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What we learned from Michigan’s victory over Penn State

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This team was born for this.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Michigan Wolverine faithful. Enjoy the use of your legs today, as Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford is just now regaining feeling in his.

The Michigan defense racked up seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss and made Clifford’s day a living hell, only comparable to being a Texas fan.

Quick aside for Recent Texas Fan Pain Rankings: 3) Getting blown out in basketball by Gonzaga, 2) Texas special teams coordinator Jeff Banks’s girlfriend’s (a stripper, stage name: Pole Assassin) monkey bit a child on Halloween , 1) Losing to Kansas in football and five straight overall.

It could always be worse, Texas forever.

Despite Michigan’s assault of Clifford, this contest was a back-and-forth affair where the outcome hung in the balance late in the game. A feeling of inevitable doom swept over the Michigan fan base in the final quarter. A feeling Michigan knew all too well (Jim’s version).

Think about 2015 Michigan State, 2016 Iowa, 2016 Ohio State, 2017 Michigan State, 2017 Ohio State, 2018 Notre Dame, 2019 Penn State and, most recently, 2021 Michigan State. All games Michigan had fourth quarter opportunities to win and squandered every one of them in painful fashion.

So why should this game be any different?

However, on Saturday, we learned this team was born for thisand responded like no Harbaugh team has in the past.

Penn State had just tied the game 14-14, strip-sacked Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara, and had the ball on Michigan’s 16-yard line with 6:20 to go.

The Michigan defense was tired, having just allowed a 15-play drive that resulted in the game-tying touchdown AND two-point conversion. The nightmare from two East Lansing two weeks ago was seemingly reoccurring.

Now, after a 50-second drive from the offense ending abruptly in disaster, the unit had to take the field again.

But just like the defense did on the road against Nebraska and even against Michigan State, the group rose up when it mattered most and gave the offense a chance to win it.

Penn State managed to gain only three yards on three plays and settled for a field goal to take the lead, 17-14. Thanks to the defense, the offense — who had not gained a first down in the fourth quarter — only needed a field goal to tie the game.

With 5:40 remaining in the game, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis did not have to abandon the team’s offensive identity or force the issue solely through the air. Actually, he did just the opposite.

Senior running back Hassan Haskins carried the ball and set up the Wolverines at the Penn State 47-yard line. On the only pass of the drive, McNamara connected on a crossing route with tight end Erick All who broke down the right sideline for a Michigan touchdown. 21-17, Wolverines.

Not a bad time to score your first career touchdown despite battling through a high ankle sprain and being told by an opposing player, “We’ve been scouting you. We know your ankle’s messed up. You ain’t going nowhere.”

Ball don’t lie.

3:29 remained and now it was Penn State and All-American wide receiver Jahan Dotson’s turn to return the favor. But, suddenly, it’s fourth down, with two yards to go, and Dotson is on the sideline with an injury on the most important play of the game.

The Nittany Lions had converted three fourth downs on their way to tying the game two possessions ago — including fourth and goal — and defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald decided to adjust his approach for this crucial moment.

Macdonald stacked all 11 players on the line of scrimmage. An all-out blitz and press man-coverage on the outside, with the game and season on the line.

Incomplete, Michigan ball, but the game was still not over.

Penn State had all three timeouts and the Wolverines needed to bleed 2:45 of clock to secure the win. Where does a team go when they need ice a game? H2OH.

Haskins ran the ball four times for 24 yards on the final possession to drain the clock to zeroes. Haskins rushed for more than 100 yards in the second half alone and averaged 5.8 yards per carry on the final two possessions.

The Michigan Wolverines left Happy Valley 9-1 with a narrative-changing 21-17 victory. A November victory on the road against an AP ranked team, with everything on the line for the season, program and head coach.

This 6:20 stretch could represent the actualization of a pledge for the program made almost seven years ago. But even if not taken to that extent this season, it represents growth and a resilience unseen at Michigan in some time.