Zug Leads Lions to Victory

Zug (6) celebrated with Derek Moye (6)

Redshirt junior wideout posts a career-best three touchdowns to spark a blowout win and end Penn State's losing streak in the Big House.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Another receiver might have looked out the window of his hotel room Saturday morning, studied the rainy, wind-swept panorama before him and assumed he was about to have a bad day. Not Graham Zug.

“I looked out the window and saw a golf course,” he said. “I thought, 'I want to play golf.' ”

The gloomy conditions outside the Ypsilanti Marriott, which abuts a public course, seemed entirely appropriate given Penn State's sad history at Michigan. But Zug wasn't fazed, and neither were his teammates. The junior wideout caught three touchdown passes, tight end Andrew Quarless caught another, and the Nittany Lions took advantage of a sloppy game by Michigan for a 35-10 victory.

The 13th-ranked Lions didn't let the cold, wet weather slow down their offense. If anything, they reveled in it, as Daryll Clark threw for 230 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes.

“I think everybody just made up their mind that we were going to show people we were a pretty good football team,” Joe Paterno said. “They came out here and played well.”

Zug was the big star of Penn State's first victory at Michigan Stadium since 1996. And an unlikely star he was. He had arrived at Penn State as a walk-on, a player who had to be encouraged by his parents to give big-time football a shot. “They told me not to sell myself short,” he said. “So I didn't. I came to the highest level I could come to, and I worked hard. I worked every single day and took advantage.”

Zug hadn't caught so many touchdowns in a game since his junior year at Manheim Central, when he caught five scoring passes against Conestoga Valley. “And I dropped a sixth,” he said.

He didn't drop anything that came his way Saturday, which is characteristic of his performances in games and practices. “He's a very steady football player,” Paterno said. “He's steady, he's smart, and he's tough. He isn't one you put a clock on and he lights it up, but he knows how to read routes. He has really good hands and he's a good competitor.”

The offense's success was only half the story for Penn State. After a worrisome start, the defense clamped down hard on a Michigan offense that went into the matchup averaging a Big Ten-best 37.3 points a game. Michigan's 10 points constituted its worst performance of the season. A week earlier, the Wolverines had amassed 727 yards, albeit against Delaware State. But against the Lions, they managed only 250.

Seventy of those yards came on Michigan's first, flawless drive. The 11-play possession ended with a 1-yard plunge by Brandon Minor, as Michigan became the first opponent to score a first-half touchdown against the Nittany Lions this season.

But the 7-0 lead lasted all of four plays. Sparked by tailback Evan Royster, who finished the game with 100 yards rushing, Penn State answered with lightning-fast drive capped by Zug's 10-yard touchdown catch. The Lions added three more points on a 34-yard Collin Wagner field goal, two more on a second-quarter safety resulting from a bad snap that bounced out of the end zone, and seven more when Quarless beat linebacker Obi Ezeh for a 60-yard touchdown on first down after Michigan's free kick following the safety.

The long touchdown by the senior tight end foreshadowed the offensive splurge that was to come. Quarless lit up as soon as the play came into the huddle. “I knew I was going to have a matchup against a linebacker,” he said. “I'd been telling Daryll all day, 'I'm faster than every linebacker.' Not to sound cocky, but I told Daryll, 'I'm faster than him.' So he looked to me.”

Good call. Clark hit Quarless in stride, and the tight end accelerated away from Ezeh for his first touchdown catch of the season.

The Wolverines managed a 23-yard Jason Olesnavage field goal just before halftime, to cut the Lions' lead to 19-10. But they quickly regained their momentum in the third quarter, as Chaz Powell returned the opening kickoff 54 yards to set up Zug's second touchdown catch of the afternoon, an 11-yarder. And a Denard Robinson fumble set up another Zug touchdown, a 17-yarder, for a 32-10 lead. Wagner finished the scoring with a 29-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

Penn State left Ann Arbor with its second consecutive victory over Michigan. Much had been made of its past disappointments in the Big House, but everything went right on Saturday, and the Lions were all smiles as they trotted out of the famed tunnel into the locker room.

No one was smiling harder than Zug, whose ambitions were modest when he first joined the team.

“I never really thought about this,” he said. “I never thought about three touchdowns in one game. I didn't think of being a starter, didn't think of anything. I just wanted to get on the field and get some playing time.”

“It's a great feeling,” he added, “It's an important win for us, a step in the right direction.”

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