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Penn State 42, Michigan 13: They Remembered

Comeuppance is a doozy, ain’t it?

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Michigan Fourth Quarter Drive vs Penn State in 2016
In fairness to Speight, it indeed was a laugh-worthy drive.

The above is a snapshot of the drive that, likely, inspired the now infamous quote that has been circulated and referred to by just about everyone within and outside of the Penn State football team:

I think there was one drive in the third or fourth quarter where we called the same play eight times in a row,” he said. “We would just flip it back and forth. I started laughing looking at the play call because they would do the same signal and the same number every time.

The lineman were getting so excited because I would call the same play and I think we were getting like 9 or 10 a pop,” Speight mentioned. “When that happens it’s demoralizing for a defense. I have never played defense, but I can imagine it would suck to go through that every single play and just have someone run you over.

It was, in essence, the encapsulation of last year’s game. Injuries aside, no matter what Michigan threw at Penn State in that game, everything just seemed to work. Jim Harbaugh took plenty of chances on fourth down, because he knew his offense would likely convert. And for most of the game in Ann Arbor, it did. The Penn State offense was doing nothing on that day, and any concerns that failing to convert a fourth down in your own territory would lead to disaster were simply not there. That drive above encapsulates why.

We all know how the story went from there. James Franklin and his crew went on to win the next nine games, win the Big Ten, and be a part of one of the most memorable Rose Bowl games in recent memory. Michigan would lose to Iowa and Ohio State, and would finish third in its own division.

Franklin may have put this game behind him, but the man isn’t one to forget a perceived slight. He preaches the “one game at a time” mantra, and there’s no indication that he wavers from this mantra at any point in the year. His approach is so meticulous that he does the same things in the same order every single day. He, not even for a minute, will waver from his approach of thinking only about what’s right in front of him. But history has shown that, once his approach is in place, and once his labor bears fruit, he remembers.

Franklin likely remembers the feeling of embarrassment he felt when he went for a field goal down 28 because he didn’t think his team could punch it in. He likely remembers the feeling of devastation he felt when his players apologized for the performance they put on the field that day. He certainly remembers the athletic director having to give him a vote of confidence merely four games into the season. Most of all, he absolutely remembers the chants to “Fire Franklin” after his offense seemed dead in the water a week later.

But Franklin isn’t the only one who remembers. Marcus Allen said immediately after the game that they would never let this happen again, and so far it hasn’t. The team has approached each week as if it were the last game of their lives, and there’s no doubt that the coaches and the players have all moved on from that game in September of last season. But they certainly remembered.

The most important unit in this game was the Michigan defense. The paper tiger Wolverine was ranked first in the nation coming into this game, and second in S&P+, behind Alabama. It didn’t take long for Penn State to gash them, having Saquon Barkley scamper for 69* yards on the second play from scrimmage. A Michigan three-and-out later, the Nittany Lions had already tacked on another score on another Barkley run.

Their defense wasn’t completely hopeless, however. Late in the first quarter, Trace McSorley threw an ill-advised interception off an errant throw, which led to Michigan’s first points of the game. The Wolverine offense looked competent, even, in the drive after the interception. At the end of that drive, though, Penn State’s offense would have 183 yards, while Michigan’s would have 54. The sweetest part of that drive? Quinn Nordin would miss the ensuing PAT after Michigan put the ball in the end zone on fourth and goal.

The second quarter was reminiscent of the Indiana game, where the Hoosiers settled down and held Penn State to zero points in the quarter. Michigan almost did the same thing as Indiana, scoring two touchdowns of their own to come within a point of the Lions. Penn State, however, was able to score late in the quarter to regain the eight-point lead and go to the half up 21-13. Speaking of Indiana, they allowed 370 total yards in their loss to Penn State. Michigan? They allowed 302 in the first half.

The Nittany Lions made the right adjustments in the second half, and prevented Michigan from moving the ball with the kind of ease they did in the second quarter. What they didn’t do, however, was take their foot off the gas. The Nittany Lions scored another 21 points in the second half, starters in throughout, to leave no doubt that they were out for blood in this game.

All in all, Penn State played a nearly perfectly the whole way. Aside from the one interception early in the first quarter, the Nittany Lions controlled the game, prevented Michigan from getting too comfortable on offense, and gashed a defense that had been shutting down opponents all season long. You couldn’t have scripted a better game. One more thing: How about the offensive line against a defense better than Northwestern’s or Indiana’s?

It was unrealistic for all but the most devoted of Penn State fans to believe the game would play out as it did. But after the fact, it makes all the sense in the world. If given the opportunity to send a message to the conference and the country, why not take it? Even if in fact this was not a revenge game, it was an opportunity to show the world that they remembered.

Looking Ahead

Penn State follows up this game with an even bigger one in Columbus. The fully rested Ohio State Buckeyes await, ready for a statement game of their own. Kickoff is at 3:30 on Fox.