- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - After a month of frustration, losing and speculation about the future, Michigan took a small step forward under the lights at the Big House.

Matt Wile kicked a 37-yard field goal with 11:24 remaining, and Michigan’s defense stifled Penn State in the second half as the Wolverines held on for an 18-13 victory Saturday night, snapping their three-game losing streak.

It was hard to predict what kind of crowd would show up at Michigan Stadium in light of the team’s recent struggles, but there was a loud “Let’s Go Blue” chant late in the fourth quarter while the Wolverines were trying to protect their slim lead.

“The environment, the crowd - there’s no place better in this country when you have a game like this than Michigan Stadium,” embattled coach Brady Hoke said. “I can tell you, our kids, they feel it. They feel it when those people are there cheering for them.”

Michigan has won its only three night games at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines Beat Notre Dame in 2011 and 2013.

It’s been an ugly start to this season for Michigan, and Hoke’s future is very much in question, but the defense has played well at times, and Saturday was no exception. Penn State managed only 65 yards in the second half.

Michigan’s Devin Gardner returned from a second-half injury and threw a 24-yard pass to Dennis Norfleet to set up Wile’s kick that broke a 13-all tie.

Empty seats have become more common at the Big House this year, but a more normal-sized crowd of 113,085 turned out for this one.

“They were in the game,” said Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis, who had a crucial interception in the third quarter. “They deserved that win, and I’m glad they were behind us 100 percent.”

The Wolverines trailed 13-7 at halftime but slowly rallied behind Wile’s three field goals. They still trailed by three when Gardner had to be helped off with an apparent left leg injury. He was replaced by Russell Bellomy.

But Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, under pressure all night, forced a pass that was picked off by Lewis at the Penn State 32. Wile’s 42-yard field goal tied it.

“We have to be careful. We’re falling into bad habits because he’s getting hit too much,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We need to take the sack there, or throw it away, or reserve the right to punt.”

The Nittany Lions spent much of the second half deep in their own territory, and after a punt gave Michigan the ball at the Penn State 49 early in the fourth, Gardner came back in the game.

“It’s kind of tight around here with injuries and stuff,” Gardner said. “I had to make sure all was clear to get a chance to go back out there.”

Hoke was criticized last month for his staff’s slow response when quarterback Shane Morris took a hard hit in a game against Minnesota.

Gardner was able to return from his injury Saturday, and he found Norfleet for the play that put the Wolverines in field goal range. Michigan took a 16-13 lead. Then it was up to the defense, which shut out Penn State (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) in the second half.

A sack by Frank Clark left Penn State facing fourth-and-32 at its own 3. The Nittany Lions intentionally snapped the ball out of the end zone for a safety with 1:41 remaining. They then recovered an onside kick, but an offside penalty forced Penn State to try it again, and Michigan (3-4, 1-2) recovered.

Michigan’s lone touchdown Saturday came on a 43-yard pass from Gardner to Devin Funchess in the first quarter. Safety Ryan Keiser looked like he was in position to intercept the deep throw, but Funchess beat him to the ball with an athletic play to give the Wolverines a 7-3 lead.

It was 7-6 when Gardner tried to lob the ball out into the flat. Defensive lineman Anthony Zettel timed the play perfectly, intercepting the pass to give Penn State the ball at the Michigan 28.

Hackenberg threw a 10-yard scoring pass to DaeSean Hamilton.

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