard pass from Henne to Adrian Arrington in the second quarter and added a 23-yard Garrett Rivas field goal after consecutive sacks forced the Lions to punt from their 12-yard line.
Penn State could only answer with a 21-yard field goal at the end of the half. Kevin Kelly's kick with 15 seconds left made the score 10-3 at halftime, but the second-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history clearly wanted a touchdown after the Lions had first-and-goal at the Michigan 6.
Except for a wedge of maize-and-blue-clad fans in the northeast corner of the stadium, those 110,007 attendees didn't have much to cheer about until late in the second half. Michigan scored on a 1-yard run by Hart late in the third quarter, and that touchdown turned out to be the difference.
The loss was especially tough on Penn State's seniors, who won't get to experience a victory over the Wolverines.
It is [disappointing], defensive end Tim Shaw said. I wanted to get them, for our team. It could have been a great win for us today. That's why it hurts so much.