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Wolverines have shown influence, dominance

Since Penn State joined and started to play a Big Ten schedule in 1993, it was clear the Nittany Lions’ success would be gauged on their performances against the two longtime conference heavyweights, Ohio State and Michigan.

The series with Saturday’s opponent, Michigan, has brought a number of great moments but from this view, the Wolverines have gotten the better of Penn State and often in resounding fashion.

Though the Lions had previously played the Buckeyes, they had never played Michigan, and the Wolverines came to Beaver Stadium in 1993 and pulled a Bo Schembechler prank, appealing to the officials for excessive crowd noise.

To Penn State’s disgust, and a preview of Michigan’s influence, the officials complied and actually penalized the Lions 5 yards as if to say: “This is our league. You’re pledging.”

On a trip to Michigan Stadium in the 1990s, Penn State watched as Michigan even honored a retiring football referee who had worked UM games for 20 years. I am not kidding.

The Lions later lost close games, in 2002 and 2005, in Ann Arbor that included highly-suspect officiating.

There have been other lowlights such as Lloyd Carr beating Joe Paterno nine straight times. That’s still hard to believe.

The streak started in 1997, and when I think about Michigan, this game (at Beaver Stadium) never escapes me. Penn State came in 7-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country. Michigan arrived No. 4.

The Wolverines won 34-8, allowing the Lions a late touchdown.

Two years later, after Penn State’s bubble had been burst a week earlier by Minnesota (still No. 1 among regular-season home losses), Michigan came to town and immediately took a 10-0 lead.

The Lions regrouped and went up 27-17 before a young Tom Brady engineered a pair of late touchdown drives and the Wolverines won, 31-27.

While there have been some close games, with each side winning, Michigan has won six games by three touchdowns or more, including on Penn State’s last two trips to the Big House as the Lions have been routed by a combined 91-17.

There have been too many times in this series that Penn State has not been Michigan’s equal physically. Last year was one of them as the Wolverines came out and drove 76 yards in eight plays without attempting a pass.

In that regard, last week’s rock ’em-sock ’em game with Iowa provided a good prelude to what awaits Saturday night.

Sandwiched in the last two trips to Ann Arbor was Penn State’s 42-13 rout of the Wolves in 2018 at Beaver Stadium so there have been some wide swings in this series. Plus Michigan has not been the team it was expected to be this year, and there is considerable doubt about Jim Harbaugh’s tenure.

But although I’m picking Penn State, there have been enough examples of Michigan’s dominance in this series to be wary of the Wolverines’ capability.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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