Even though both teams have been around since the 1800s, the Michigan Wolverines and the Penn State Nittany Lions didn't meet on the football field until 1993, the year Penn State joined the Big Ten. With their shortened history, the series record is small, and Michigan leads at 10-6. But sixteen games have created more exciting contests than one might expect. For the first seven meetings, both teams entered the matchup ranked, including "Judgment Day" in 1997. The only other time both teams were ranked happened in '02, when a controversial call ruled a Penn State receiver out of bounds when he really wasn't (a possible makeup call for this horrible call on third and long) and stopped the Nittany Lions from attempting a last-second, game-winning field goal. The game would become the first overtime game at The Big House, and Michigan would go on to win 27-24.
Further, the lower ranked team has pulled an upset on seven occasions, and there hasn't been a game where both teams were unranked. After winning the first meeting, Michigan dropped the next three before going on a nine-game winning streak from '97 to '07. Penn State took over from there and currently holds a three-game winning streak against the Wolverines. From all this, it's easy to see that fans of the Michigan-Penn State matchup have been lucky, since both teams saw great success in the 90s that rolled into the early 2000s. However, it's been a couple years since the Wolverines and Nittany Lions played some football; the teams haven't met since Rich Rod was relieved of his duties in Ann Arbor, or since the new era of Penn State football began under head coach Bill O'Brien. That will change this fall, when Michigan travels to Happy Valley to face off on October 12th.
October 15th, 2005, Michigan 27 - Penn State 25
2005 saw Michigan stumble and Penn State soar, except for when the two teams played each other. Penn State entered the game undefeated at 6-0 and ranked #10 after a big conference win against #6 Ohio in the previous week. A win against the Wolverines would've given Penn State as many wins as they had in the previous two seasons combined. On the other sideline, Michigan showed up with a disappointing 3-3 record after starting the season ranked #4. At the time, the Wolverines held a six-game winning streak versus the Nittany Lions, but it seemed unlikely to continue. Michigan needed a win to help right their ship and save the season, while Penn State looked to prove they deserved an unbeaten record after floundering in the previous two seasons.
The first half isn't worth talking about: three missed field goals between the two teams and only one successful try, a 35-yard kick by Michigan's Garret Rivas to give the Wolverines a 3-0 lead going into halftime. After the break, the third quarter wasn't much better, with Michigan running back Mike Hart adding a rushing touchdown and Penn State kicker Kevin Kelly booting one through the uprights, sending the game into the fourth quarter with Michigan leading 10-3.
However, the final frame ignited the two teams and the game would go from zero to one hundred in 17 seconds. I say 17 seconds because that's all it took Penn State to score 15 points early in the fourth. At 11:56 remaining, Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson ran for a touchdown and tied the game. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Penn State cornerback Alan Zemaitis stole the ball from Michigan quarterback Chad Henne, and stopped running 35-yards later in the endzone. The Nittany Lions would botch the extra-point attempt, but the kicker would run it in anyways for the two-point conversion, giving Penn State the lead, 18-10. But Michigan responded on their next drive, with Chad Henne hitting wide receiver Mario Manningham for the touchdown. Michigan would go for two, and Mike Hart would pound it in to tie the game at 18.
On the next drive, Michigan's defense forced Penn State to punt, and Michigan got the ball at their own 42-yard line. The Wolverines drove and set-up another Garret Rivas field goal, this time a 47-yarder, giving Michigan the lead back: 21-18. Two plays after the kickoff, Michigan defensive back Leon Hall intercepted Michael Robinson's pass, giving the Wolverines the ball at Penn State's 40-yard line with 3:14 left in the game. But the Nittany Lions would force a three-and-out. Michigan lined up to attempt a 51-yard field goal, but instead, Rivas punted the ball only 15-yards, giving Penn State the ball at their own 19-yard line with 2:48 remaining. With no timeouts, Michael Robinson led the Nittany Lions to the endzone, including an 8-yard run on 4th and 7 at Michigan's 39-yard line and 4-yard rush for the touchdown. The run gave Penn State the lead again, 25-21.
On the kickoff, Michigan wideout Steve Breaston returned the ball to Michigan's 46-yard line, putting the Wolverines in great position with only 42 seconds left in the game. With the roles reversed, Michael Robinson could only watch from the sidelines as Chad Henne captained the Wolverines to Penn States 10-yard line with 6 seconds remaining. Henne would try for Breaston on the next play, but the pass would fall incomplete, leaving only one second remaining on the clock. On the next and final play of the game, Henne would find Mario Manningham on a slant route in the back of the endzone to give Michigan the comeback victory. Check out highlights here.
After the game, Penn State would win out, win the Big Ten, and beat Florida State in the Orange Bowl, finishing ranked #3 at 11-1 overall. However, Michigan would stumble to end the season, going 3-2 after the Penn State game, including crushing losses against Ohio and Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl. The Wolverines finished 7-5 on the season.
October 30th, 2010, Michigan 31 - Penn State 41
After back-to-back wins in '08 and '09, the Nittany Lions seemed to have finally figured out how to beat the Wolverines after dropping nine straight from 1997 to 2007. Coming into the game, Michigan was trudging through the third (and final) year under head coach Rich Rodriguez, while Penn State wasn't doing anything special in what would become head coach Joe Paterno's last complete season with the team. At 5-2, Michigan looked to become bowl eligible for the first time under Rich Rod, while Penn State, at 4-3, aimed to get Joe Paterno his 399th career victory.
