Lamont Wade thought Ronnie Bell caught the ball.
He probably wasn’t the only person on the field that had that same thought. He certainly wasn’t the only person in the stadium that thought Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson had just found Bell for what would have been the game-tying touchdown in the final minutes.
“When I punched [the ball], I thought he still had it, it went down but I thought he still had it but it ended up coming down,” Wade said postgame.
The drop by Bell –– one of several that the Michigan wide receiver group had on Saturday night –– was a perfect representation of the night Penn State’s defense had as a whole.
The Nittany Lions weren’t able to generate enough pressure on Patterson, who stepped up in the pocket and improvised, finding an open receiver. But even though the Nittany Lion defense had statistically its worst game of the season, the ball still slipped through Bell’s arms and fell to the ground.
“Every game’s not going to be a blowout,” safety Garrett Taylor said. “We’re in Big Ten play and we’re facing better opponents. There’s going to be closer games and games you’re going to have to make a lot more plays.”
Especially in the second half, Michigan made plenty of plays. The Wolverines dominated the time of possession and even a Penn State defense that boasts an incredible amount of depth seemed to be waning on the final few drives of the game.
As the clock ticked down to the final three and a half minutes of the game, Penn State found itself in an eerily similar situation to the one it faced in Week 3 against Pitt. Michigan had the ball at the 7-yard line and with four chances to tie the game.
In the Nittany Lion huddle, nothing was said.
“We don’t need to say anything, everyone knows what’s at stake,” Taylor said. “We can just look each other in the eyes and kinda tell, ‘Here we go, we need to come through in this situation.’ When we lock eyes with each other, we see that confidence. No one’s playing scared. Everyone wants to be put in that situation and wants to make plays.”
Back-to-back 2-yard gains put the ball at the 3-yard line.
Then Patterson rolled to his right and couldn’t find anyone open, ultimately floating the ball to the back corner of the end zone, where Jesse Luketa sprinted over to make the recovery and knock the ball to the ground.
“When I came back on the field, I was like, ‘Good s–– dawg, that’s what I’m talking about,’” Micah Parsons said. “That’s my dawg, I’m rooting for him 100 percent. That’s what important –– I know if I miss a play, I got him and other guys to back me up.”
When Parsons did come back onto the field for the crucial fourth down play and the ball was headed toward the arms of Bell, the nerves set in. But soon came relief.
There would be no repeat of last season’s blown 12-point lead in the fourth quarter against Ohio State. The postgame singing of the alma mater featured only jubilation, not despair.
When they left the field, the Nittany Lions were still undefeated.