Download the full FOS Blitz gameday guide at the link below, or simply read Nirav and Mark's game preview below.
ND: The Lions were able to win a game on the road against a Big Ten opponent. OK, it was Minnesota but a win is a win. The team was looking really good until Bolden got hurt. Though they were able to continue to get points on the board, the team did not look nearly as consistent or in rhythm as when Bolden was in there. The Lions now need to prepare for the nighttime matchup against the Wolverines. This should be a very interesting game.
MH: The Lions did look good but between the injury to Bolden and the horrific tackling, the Lions still have plenty to work on this week in practice. The Wolverines are coming off a bye week and need to demonstrate that they can beat a team with a pulse in the Big Ten. Failure to do so could not only put a nail in their season's coffin but turn up the heat even more on Rich Rodriguez's seat.
Who: No. 25 Michigan at Penn State
When: October 30th at 8pm ET and 5pm PT
Where: Beaver Stadium at University Park, PA
Series: Michigan leads 10-5
Line: Michigan favored by 2.5 points
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: Well, I thought Missouri was going to keep the game close with Oklahoma but they were able to pull it out in the end. This week, they travel to Lincoln to face the Huskers. Nebraska is probably still trying to figure out how they lost to Texas, who got thumped by Iowa State last weekend. But, I still think that Nebraska is an outstanding football team. With Martinez at QB, I think they are a dynamic team that can give Missouri's defense some headaches. I like Nebraska in this one to keep the Big 12 in a state of turmoil.
MH: I'm keeping my eye on a ballgame out on the left coast. Oregon takes their video game offense down to Los Angeles to play USC. Oregon has been putting up a ton of points but the combined record of the teams they have faced is 10-22. Their road to Glendale gets much tougher starting this weekend. USC's defense appears to be catching their stride and the offense under Matt Barclay is not too bad. I don't think USC can stay with Chip Kelly's squad but it will be interesting to see how they do against a team with a pulse.
ND: Mark, it's been great to see teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State do well this year. But, I think this might be the week that Michigan State's run comes to an end. They will face an Iowa team that continues to perform well despite a couple of blemishes on their record. I like the Iowa's defense shutting down the rushing attack of the Spartans and Tyler Sash keeping Dell under wraps. I like Iowa winning this game by at least 10 points.
MH: OK, this is a real reach, but I think Tulsa might actually give Notre Dame a run for their money. It's amazing to think that Notre Dame should be concerned against a team like Tulsa but I guess losing 3 out of the last 4 to Navy can do that to a team. Tulsa is a great offense and I don't think Notre Dame's offense can keep up with Tulsa. Brian Kelly is a good choice for Notre Dame but he's playing with a team that isn't very talented and that don't really fit with the style of football that he wants to play. The result, much like Rich Rodriguez's first few years, is struggles against lower level teams.
ND: With Rob Bolden ruled out for the game on Saturday, that leaves…hmm…who does that leave at QB? We're back to the same guessing game we had in the spring when McGloin and Newsome were fighting for the starting job. I'm thinking that we'll see the coaches go with a similar approach that they used against Minnesota where they will play both kids with a frequent rotation. Of course, my issue with that is that the team and the QB never really get into any type of a rhythm. McGloin isn't going to beat anyone with his feet and Newsome isn't going to beat anyone with his arm. So, pick your poison. In my eyes, the guy that can throw the ball is best suited for this game. Michigan's secondary is the pits. Every team that has faced the Wolverines has been able to throw at will and succeed. Between injuries and transfers, Michigan's secondary is a microcosm of Penn State's entire defense – inexperience, inability and ineffective. And, just like other teams have done to the Blue and White, the Lions must exploit this area of weakness. The receivers started to come together a bit last week and made some nice plays for the QBs when the ball was catchable. The one facet that is really missing is the TE. Haplea must be used more to force the safeties and LBs to stick with him rather than protect the deep ball or against the crossing routes. The more that Haplea gets the ball, the more that the secondary will open up for the QB.
