Cook: Michigan is a team Paterno hasn't mastered
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Maybe it is something as simple as better players. Maybe Michigan does a better job recruiting than Penn State. Or maybe Michigan just coaches 'em up better. Michigan quarterback Chad Henne said as much last week when he explained why, as a Pennsylvania schoolboy legend, he felt the need to leave the state to pursue his higher education and an NFL career.
The bottom line is Penn State hasn't dominated the Big Ten Conference the way it had hoped when it joined in 1993, the biggest reason being that it can't beat Michigan.
The Wolverines' 17-10 win last night was their eighth in a row in the series.
This time, they didn't even need any help from the officiating crew.
It's an unbelievable streak, if you think about it. It's also the worst run of Joe Paterno's marvelous career at Penn State.
He has figured a way to beat everybody most of the time over the past 41 years, but he hasn't found a way to put a licking on Michigan in a long, long time. You have to go back to '96.
This would have been such a terrific night to do it. A crowd of 110,007 came amped to Beaver Stadium, creating the kind of throbbing scene that always will be a significant part of the Paterno legacy.
Michigan rolled in unbeaten and No. 4 in The Associated Press poll but was without injured big-play wide receiver Mario Manningham, who had nine touchdown catches in the first six games.
It was Manningham, who caught the winning pass on the final play last season at Michigan to beat Penn State after the officials mysteriously added 2 seconds on the clock in the final minute.
That loss sent Penn State home with that gypped feeling and denied it a shot at the national championship.
This would have been the perfect night for payback.
We should have known it wasn't going to happen.
It was Michigan, right?
The Michigan program is on a different level than Penn State's. That's indisputable. Barring an almost unimaginable Michigan collapse, this will be the ninth time in the past 10 years that it finishes higher than Penn State in the Big Ten standings. It has won five Big Ten titles during that time and has a big shot at a sixth, although Ohio State will have plenty to say about that Nov. 18.
Penn State has just one conference championship in the same period, two since it joined the league.
Which program would you say is better?
Henne certainly doesn't regret his choice of colleges. Paterno said last week that Henne verbally committed to Penn State, then reneged on his word when he left Wyomissing, Pa., where he was a star at Wilson High School. Henne questioned Paterno's memory, saying Michigan always was his first choice. He then added he didn't feel comfortable turning over his career to Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, Joe's son.
Henne didn't have his best game without Manningham but did more than enough to ensure that his only homecoming to Pennsylvania was a joyous one. He threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Adrian Arrington, hit Arrington for a 27-yard gain to set up a field goal and found wide receiver Steve Breaston for a 24-yard gain to set up another touchdown.
Speaking of happy homecomings, Breaston, a former Woodland Hills High School star, also had one, catching five passes for 79 yards.
That was more than enough offense for Michigan. Its fearsome defense was too much for the Penn State offensive line, sacking quarterback Anthony Morelli five times and knocking him out early in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury after a brutal hit by defensive tackle Alan Branch.
If Morelli had no chance, you might imagine how tough it was for his backup, Daryll Clark. He was sacked twice and knocked out of the game midway through the fourth quarter after a run with what appeared to be a leg injury.
Third-stringer Paul Cianciolo, of all people, finished the game and gave Penn State faint hope by throwing a little screen pass that running back Tony Hunt somehow turned into a 43-yard touchdown with 3:18 left.
It was the only time the game was truly interesting.
Until then, you had the feeling the officials could have put extra hours on the game clock and it wouldn't have been enough for Penn State.
First Published October 15, 2006 12:00 am