Nothing about it was pretty. In fact, it was often hard to tell what was uglier, Michigan's offense or its all-blue uniforms. But in the end, Michigan prevailed in a slugfest against Penn State thanks to a defense that played its best game of the season, constantly harassing quarterback Christian Hackenberg, and an offense that did just enough, in a hard-fought, if not well-played, 18-13 victory over the Nittany Lions
The offense wasn't pretty, to be sure, as it continued to prove that Al Borges was not the only problem last season, but in an odd sense of déjà vu, two weeks after creating a firestorm by playing an obviously injured Shane Morris at quarterback against Minnesota, Michigan re-inserted an obviously injured Devin Gardner at quarterback against Penn State. The fifth-year senior responded by willing Michigan to the game-winning score.
After suffering an apparent ankle injury on an ill-conceived quarterback sneak midway through the third quarter that forced him to leave the game, Gardner returned in the fourth quarter, and while often appearing barely healthy or mobile enough to negotiate a successful hand-off, Gardner made just enough plays - one, it turned out - to set up kicker Matt Wile for the eventual game-winning field goal. And in an odd twist to those that have followed Michigan the past two seasons, not only did Wile connect on the 37-yarder, but the defense made the stop it needed - stops in this case - to secure the victory.
The victory ended Michigan's three-game losing streak and gave the Wolverines their first conference win of the season, but while it may have temporarily stopped the bleeding, it fell far short of signaling a change in fortune for the Wolverines. This is still a deeply flawed team, and despite what Brady Hoke says - and may or may not actually believe - Michigan isn't going to be making a run at a conference championship this season. In fact, it's hard to find a lot of wins on the Wolverines' remaining schedule.
Hoke is fond of describing, and in some cases defending, this team as a collection of good kids who are "working their tails off" in practice every day. That may very well be the case, but you'll notice he doesn't describe the team as high performing or even one that is getting better. That lack of improvement is on Hoke and his coaching staff. But while the Wolverines may not be a very good football team, they haven't given up either.
Many commented that Michigan finally displayed a pulse in last weekend's loss to Rutgers. Not the highest of praise, but after demoralizing, lifeless performances against Notre Dame, Utah and Minnesota, when a pulse wasn't always evident, it was progress, nonetheless. But if the Rutgers game showed that Michigan had a pulse, the Penn State game showed that the Wolverines have heart.
At a time when apathy seems to have replaced intensity among many Michigan fans, with some even calling for a fan boycott of games, it took a group of former players to point out that, disappointing season or not, the current players deserve better, deserve to know that they are supported. And if not by Michigan fans, then by the players that came before them. That gesture alone should be enough for fickle fans to re-evaluate their stance on this team. But in case more was needed, Saturday's performance should do the trick. Sure, this team may not look like Michigan teams of the past, especially in those hideous uniforms, but amid all the controversy surrounding the program, something none of these players signed up for, they haven't given up. Fans shouldn't give up on them either.