Leading up to the game, Penn State had injury concerns over their starting quarterback Robert Bolden. On gameday, this caused the Nittany Lions to start former walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin. With any other Michigan defense in history, this would have increased the odds, if not guaranteed, a victory for the Wolverines. However, Michigan didn't have a defense from 2008 to 2010, and because of that, Matt McGloin became a superstar for one day. Luckily, the Wolverines had Denard at the time, otherwise McGloin and the Nittany Lions may have blown out Michigan.
The game was a back-and-forth affair, with Penn State running back Evan Royster starting off his record-breaking day with a 4-yard touchdown run on the team's first drive. Michigan would charge right back on their next possession as Denard tore off a 32-yard rush for a touchdown. However, Royster would score the final touchdown of the first quarter on a 1-yard run that gave Penn State a 14-7 lead. Michigan would start the scoring in the second quarter with a 37-yard Seth Broekhuizen field goal before Matt McGloin took over the game for a bit. McGloin led the Nittany Lions into the locker room by scoring two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the first half: the first one on a one-yard rush and the second one on a 20-yard pass. Penn State held the lead at halftime, 28-10.
With another game looking hopeless for the Wolverines, Penn State aimed to keep it that way after the break, kicking a field goal on the first drive in the third quarter to increase their lead to 31-10. But Denard would respond with another big time play, hitting tight end Kevin Koger for a 60-yard touchdown. The Nittany Lions would come right back and score another rushing touchdown before Denard accounted for another Wolverine touchdown, this time a one-yard rush that gave Michigan 24 to Penn State's 38.
After forcing Penn State to punt, Denard, once again, drove Michigan down the field and scored on 4-yard rush to put Michigan within a touchdown of the Nittany Lions. However, Penn State would add a field goal, shut down Denard on four plays on Michigan's final drive, and then run out the clock to win the game 41-31. During the game, Evan Royster broke the career rushing yards record for Penn State, and McGloin finished with 250 yards and a touchdown through the air as well as 7 yard and a touchdown on the ground. Yes, a former walk-on did that to Michigan in his first career start. See the highlights here.
Following the game, Michigan did become bowl eligible just to be blown out by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. They finished 7-6, Rich Rod's only winning season at Michigan. For the Nittany Lions, the rest of 2010 wasn't much better to them, as they finished 7-6 as well with a loss in the Outback Bowl to Florida.
"Judgment Day" on November 8th, 1997, Michigan 34 - Penn State 8
Arguably the best game between these two teams (the other being 2005) and one of the best wins in Michigan history, there's no argument that the pre-game hype is unmatched when it comes to Michigan versus Penn State. Entering the matchup, both teams sat atop the Big Ten as well as college football. Both teams were undefeated, with Michigan at 8-0 and Penn State at 7-0. The Wolverines were ranked #4 and Penn State #2. Further, the Nittany Lions were on a three-game winning streak against the Wolverines after dropping the first ever game in the series. So you can easily see why the game was nicknamed "Judgment Day." Everyone expected the game to be a close battle, right to the finish. It was Michigan's top-ranked defense against Penn State's powerful offense. But it didn't end up being close, as Michigan absolutely destroyed the Nittany Lions.
On the first drive of the game, Michigan drove 53-yards before Kraig Baker kicked a 29-yard field goal to give the Wolverines an early lead. After kicking the ball off to Penn State, Michigan would sack the Nittany Lions on three straight plays, forcing them to punt. The Wolverines continued by making quick work of Penn State, driving 55-yards for a touchdown, capped by a 12-yard by running back Anthony Thomas. The first quarter set the tone for the game and included a brutal hit that ended the careers of both players involved. Michigan safety Daydrion Taylor lit up Penn State tight end Bob Stephenson along the sidelines on a nothing play. Sadly, both players couldn't return to football after their injuries on the play.
Michigan led 10-0 going into the second quarter, where they only added to their lead. Quarterback Brian Griese rushed for 40-yards on a broken play and followed it with a 37-yard touchdown pass to cornerback Charles Woodson, who was playing wide receiver on the play. Michigan's defense got the ball back quickly, holding Penn State to only one yard on the next drive. The Wolverines offense would then continue to make short work of the Nittany Lions as Griese threw for another touchdown after an 11 play, 57 yard drive. With the score, Michigan led 24-0 going into the locker rooms.
After halftime, it was still all Michigan. The Wolverines scored ten more points in the third quarter, giving them a 34-0 lead going into the final frame. In the fourth, Penn State would score its only points of the game on a 1-yard rush by running back Curtis Enis, followed by a two-point conversion. Michigan wouldn't do any more scoring in the last quarter, and the game ended 34-8 in favor of the Wolverines.
Following the win, Michigan would win out and go on to claim its first National Championship in five decades, finishing 12-0 with a win over Washington State in the Rose Bowl. The Nittany Lions would lose in the Fiesta Bowl to Florida, and finish ranked #7 at 11-2.