ANN ARBOR - It was a game Michigan won but could have lost, and Penn State lost but could have won.
That's why it took overtime to decide a winner in this gigantic test of wills and excellent example of what college football represents. Michigan won on the last play of the game for the second time this season, 27-24.
“I take my hat off to Penn State coming off two tough, physical games” against Wisconsin and Iowa, Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr said. “They came in here and played hard and certainly that was a tough loss. It would have been a tough loss for either team because every single guy on that football field played his heart out.
“This game had everything in terms of purity of the game, just the way the game was played, great plays on both sides and great effort. When you have a game played that hard with no turnovers and the [few] penalties, I think it says something about the discipline and the will of the people carrying the football and the decisions the quarterbacks were making. There was nothing easy today.”
If it was going to come down to the kicking game or one quarterback outplaying the other, both seemed to favor Penn State.
But when it did come down to those two facets on many occasions, Michigan quarterback John Navarre more than held his own against the Nittany Lions' Zack Mills, the premier playmaker in the Big Ten. Penn State's usually accurate kicker, Robbie Gould, missed an extra point and a 47-yard field goal.
The overtime period, in some ways, mirrored the eccentric events that occurred in UM's 31-29 victory over Washington on a last-second field goal in the season opener.
Michigan, 5-1 overall, 2-0 in the Big Ten and ranked 13th, won the toss to start the overtime and chose to be on defense.
Penn State (4-1, 1-2) quickly moved from the 25-yard line to the UM 6. On third down, Michigan cornerback Marlin Jackson ripped the ball out of the hands of Penn State wide receiver Bryant Johnson in the end zone after Johnson had burned Jackson for a number of big catches.
“To be a good cornerback you have to have a bad memory,” Jackson said. “I had to forget all of the other plays, and I made the big play in the end zone to sort of redeem myself.”
Penn State settled for a 23-yard field goal by Gould, who had made 8 of 9 previous attempts coming in. But he missed. Michigan, however, was offside on the play. Gould got another chance and made the 20-yarder to give Penn State a 24-21 lead.
UM took over at the 25 and moved to the Penn State 12 for a first down. Tailback Chris Perry smashed to the 6. A Navarre pass was broken up, but Penn State was offside, moving the ball to the 3.
Fullback B.J. Askew ran for no gain and then Perry crashed into the end zone on third down.
“I put a little extra into it because I knew they had two great tackles, and we've talked since two-a-day practices that we've got to finish, and today we finished,” said Perry, the game's leading rusher with 80 yards on 25 attempts.
These two heavyweights sparred in the first half, which ended in a 7-7 tie, with Navarre scoring Michigan's touchdown on a one-yard sneak with 2:52 remaining before halftime.
Penn State regained the lead on a Mills-to-Bryant Johnson touchdown pass early in the third quarter, but Gould missed the PAT, which appeared to give Michigan a lift. The Wolverines were stopped on the ensuing series, but a roughing-the-kicker penalty gave UM new life at its 36-yard line.
The Wolverines scored eight plays later, Navarre throwing five yards to a leaping Braylon Edwards in the end zone for the score. With the PAT, UM led for the first time, 14-13.
Whereas neither team could get anything started in the first half, neither could stop the other in the fourth quarter.
Penn State regained the lead on its next possession with Mills passing 19 yards to Johnson for the score. Mills passed to Johnson for the two-point conversion to make it 21-14, and Jackson was beaten on both plays. Michigan responded with a 64-yard drive that culminated in a three-yard scoring pass from Navarre to Edwards. That tied the score at 21 with 3:24 to play in regulation and forced the first overtime game ever in Michigan Stadium.
“I really haven't got anything to tell you guys [media],” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. “We were in a tough game. We didn't make some plays at the end. It's as simple as that.”