Come Saturday, I'll be as excited as I've been for any game this season (that includes my Providence to Ann Arbor trip for the Under the Lights II, and yeah, I'm jazzed for every Michigan football game no matter who the Wolverines are playing). And sure, the Penn State Nittany Lions looked to be a stronger squad before falling to the Indiana Hoosiers last week, so that takes a bit of flare out of the matchup. But this game should give us (finally) a pretty solid image of what to expect from Michigan for the rest of the season. If the Wolverines show consistency and handle the Nittany Lions by playing mistake-free ball, there might be hope yet for an exciting, undefeated showdown on Saturday, Nov. 30. If the opposite happens, No Shave November will probably be more painful than anyone expected before the season began.
Anyways, a positive heading into Saturday is that Michigan has dominated their opponents on Oct. 12 throughout history. Posting a 14-3-1 record for the day, the Wolverines haven't lost on the date since 1957 while winning their last five in a row. The first game on Oct. 12 happened in 1892, pitting head coach Frank Barbour and the Maize and Blue against the Michigan Athletic Association. After beating the M.A.A. by a score of 74-0 four days earlier, the Wolverines traveled to Detroit to trample them again by a score of 68-0 for their inaugural Oct. 12 victory. After destroying M.A.A., Michigan did the same for six more games, including five shutouts in a row: the Detroit Athletics Club in 1895 by a score of 42-0, Michigan Agricultural by a score of 39-0 in 1898, Indiana in 1901 by a score of 33-0, the College of Physicians & Surgeons in Chicago (yeah, right) in 1904 by a score of 72-0, Michigan Agricultural, again, in 1907 by a score of 46-0, and Michigan Agricultural, again, in 1912 by a score of 55-7..
If you don't know, Michigan Agricultural College used to be the name of Michigan State, and it took them five games to score points against the Wolverines. In the fifth meeting between the rivals, M.A.C. put up three points, to Michigan's six, in a loss. Also, the College of Physicians & Surgeons in Chicago is now a part of the University of Illinois (specifically, their College of Medicine), but it's funny to imagine what the Fielding Yost-coached and National Championship-winning team did to their visitors. In only 22 and a half minutes of play, Michigan racked up 72 points; that's averaging over a field goal per minute.
Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end, and Purdue upset Michigan in an Oct. 12 game by a score of 30-16. The Wolverines held a 16-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but their defense surrendered 24 unanswered points to end the game. But Michigan bounced back to win their next two on Saturday's date: a 7-0 victory over Indiana in 1935, and a 1940 trip to Harvard that ended in a 26-0 win. For the Indiana game, I'll let the Los Angeles Times start of the recap:
Indiana's vaunted bewildering repertoire was so bewildering today that the Hoosiers bewildered themselves more than they did Michigan's Wolverines. One of the Hoosiers' especially dizzy maneuvers, in the second quarter, enabled Michigan to snatch a 7 to 0 victory...
That second quarter "dizzy maneuver" included a blocked punt for Michigan that turned into a touchdown when a Hoosier tried to play the ball. Five years later against Harvard, the Wolverines didn't need a lucky bounce to go their way to defeat the Crimson, because when you have Tom Harmon in your backfield, skill takes over as luck becomes irrelevant. Harmon, "apparently operating on the theory that it's three touchdowns or no count," according to the Associated Press, scored a trio of touchdowns on the ground and another through the air as well as both successful extra-points to account for all of Michigan's scoring against the Cambridge squad.
After disposing of a lesser Ivy League opponent, the Wolverines hosted the dominant, 1946-version of the Army Cadets football team. Now called the Black Knights, Army rolled to a 9-0-1 record and the National Championship in '46. One of those wins came against Michigan, but it wasn't easy like most of Army's victories that season. Locked at 13-13 and heading into the fourth quarter, the Wolverines looked to steal one from the second-ranked team in the land (Note: Michigan was ranked fourth, but still a decent underdog). However, Army prevailed thanks to a 76-yard touchdown drive in the final frame. The loss started a mini-trend for the Wolverines on Oct. 12 as they fell to the Spartans 11 years later by a score of 35-6. Michigan trailed through the entire game, adding their lone touchdown in the third quarter.
Following the back-to-back losses, the Wolverines decided it was high time they stopped losing on Oct. 12. The resolution got off to a rocky start with a 7-7 tie against Sparty in 1963. But Michigan responded with four straight victories against State: 28-14 in 1968, 21-7 in 1974, 31-0 in 1985, and 45-28 in 1991. They weren't "classics," but each game carried its own type of excitement. In '68, the Wolverines turned a close game into a comfortable win with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Six years later, Michigan jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead over the Spartans after turning two State fumbles into scores. '85 watched the Wolverines defense stymie Michigan State's offense en route to a 31-0 shutout. And in '91, Michigan completed their revenge tour behind three Elvis Grbac touchdown passes, beating the Spartans 45-28 ("revenge tour" references the fact that the Wolverines lost to Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Iowa by a combined three points in 1990, and in '91, Michigan beat all of them with State being last).
Up last, but not least considering Michigan's opponent on Saturday, the Wolverines topped the Penn State Nittany Lions in overtime, in a top-ranked showdown. The #10 ranked Nittany Lions traveled to Ann Arbor with a 4-1 after losing in overtime against Iowa in Week 4. Michigan, ranked #11, held the same record with their lone loss coming against #20 Notre Dame, 25-23. The exciting matchup started slow, with both teams trading touchdowns in the first half. Penn State added another in the third but missed the extra point to give them a 13-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Then the game heated up. The Wolverines scored early in the fourth on a Navarre-to-Edwards pass, giving them a 14-13 advantage. On the ensuing drive, the Nittany Lions responded with an 11 play, 80 yard touchdown drive, including a two-point conversion, to regain the lead, 21-14. But the Wolverines responded with their own scoring drive, a 10 play, 64 yard march capped by another Navarre-to-Edwards touchdown. Tied at 21, the Nittany Lions started one last drive with 3:24 remaining, but the Michigan defense stuffed them to force overtime.
In bonus time, Penn State started with possession but failed to find the end zone. After holding the Nittany Lions to a field goal, the Wolverines offense prepared to score on their third straight drive (excluding one play to run out the fourth quarter). Behind two third-and-one conversions by Chris Perry, including one on the game-winning touchdown, Michigan stole the victory from Penn State in the first-ever overtime game at the Big House. After the game, head coach Lloyd Carr had this to say:
"That's what a great football game is. It's back-and-forth, and you win it, and then you lose it, then you win it.''
Considering Michigan's positive history on Oct. 12 and the fact that the they beat Penn State in the most recent game played on the date, I'd say the Wolverines have as much going for them on Saturday as possible -- from a strictly historical standpoint, of course. Go Blue!
Overall Record on October 12th
1892 at Michigan Athletic Association, 68-0
1895 vs. Detroit Athletic Club, 42-0
1898 vs. Michigan Agricultural, 39-0
1901 vs. Indiana, 33-0
1904 vs. College of Physicians & Surgeons (Chicago), 72-0
1907 vs. Michigan Agricultural, 46-0
1912 vs. Michigan Agricultural, 55-7
1929 at Purdue, 16-30
1935 vs. Indiana, 7-0
1940 at Harvard, 26-0
1946 vs. Army, 13-20
1957 vs. Michigan State, 6-35
1963 vs. Michigan State, 7-7
1968 vs. Michigan State, 28-14
1974 vs. Michigan State, 21-7
1985 vs. Michigan State, 31-0
1991 vs. Michigan State, 45-28
2002 vs. Penn State, 27-24 (OT)