When the defense was needed the most, it stepped up.
In the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, senior defensive end Frank Clark stepped up and made the biggest play of the day, a crucial sack and a loss of 13 on third down during the final Penn State drive to preserve Michigan's 18-13 lead over the Nittany Lions (4-2, 0-2).
"I was kind of frustrated in the first half they were doing a lot of things to keep me away from the quarterback," Clark said. "I just told myself ahead of time to stay with the gameplan and keep doing what you were doing in practice."
A missed sack against Rutgers crippled Michigan's chances of winning last week, Clark knew it couldn't happen again.
"99-percent of the time I'm going to make the play, it was the one-percent that happened against Rutgers where I didn't make the play," Clark said. "It killed me the whole week and it forced me to stay after practice to focus on getting to the ball. When I did that, all that hard work payed off.
"It all comes full circle, when I saw him step to the left, I knew it was a sack. With these paws, you're not going anywhere."
It appeared that Michigan's (3-4, 1-2) paws were all over Penn State's sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg as the defense had six sacks. Hackenberg finished the day with 160 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The ability of the defense step up in the second half was big for Michigan, as it struggled to do just that all season.
"I think Greg and staff defensively did a great job at halftime," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "I think our kids had a will and they willed themselves to keep going. It was pressure on the quarterback with four-man, three-man, rush that really worked out pretty well in maximum coverage. We got off the field during third downs, in the first half we didn't do that much."
With starting running back Derrick Green out for the season with a broken collarbone, Michigan couldn't establish much of a running game. As sophomore De'Veon Smith and redshirt junior Justice Hayes shared carries but both could not establish the ground game as both finished with 24-yards rushing.
The passing game also went through a bit of a scare during the third quarter when Devin Gardner went down with an ankle injury. Gardner eventually came out of the game and was replaced by redshirt junior Russell Bellomy who struggled mightily.
Gardner would eventually come back in the game with a visible limp.
"There's a team out there that needs me," Gardner said. "It's much bigger than myself and if I can be out there, I am going to be out there.
"It's kind of tight around here with injuries."
Gardner finished the day with 192 yards passing with one touchdown and an interception.
Although the team was down 13-10 heading into the half, Michigan scored the first touchdown of the game early in the first quarter after Gardner threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Devin Funchess. The throw was underthrown and Funchess appeared to take the interception away from the Penn State safety for an easy touchdown.
Penn State would respond with 10 unanswered points with a 10-yard strike from Hackenberg to sophomore receiver DaeSean Hamilton to extend its lead to 13-7.
Michigan's senior kicker, Matt Wile, who has struggled with field goals early in the season successfully made all three of his attempts from 45, 42 and 47.
"He's been on and he's been hitting the ball well," Hoke said. "I think his confidence is where he wants it to be and where we want it to be."
Michigan participated in its third game under the lights in program history and it certainly did not disappoint. With a crowd well over 110,000 in attendance, Hoke credited the atmosphere to help the team win.
"The environment, the crowd there's no place better in the country," Hoke said. "I can tell you that our kids feel it, they feel it when those people are there cheering for them. The students that were there and the former players that came back and supporting those kids, you don't get that at any institution like you do at Michigan."
It is no secret that the team has faced heavy scrutiny over the last two weeks. With the losses and injury miscommunications, the team needed the victory tonight.
However, to sophomore cornerback Jourdan Lewis (who also had a crucial interception in the game,) he took it one step further.
He attributed this win to the fans.
"(The fans) were in the game, they deserve that win," Lewis said. "I'm glad they were behind us."