Today’s post recalls the first time that Michigan defeated Penn State! This game marked the first ever meeting between the two powerhouse programs. Interestingly, both team had been playing football for over one hundred years, but they never met on the field until October 16, 1993.
(Note – The 1993 Michigan Football team was the first Wolverine to play, and win, against Penn State University. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.)
Michigan played the first game in school history on May 30, 1879. Penn State’s first game was played in 1881. It’s hard to imagine that it took over one-hundred and twelve years before they played against each other. Of course, the primary reason for this game was not some Florida bowl game, it was Penn State’s admission into the Big Ten Conference.
The 1993 college football season was historic for Michigan and many other Big Ten teams that played Penn State because it was the first game for many schools against the “Beast from the East.” Penn State, under legendary coach Joe Paterno, was a force on the football field. Michigan, of course, was the winningest team in college football history. So, the matchup was much anticipated.
Michigan came into the game with a record of 3 wins and 2 losses thanks to an upset loss at the hand of Michigan State (7-17) the week before. The Wolverines dropped from a number nine ranking to seventeenth in the country. Penn State entered the game as the seventh ranked team in college football. Paterno’s Nittany Lions were rolling over everybody and had a perfect record of 5 wins and 0 losses. Penn State was favored to win, but things don’t always turn out the way people “predict,” do they?
The first game between Michigan and Penn State was played in Happy Valley in front of a nice little crowd of 96,719. Joe Paterno’s team took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter. Both teams scored touchdowns in the second quarter to make it 10-7 in favor of PSU at halftime. Gary Moeller’s team scored a touchdown in the third quarter to make it 14-10 heading into the final quarter. The play of the game was actually the first play of the fourth quarter. Michigan’s defense stopped PSU on fourth down and less than a yard and that seemed to take the “fight’ out of Penn State. Both teams scored in the final fifteen minutes, but Michigan got a touchdown while Penn State could only muster a field goal. Happily, the next day’s newspaper headlines in Ann Arbor stated that “Michigan defeats Penn State” by a final score of 21-13.
Penn State actually had more first downs than Michigan (23-17), but Michigan put more points on the board. As it turned out, Michigan rolled up 230 net-rushing yards. Ty Wheatley led the way with 195 yards on 32 carries. Todd Collins played a solid game. He completed 13 of 16 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns (Mercury Hayes for 16 yards and Che Foster for 5 yards). Derrick Alexander made one of the biggest plays of the game when he returned a punt for a 48-yard touchdown. So, the Wolverines were solid in all three phases of the game, which is why Michigan defeated Penn State in 1993.
Unfortunately, Michigan did not use the momentum of this historic win to propel them to a Big Ten Championship. The week after Michigan defeated Penn State, the Wolverines lost their Homecoming Game to Illinois (21-24) and then went to Wisconsin and lost by three points (10-13). Coach Moeller got his team back on track and Michigan finished with four straight wins. However, a final record of 8 wins and 4 losses was disappointing, to say the least.
Penn State took another hit the next week when they traveled to Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes beat up on the Nittany Lions and sent them home to ponder a 24-6 loss. So, the two Big Ten powerhouse teams, Michigan and Ohio State, officially welcomed Penn State to the Big Ten in two straight weeks. Wham! Bam! Punched them in the mouth! Paterno’s team managed to win the last 5 games and finished with a final record of 10 wins and 2 losses. However, their goal of winning a Big Ten Championship in their first year of conference play did not happen!
Of course, Michigan has defeated Penn State a few more time since that historic day, but PSU has also had some “moments’ against the Wolverines. In fact, Penn State defeated Michigan the next season in Ann Arbor to add a little spice to the rivalry. Under the old conference alignment, both teams did not play each other every season, but now they do.
As we get deeper into “Penn State Week” the series stands at 14 wins for Michigan and 8 losses. This week’s game is another BIG game for Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverine. The energetic Michigan coach really hasn’t had a “signature” road win over a ranked team – yet! Penn State will provide that opportunity on Saturday night. There are a lot of similarities between this week’s game and the first game that the teams ever played. Both teams are ranked among the country’s best teams. Michigan is ranked about where they were in 1993, but PSU is much higher. Penn State is looking to notch another BIG win over Harbaugh’s footballers. It will be a great game if Michigan can catch the ball and hang on to it when running. A few less penalties would also be very helpful. Otherwise, it could be a rough night in Happy Valley. As always, Don Brown’s defense will keep us in the game and give the offense a chance to win. Hopefully, we will see the “Michigan defeats Penn State” headline one more time after Saturday’s game. Go Blue!
I hope you come back tomorrow to learn about another Michigan Wolverine football player who contributed to the great legacy that is Michigan Football history. Also, check out my blog on Saturday, October 21, 2017 for a “historic” breakdown of Michigan vs Penn State.
Check out the great video on Michigan’s “goal line stand” that I found from the files of the legendary Dr. Sap
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