Penn State Football: It's A Game Of Inches And A Game Of Seconds
That's all that stood between Penn State and the chance to celebrate victory or the agony of defeat. Facing a fourth-and-one, Bill O'Brien elected to roll the dice and go for the win. Four overtimes were a few too many for Penn State's second year head coach.
"I thought at that point and time, it was the fourth overtime and I felt like it was time for someone to win the game," O'Brien said smiling after the game. "We could sit here and keep trading field goals back and forth, but eventually it was time for someone to win the game and I had the opportunity to do it. I would probably say that if Brady (Hoke) was in that same situation, he would've tried to do it. I felt like it was time to go for the win."
It paid off. Running back Bill Belton followed his blockers and scooted through the C-Gap to pick up those 36 inches and more to give Penn State a new set of downs. Three plays later a pass interference call in the endzone set up a first-and-two from just outside of the Michigan endzone.
Belton followed his blocks again, and those 72 inches were the most joyous he had run all game, sealing Penn State's victory in the fourth overtime.
"My eyes lit up," Belton said quietly in reflection after the game. "I've always wanted to step up and make big plays. (On fourth down) I was calm, but I was focused and I knew that if I don't get this I'm going to hear it for a while. So I said that I'm going to get it and I'm going to do whatever I have to do. When the hole opened up, (Pat) Zerbe just led me through the hole."
That's the width of an average man's hand. Just over half a foot. For Penn State's Kyle Baublitz, his hand and forearm was all that stood between Penn State and defeat as Michigan attempted a game-winning field goal in the first overtime.
"The previous kicks the kicker had been hitting it kind of low so you push the line," Baublitz said. "And you wait a second or two and then you put your hands up. I saw the ball and I just put my hands up. All I know is it hit me in the arm."
Baublitz's block saved the day for Penn State. Where Belton's runs would win the game, they never happen if not for the blocked field goal. Overtime never comes without Allen Robinson catching a pass just over the fingertips of a Michigan defender, and that play never happens if Brandon Felder can't come up with a ball that slips past a Michigan defender by an equally close margin.
The inches are everywhere.
And so are the seconds.
With only a few minutes remaining in the game, Penn State, down only a touchdown, would likely get the ball back one final time. How long would the Nittany Lions have? For that the offense turned to guard John Urschel.
"They all came to me to figure out how much time we would have left," said Urschel, laughing. The 4.0 math graduate said, "It didn't take me very long."
"He told us 57 seconds," left tackle Donovan Smith said.
Michigan kicked the ball with 57 seconds to go. The Nittany Lions started the 80-yard game tying drive with 50 seconds to go in the game.
Was Urschel right? He was probably close enough.
It only took Penn State 23 seconds to drive the length of the field. The third scoring possession of the game that lasted under a minute. In total, the Nittany Lions scored 21 of their points in just 81 seconds of game time.
"Any time you win a game like this there is a little bit of luck involved," O'Brien said. "When I'm talking about resilient, I'll give you a great example. We fumbled the reverse and then our defense goes out and holds them and then we blocked the field goal or alter the field goal. These kids are like "okay." My opinion of the kids that I'm around here say 'Okay, that was a bad play.' They don't say, 'Oh my God, we're going to lose now.' They say, 'Oh, we have an opportunity to go out there and try to stop them.' That is the definition of resiliency."
So in a game that lasted over four hours and went into four overtimes, it really came down to a few inches, and a few seconds.