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Progress in the Valley

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Upper: The Bell drop. Lower: Patterson and Don Brown, post-game.
Photos: Zoey Holmstrom

I don’t know how often it happened last night, but it was more than twice. The DJ at Beaver Stadium blasted “Circle of Life” from the Lion King over the PA system. Aside from this being an odd choice, at least IMO…I’ve never heard another stadium do this and probably for good reason. I know they’re the “Nittany Lions”, but that kind of lion isn’t the same kind of lion as the lion from the Lion King.

It’s also a strange song to blast to a football crowd, right? Especially when you can just hit play on Zombie Nation for like the 150th time or whatever and whip the natives into a drunken white-clad frenzy.

Also, Michigan Stadium has Mufasa and Darth Vader doing their intro video…so…yeah!

Anyway, that’s how I feel about that.

It takes a certain set of circumstances to come away from a game like this feeling better than you did before it began. Before this game, my confidence that Michigan would come away with a win was low. Single digit low. Maybe all-time low. All I could think to myself all day was “Just please, not in the face”.

Down 21-0 and getting absolutely hosed by the refs with very inconsistent and questionable pass interference calls, Beaver Stadium rocking back and forth, the wheels, right on cue, were starting to come off. But to everyone’s surprise, Michigan responded with a touchdown drive to make it a somewhat more digestible 21-7 halftime score.

And as halftime wore on, I had this feeling that if Michigan could just stop doing dumb stuff, digging itself a hole too large to climb out of, and if the refs could release their death grip on this game for a quarter or so, Michigan could actually battle back into this thing relatively easily. And that’s kind of what they did.

The defense responded…shutting down Penn State in the second half with the exception of one 53-yard pass play that proved to be the game winner. Aside from that, Penn State’s second half offense was non-existent. Credit Don Brown for making the necessary moves to adjust to what Penn State was doing. I mean, they’re good…and in that atmosphere, getting those calls from the refs…yeah, no one’s stopping that. This was on offense that was averaging 465 yards a game. Michigan held them to 283…and just 16 in the 3rd quarter.

After the Charbonnet touchdown to make it 28-21, when Penn State got the ball back, Michigan’s defense rose to the occasion with a masterful 3-and-out, one of their best defensive series’ of the season, to give Shea Patterson and the Michigan offense a chance to tie.

I have to give Shea Patterson some serious credit. I was done after the interception he threw. I mean that was awful, and it came in the middle of Michigan doing a lot of other awful things. But for reasons passing understanding, Patterson found his mojo. Suddenly, he was making plays, finding targets, hitting them, scrambling, keeping drives alive and marching this offense down the field into the student section end of Beaver Stadium. He was balling…exactly what Michigan fans thought we’d see more of from the Ole Miss transfer.

And then the 4th down play to Ronnie Bell. Damn.

I mean, say what you will about the wrath of the college football gods, but holy cow that one was a drop for the ages. I thought he had it. I jumped up and pumped my fist (I wasn’t in the pressbox), only to suddenly realize my celebration was premature. I just assumed the sure-handed Bell would’ve hauled that puppy in…he was having himself a game up til that point. But it was not to be.

I don’t know what you do or say to a guy on the sideline, tears in his eyes, realizing he just blew Michigan’s last shot at tying the game. It’s not all on Bell, of course, Michigan did have first and goal from the 7 and didn’t punch it in on the previous 3 downs. But man, your heart just aches for Ronnie Bell.

In the end, Michigan ended up doing something I thought would be even more improbable than winning last night…they made a believer out of me. And not just because I’m deep in the BPONE…but because this team just felt changed. They fought back despite missteps along the way. They didn’t give up…something they’ve been doing all year when things start to head south.

That’s grit. They don’t have it in spades, but it’s building. They got more of is last night. Great teams have grit…lots of it.

Moral victory? I don’t know. What is that anyway? It seems like a cop out. I guess everyone has their own opinion about that. Grit or not, it’s still a loss. But I will say this…I’m excited for the Notre Dame game.

I call that progress.

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