STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The University of Michigan got all the points it needed, and more, yesterday in the waning seconds of the first half and the opening minutes of the second half to saddle Penn State with an unprecedented 0-4 start.
The rest was up to a Michigan defense, vastly improved as a pressure unit, to deal the Nittany Lions their first shutout loss at Beaver Stadium in the Joe Paterno era.
“I am a little bit baffled right now,” Paterno admitted after a 20-0 loss to the Wolverines before an announced crowd of 107,879.
Paterno, the 74-year-old PSU coach who still needs one victory to tie Bear Bryant's all-time major college win record (323), and his Lions get a much-needed bye Saturday before returning to action at Northwestern on Oct. 20.
Penn State is 0-4 for the first time in school history and, no, there aren't many happy faces in Happy Valley.
Michigan, on the other hand, improved to 4-1 overall and set up a match of Big Ten unbeatens when Purdue visits Ann Arbor Saturday.
Locked in a 6-0 yawner, the 15th-ranked Wolverines bookended halftime with a pair of touchdowns and that was more than enough to bury a toothless Penn State offense that had a freshman quarterback at the controls and a rushing game that produced just 25 net yards on 26 carries.
The Wolverines produced more, but scored little. They barely missed a touchdown off a fake field goal early in the game and then struggled thereafter and settled for a pair of Hayden Epstein field goals before getting the ball at their 20-yard line with just 1:07 left in the first half.
“We came out flat, I think,” said Michigan receiver Marquise Walker. “We'd been in the red zone a few times and came away with field goals and that wasn't good enough. I told John (Navarre, the UM quarterback) that if we got down there again to throw it up and I'd get it.”
The Wolverines indeed got down there again, Navarre orchestrating a nine-play drive that was capped by three straight completions to Walker covering 15, 18 and 16 yards.
On the touchdown pass, Walker split the safeties, then leaped high between two defenders for an acrobatic, twisting catch with 12 seconds remaining that gave the Wolverines a 13-0 halftime lead.
“Penn State's defense was a handful,” said UM coach Lloyd Carr. “Touchdowns were hard to come by and I thought Marquise made probably the best catch of his career on a play we really needed.”
It took Michigan just four plays and a key Penn State defensive penalty to move 80 plays in the opening minutes of the second half. This time, Ronald Bellamy got well behind the defense and Navarre lofted a soft strike that Bellamy caught in stride and turned into a 53-yard scoring play.
That was it, but Michigan's defense made sure it was more than enough.
The Nittany Lions netted 269 yards, turned the ball over three times and were just 4-of-15 on third-down conversions. Michigan posted four sacks, 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, a pair of interceptions and recovered one of three PSU fumbles.
“Our defensive line set the tone and dominated the game,” said inside linebacker Larry Foote, who had three tackles for losses.
That's something new for the Wolverines, whose defense rarely exhibited a propensity for storming opposing backfields over the last couple seasons.
“Those kids have grown up, they're stronger and bigger,” Carr said. “Now, we have a veteran front with a lot of depth. When you're able to exert pressure with a four-man rush it gives a lot of other people a chance to see the ball and maybe create some turnovers. It allows you to jam receivers and have people back in positions so that the seams aren't so big.”
Nothing looked very big to Penn State, although redshirt freshman Zack Mills produced 244 yards through the air in his first start.
“I don't know if we brought our A game,” said UM running back B.J. Askew, who carried 27 times for 122 yards. “But our defense sure did. You can't ask them to do any more than shut a team out.”
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