The Lions will, again, try to get the running game off of the ground with Evan Royster. But, it has been interesting to see Silas Redd get more and more carries as the season has progressed. Silas has a good combination of strength and speed. He actually reminds me a bit of Curt Warner with his shaky shoulders. But, the key will be how Penn State runs the ball. Michigan's defense does well when they are able to go north and south but their ability to chase plays on the perimeter is not so good. NT Mike Martin is having a fantastic year with 5.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks. But, more importantly, this guy is a disrupter. He is able to consume blocks, which allows guys like LB Mouton and SS Kevacs to make plays at the line of scrimmage. In fact, Kevacs is leading the team with TFLs from his safety position. I look for the Lions to use a little more misdirection, reverses, end-arounds and the like to get the Wolverines to make plays in the open field. But, ultimately, I think the Lions have to throw the ball effectively to allow Royster, Green and Redd to run the ball. If the LBs and the safeties get torched, the will give the Lions a far greater chance and moving the ball with Martin clogging the middle.
MH: Nirav, with Newsome still healing from a minor knee injury, I think we're going to see a ton of McGloin in this game. But, the running game really is key. When Royster is on-track, the Lions win. And, with an unproven QB under center, I think the coaches are going to do whatever they can to keep the ball in Royster's hands. I look for the Lions to take a similar approach as they did against Iowa and Alabama in this one and that is to line up in the I or offset formation with Zordich and Suehy and try to push the ball down between the tackles. We heard from Royster this week who said that he is sticking his head into spots trying to create running lanes rather than waiting for the holes to open up. The real key is going to be getting something positive on first down. The Lions have been stuck in 2nd and long far too often and that has really limited the options of the team and has put pressure on Bolden. With McGloin at the helm, it's going to be even more important that the team get positive yards on first down. To me, that matchup between Klopacz and Martin is really key. If Martin is able to get into the backfield at will, then the running game is going to be a total disaster. The way we're talking about Martin, you'd think he's a one man wrecking crew but the reality is that he's a major talent and he's the one that dictates how this defense performs.
On the passing side, I liked how McGloin took his deep shots against Minnesota. But, in this game, I am hoping that the coaches call more flanker screens and slants. The size of the Penn State receivers is a huge advantage and they need to utilize that. I'm still trying to figure out why you would run a slant with Devon Smith when you have guys like Brown, Moye and Brackett on the roster than can shield the defender far better. But, my point is that if the high percentage passes that move the football are going to be more important than the big passes that stretch the defense. The Lions must get the Wolverines running on defense. Plus, McGloin or Newsome will need to get some confidence throwing the ball and the shorter passes is the way to do that.
ND: Well, this is the matchup that everyone is going to be interested in – Robinson versus the Blue and White. As many expected at this point in the season, Robinson is banged up from an offense that requires him to have the ball in his hands a ton of the time. The biggest concern with the Wolverines is that Robinson is suffering from some shoulder pain despite not having anything structurally wrong. But, after the bye-week, Robinson is ready to go. Robinson is a small, fast and elusive guy that can change the face of the game in a heartbeat. But, he really has excellent vision. His offensive line has been finally getting credit for the holes that they are opening up and Robinson is taking advantage of that. Wolverines get a boost with Molk back in the starting lineup. But, the key in stopping Robinson is attacking the line of scrimmage and preventing him from getting into space. This has been a real struggle for the Lions as the LBs continue to play tentative and get caught up in the wash. Colasanti, Gbadyu and Stupar have to attack the line and force Robinson to make decisions in the hole. It was great to see Hodges back in the lineup but he looked rusty after missing so many weeks. The LBs have to come to play in this game.
An often overlooked part of Robinson's game has been his ability to pass the football. Michigan relies on very quick, short passes in an attempt to lull corners and safeties to sleep. That's when Robinson takes a deep shot or will fake a flanker screen and hit another receiver running a post. The three receivers that Robinson likes to go to is Roundtree, Odoms and Stonum. These guys are quick and are very capable. The Lions have to get Robinson on the move when he throws the football. If he is forced to move a bit and throw the football, that's when he's more likely to make a mistake. But, if he can sit in the pocket, set his feet and throw the ball, he should be able to pick apart the Penn State zone defense much the way that Weber did.
