Lions Prep for Mario Manningham

Despite reports that he will miss this week's contest with a right knee injury, Penn State is preparing for the matchup as if Michigan's game-breaking receiver will play. After buring PSU for a game-winning TD last season, the Lions know just how dangerous Manningham is.

Penn State faces No. 4 Michigan at Beaver Stadium Saturday night, and the chess match between the two teams has already begun. On Monday, Wolverine coach Lloyd Carr would neither confirm nor deny reports that star receiver Mario Manningham will miss the contest due to a right knee injury sustained in last week's win over Michigan State.

“Is he going to play?” Carr said at his weekly news conference Monday. “Well, we'll have to see. I don't have any comment on Mario.”

That same day, the Detroit News, citing unnamed sources close to the Michigan football program, reported Manningham is expected to undergo arthroscopic surgery this week to repair a torn meniscus and perhaps a torn medial collateral ligament. If the report is accurate, there is no chance Manningham will play this week.

That would be a big blow for the Wolverine offense, as the sophomore leads the nation with nine touchdown catches and is averaging 22 yards per reception for 6-0 U of M. But, ever suspicious that gamesmanship may be afoot here, the Nittany Lions are preparing for Michigan as if it will have its full complement of offensive weapons.

“I had no idea he was hurt,” PSU safety Anthony Scirrotto said when told of the injury. “… We're going to prepare as if he's still playing. You can't cut down on the tempo at practice just because you heard something, because you never know. We're going along with the mind frame that he's still playing and we're going to prepare the same way.”

Penn State players, coaches and fans know just how dangerous Manningham is as a receiver. In a thriller between the two teams in Ann Arbor last season, he caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne on the game's final play to hand the Lions their only loss of the year.

Henne was a respectable 21 of 36 for 212 yards and a pair of scores against Penn State in the 27-25 Wolverine win. He'll likely have to be at least as effective Saturday against a PSU defense that ranks second in the Big Ten against the run but just seventh against the pass, having given up 347 yards through the air in a tight win over Minnesota last weekend.

“They have a great quarterback in Chad Henne,” said Scirrotto, who leads the Lions in interceptions with two. “He's good at reading coverages and does a great job of making decisions on where to put the ball. Plus, they have great receivers in Mario Manningham and Steve Breaston.”

While the key Henne to Manningham touchdown of 2005 is still fresh in the minds of the PSU defenders - “I just remember being disappointed,” Scirrotto said - the Nittany Lions' current seven-game losing streak to Michigan is not a topic of discussing in the locker room.

“Besides the fact that I know we lost last year, I'm not aware of it,” Scirrotto said. “I really don't know the history or comparison of wins and losses. I don't pay attention to that stuff, anyway, because each season is new.”

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