Penn State football hangs on for narrow win over Michigan

Written by on October 20, 2019

A game that seemed like a blowout at the beginning turned out to be a nail-biting thriller in Happy Valley. A whiteout environment of 110,669 at Beaver Stadium propelled No. 7 Penn State to a dominant performance in the first 23 minutes of play, and the Nittany Lions were able to hang on for the 28-21 victory over No. 16 Michigan on Saturday night.

“We didn’t play our best in all three phases today, but we played well enough to win the game,” coach James Franklin said. “We made plays when it was needed.”

The Nittany Lions shutout Michigan in the first quarter and took the lead on a 17-yard touchdown reception by tight end Pat Freiermuth. Freiermuth’s touchdown was set-up by a 37-yard Jahan Dotson catch, his only reception of the night.

The Nittany Lions’ offensive success continued to start the second quarter as quarterback Sean Clifford finished off a 64-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown scramble.

Just when it looked like things could not get any worse for the Wolverines, their offense committed its only turnover of the night on the ensuing drive. Quarterback Shea Patterson was intercepted by cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields, which set up Penn State with prime field position.

The Nittany Lions pushed the lead to 21-0 when Clifford connected with wide receiver K.J. Hamler for a 25-yard touchdown with 7:22 remaining in the second quarter.

By this point in the game Michigan’s chances for victory seemed bleak at best. Its offense had only mustered 91 total yards and its defense had already ceded three touchdowns to one of the most explosive offenses in the Big Ten.

The Wolverines, led by coach Jim Harbaugh, refused to quit. Michigan put together a 75-yard drive capped off by a 12-yard touchdown run by running back Zach Charbonnet to end the second quarter.

Michigan used its late score to carry momentum into the second half when it rallied fiercely, shutting down Penn State’s offense and putting together two touchdown drives of 65 and 75 yards respectively.

The narrow win was a harrowing reminder of Penn State’s struggle to protect double-digit leads. The Nittany Lions held a 35-20 lead with 7:25 to go in the third quarter at Ohio State in 2017 and a 26-14 lead against Ohio State in the whiteout game last year.

On Saturday, they held a 28-14 lead with 13:14 to go in the fourth quarter. Michigan surging and Penn State faltering was another reminder of the blown leads that crushed Penn State’s playoffs hopes in the past.

As Michigan drove down the field trailing 28-21, it seemed inevitable that it was going to tie the game and at least force overtime, if not pull out an improbable regulation upset. Alas, a dropped touchdown pass by wide receiver Ronnie Bell on fourth and goal gave the Nittany Lions the ball, and a prompt first down iced the game.

The Wolverines fell to 5-2 on the season and 19thin the latest AP Poll. They will host No. 7 Notre Dame next Saturday. This will be the third matchup against a ranked opponent this season for Michigan.

With the victory, the Nittany Lions record back-to-back wins over ranked opponents for the first time since 2005, which included wins over No. 18 Minnesota and No. 6 Ohio State, to remain a perfect 7-0 on the 2019 season.

Penn State is now No. 6 in the AP Poll and will travel to East Lansing, Michigan to play Mark Dantonio and Michigan State next Saturday. Penn State has lost to the Spartans in each of its last two seasons, and coach James Franklin is 1-4 against Michigan State during his tenure at Penn State.

Feature Image By Alex Mellott

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