State College, Pa. — This is one the Michigan Wolverines will think about for a while.
Mostly, they will think about all the missed opportunities.
After surging in the second half, the Wolverines went conservative late and succumbed in a fourth overtime at Penn State, losing 43-40 before a "whiteout" crowd of 107,884 at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons missed left on a 33-yard field goal in the third overtime that would have won the game after Frank Clark had recovered a Penn State fumble.
Michigan is now 5-1, 1-1 in the Big Ten.
"It's a tough one every time you go into overtime," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "We've got to move forward. "We had opportunities throughout the game. We had opportunities, we missed tackles, we had opportunities to make a play on the ball, we had opportunities to hit a hole a little better, (and) we had opportunities to finish blocks."
After trailing 21-10 at halftime, Michigan led 34-24 with about 10 minutes left. There was nothing comfortable about the lead, though, as the Wolverines quickly realized.
"Coach Hoke always reminds us we need more points," said Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who overcame three turnovers in the first half. "Today was an example of why we do."
The Nittany Lions erased that lead in the final 10 minutes.
Penn State made a 43-yard field goal to pull within 34-27 with 6:35 left.
Michigan then drove to the Penn State 27-yard line but an illegal procedure penalty pushed the ball to the 32.
"We had the wrong play in, and the clock ran down on us," Gardner said.
Fitz Toussaint was stuffed for a 3-yard loss and with the ball at the Penn State 35 Michigan called time out with 57 seconds left. Hoke opted to have Matt Wile pooch punt on fourth and 17.
Hoke said he considered a field-goal attempt, and might have gone with that option were it not for the 5-yard penalty.
"But if we could pooch it down there or (have) them starting at the 20 instead of the 35-yard line, I like those odds a little better," Hoke said.
Penn State had one last drive left with 50 seconds left and made the most of it. Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed a 29-yard pass to Brandon Felder, beating freshman cornerback Channing Stribling. Hackenberg picked on Stribling again, this time throwing for 36 yards to Allen Robinson, who made the catch over the freshman.
"We’ve been playing him a little bit more, some dime stuff, trying to put another DB on their tight end," Hoke said of Stribling.
Hackenberg scored on a 1-yard run to tie the score, 34-34.
The Wolverines got the ball with 21 seconds left and a 25-yard pass from Gardner to Jeremy Gallon moved the ball to the Penn State 40. Michigan reached the 35, and Gibbons missed short on a 52-yard field-goal attempt to end regulation.
Michigan and Penn State each missed a field goal in the first overtime, with Gibbons having his 40-yard attempt blocked. Both teams made field goals in the second overtime to tie the score, 37-37.
Penn State had the ball first in the third overtime but fumbled. Clark recovered. But Gibbons then missed on a 33-yard field-goal attempt that would have won the game.
Gibbons then made a 40-yard field goal in the fourth overtime to give Michigan a 40-37 lead.
The Nittany Lions marched back. They made a fourth-and-1 conversion in their final drive and a critical pass interference call on Michigan's Jarrod Wilson gave the Nittany Lions the ball at the Michigan 2-yard line. Bill Belton then scored on a 2-yard rush for the victory.
"I thought at that point in time it was time for someone to win the game," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "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."
The loss stung the Wolverines.
Gardner was 15-of-28 for 240 yards and three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also took three sacks. He rushed for 121 yards on 24 carries.
"It hurts," Gardner said. "I'm so proud of my teammates. A lot of adversity happened in this game. We fought back. It just wasn’t enough."
Some of that adversity included a key loss on the offensive line.
All-American tackle Taylor Lewan was knocked out of the game in the second half. Lewan was wobbling as he left the field late in the first half, but Hoke was unclear regarding the nature of the injury, saying only that Lewan will be OK. Lewan was in uniform on the sideline for the second half, but he did not have his helmet.
With Lewan out, the offensive line had to adjust. Michael Schofield moved from right tackle to left. Erik Magnuson came in to play right tackle, and left guard Chris Bryant was replaced by Joey Burzynski.
Michigan had 149 yards rushing, but only 28 from the tailbacks. Freshman Derrick Green had 1 yard on three carries.
"It wasn't good enough, there's no question," Hoke said of the offensive line play. "Better take a hard look at it."
The Wolverines, who trailed 21-10 at halftime, answered early on the question of whether linebacker Jake Ryan would return. Ryan, coming off an ACL injury to his right knee suffered in late March, did not start but rotated in throughout the game.
Gardner struggled in the first half with two interceptions and a fumble, and Penn State utilized a hurry-up offense to build a 21-10 lead.
Michigan came out with a defensive spark to open the second half when James Ross forced a fumble by tailback Zach Zwinak. Clark picked it up and ran for the score. The Wolverines outscored Penn State 17-3 in the third quarter.
But, that clearly wasn't enough.
"It's hard to lose a first game," said senior receiver Jeremy Gallon, who had 95 yards on seven catches and a touchdown. "We’re not going to let this determine the rest of our season. We have a lot of football to play. It hurts, but we have to move on."