If Penn State comes out flat in this game or if the LBs cannot get to the line of scrimmage to make plays, it could be a tough, long ball game for the boys in Blue.
MH: I think the passing game is going to be huge in this one. Rich Rodriguez knows that Bradley is going to be focusing on stopping Robinson and will sell out to do so. So, I look for Michigan to throw the ball early in this ball game. The traditional Penn State cushion coverage could be a real problem in this ball game because Robinson does like to throw those quick passes and if the PSU corners are 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, that will give the receivers of Michigan a chance to get down the field. Penn State did move Chaz Powell over to the secondary so I'm interested to see how he does in this game. He's a very strong, physical kid and I think he'll play much like a safety – not willing to make hits and getting engaged in the running game.
What Michigan likes to do is get their opponents into a 1-on-1 matchup and then see if their skill players can win those matchups. So, it will be really critical for the Lions to tackle well in this game. Every part of the Lion defense last week had problems with taking bad angles, not keeping a good base and trying to arm tackle guys. With the elusiveness of Robinson, the Lions have to square up and wrap him up. He's too short and shift to try to just grab.
The guy that I think could have a really big impact in this game is sophomore Pete Massaro. He has been getting better and better with every game. If he can crash down the offensive line and catch Robinson better Denard gets to the line of scrimmage, then the Lions will be in good shape. Massaro is quickly becoming one of the stars on this defense and I think his ability to disrupt plays could help slow down the Wolverine offense.
ND: I think you have to tip your hat to Collin Wagner. This kid has really done a terrific job of kicking the ball this season and without him, there would be far fewer points on the board. He may be called on quite a bit this weekend so hopefully he continues that trend. The guy that will probably play a huge role in this game is Anthony Fera. The ability to drive the football and force Michigan to play on a long field is going to be critical in this game.
MH: The kicking game could play a big role in this one. Michigan is terrible in kick returns and punt returns. So, hopefully when drives do stall, the Lion can flip the field on Denard Robinson. But, what I really want to see is the Lions use Still to go block a punt. They need a special teams play to pump up the team and get some momentum going. Still has come close and he's due to get one.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: It may take a whole village to raise a child but it takes all 11 guys to stop Denard Robinson from running wild. As we mentioned, the Michigan offensive line is top notch and the Penn State defense is going to have to come prepared to tackle well and make plays at or near the line of scrimmage. We'll see if the Lions can improve on the tackling and keep Robinson contained. If they can't, Robinson in space equals big trouble.
MH: That's the pick that everyone is talking about. I am really interested to see how Penn State's offensive line does against the Michigan's defensive line. PSU must be able to run the ball in order to force the LBers to stay close to the line of scrimmage. If they can do that, then PSU should be able to exploit the Wolverine secondary, which his their Achilles heel.
Keys to the Game:
ND: I think the real key in this game is an area that Penn State has done really well in over last 2 meetings against Michigan and that is adjust quickly on defense to slow down the Wolverine attack. Robinson will create issues right off of the bat. But, if Bradley can come up with an adjustment before the first quarter is over that starts to slow down the Wolverines, then I think the Lions have a solid shot at winning this ball game.
MH: The key for me is the Lions have to start to develop an identity. They've been going through the motions all season long with no single player or unit showing that they want to put the team on their shoulders and win ball games. The running game has been poor, the passing game has been inconsistent at best while the defense has struggled against the run and has been picked apart through the air. Someone has to step up in this game and show that they are going to lead this team in this game and for the remainder of the season.
ND: After the tackling performance against Minnesota, the Nittany Nation should be concerned. The Gophers exceeded their season average for yards of offense last week and I can't see how the Lions can drastically improve on that performance this week against Michigan, who is averaging over 500 yards of offense per game.
Michigan 34 Penn State 20
MH: The uncertainty at QB and the inability to string together consecutive successful drives along with the ability of Denard Robinson in open space is going to give Michigan a big win on the road on Halloween eve. There will be no treats for the fans in Beaver Stadium this Saturday.
Michigan 28 Penn State 17
Until next time,
Fight On State!