celebrates after scoring the game-winning TD in the fourth OT vs. Michigan. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Coming into Saturday, Michigan had already escaped a pair of close calls in 2013. Like Rasputin, the Wolverines kept finding ways to survive, narrowly topping Akron in Week 3 and UConn in Week 4.
It took four overtimes, but the Wolverines finally ran out of luck on the road at Penn State. They fell 43-40 in a contest that was loaded with late-game drama.
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (15-of-28, 240 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions) was shaky at times, and it initially looked like Penn State would match the Wolverines stride for stride. However, after coach Brady Hoke's team rallied to take a 34-24 lead on a Gardner-to-Devin Funchess scoring strike with just more than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Nittany Lions' hopes seems all but dashed.
That changed after Penn State kicker Sam Ficken netted a 43-yard field goal to cut the deficit to one score and Michigan was unable to extend the lead despite a long drive in which the Wolverines were aided by a questionable pass interference call. Lions true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg got the ball back with with less than a minute remaining and a chance to tie the game.
Hackenberg hit star receiver Allen Robinson, who somehow managed to get one foot inbounds, for a 29-yard completion to move the chains. Then Hackenberg connected with Robinson again for an incredible leaping grab to get the Nittany Lions down to the one-yard line. Hackenberg sneaked in the score, and although Michigan charged back to force a potential game-winning 52-yard field goal attempt (kicker Brendan Gibbons missed), the game moved to overtime.
Ficken would miss a 40-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime, and Gibbons had his attempt blocked to force a second OT. (Sensing a trend?) The teams then traded field goals, but Michigan seemed set to emerge after Robinson fumbled on an end around on the first play of the third overtime. Alas, Michigan couldn't capitalize; Gibbons missed a 33-yard field goal to improbably keep the Lions afloat.
Gibbons would hit his kick to start the fourth overtime, but Penn State opted to go for it on fourth-and-one from the 16-yard line instead of attempting another field goal. The Nittany Lions converted, and a few plays later, running back Bill Belton scored a touchdown from two yards out to give Penn State a dramatic win.
Michigan might have been ranked a bit too high coming into Week 7, but this is why most rankings fiascos sort themselves out naturally. The Wolverines will be moved down accordingly come Sunday morning. As for Penn State, it's tough not to be impressed with Hackenberg. The former five-star recruit is making the typical freshman mistakes, but he has a big arm and plenty of poise. For every head-shaking mistake, he makes another throw that offers a glimpse of his tantalizing potential.
The Wolverines will look to rebound next week against Indiana. The Nittany Lions will look to ride their momentum into a bye week before an Oct. 26 showdown with Ohio State in Columbus.