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ND: The competition dials up a notch this week when the Lions travel to Ann Arbor to take on the Wolverines. The Lions have not won in the Big House since Wally Richardson and Curtis Enis were in the backfield. Since that time, several squads have made the trip to Michigan as the favorite and have returned to Happy Valley as a loser. Again, this year, the Lions travel there as a favorite but we'll see which Lions' team makes the trip – the one that plays tight and make mistakes or the one that plays loose, has fun and scores points.
MH: Last season PSU managed to get the Columbus monkey off its back, now the question is can they boot the Ann Arbor monkey? On paper Penn State looks like they should win this game, but a feisty Wolverine squad who is coming off back-to-back conference losses is hungry for a victory over the Nittany Lions.
Who: No. 13 Penn State at Michigan
When: October 24th at 3:30pm ET and 12:30pm PT
Where: Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, MI
Series: Michigan leads 10-4
TV: ABC Regional
Line: PSU -4.5
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: There are two games that I am watching this weekend. Neither are that exciting because they factor into the National Championship picture or because they are going to be rather spectacular games. But, both are interesting to me. I am looking forward to the Thursday night matchup between Florida State at North Carolina. Bobby Bowden seems to be buckled into a hot seat. But, if his Seminoles lay an egg on national television against the Tar Heels, who are also winless in the ACC, then the temperature is going to get turned up even more for the FSU icon.
The other game that I am interested in watching is the Idaho Vandals traveling to play Nevada. The Vandals are the talk of the town on the west coast. Rob Akey, who was an assistant just across the Idaho border at Washington State, is in the middle of a remarkable turnaround. His Vandals only won 3 games in the last 2 years and 2 of those wins were against FCS (formerly known as Division 1AA) opponents. But, the Vandals are 6-1 this year and have been packing in the Kibbie Dome where the max attendance is 16,000. Nevada is coming into this game at 3-3 and 2-0 in the WAC. If the Vandals can get through this game, they will be headed for a HUGE matchup against Boise State in November. The folks in Moscow have a pretty good squad and they are quite a story at the midpoint of the season. I'm pulling for the little guy to get to the Smurf Turf with a 1-loss record!
MH: I am very interested in the Florida State game to see how the Noles respond to the turmoil they have been in recently. I also think Oklahoma against No. 25 Kansas will be telling. Oklahoma is reeling with three losses and Kansas is looking at an opportunity to knock off the Sooners and send them into a complete tailspin. Also, I am not that excited about it, but keep an eye on No. 8 TCU as they head to Provo to face off with No. 16 Brigham Young.
ND: Mark, for the Nittany Nation, my upset special will be received with much anticipation. I really like the Spartans knocking off the undefeated Hawkeyes. After losing to Wisconsin, Greg Jones and the rest of the defense has been playing far better and the offense hasn't struggled scoring points. I think this is going to be a low scoring affair. But, with the game being played in East Lansing and at night, I like the Spartans getting the upset win.
MH: I picked Wisconsin to knock off Iowa, but now I am starting to think that Iowa's Stanzi is a QB that just enough to help his team win ala Penn State's John Shaffer or Ohio State's Craig Krenzel. I think MSU should win, but Iowa will find a way to again defy the odds. I am looking at two potential upsets out of the Big East. First watch for South Florida to give No. 20 Pitt a game and potentially knock off the Pathers. Also, I expect UConn to play inspired against No. 23 West Virginia after DB Jasper Howard was killed this past week. The Huskies could shock the Mountaineers who have not quite been tested this season outside of Auburn.
ND: The offensive line is starting to come together. And, despite injuries to the right tackle position, Ako Poti has played pretty well. He made some nice plays in the open field and the fact that Clark didn't get sacked was huge against the blitzing scheme of the Gophers. I also think that Royster started to run with far more determination and aggressiveness. Maybe his early battles with sickness wore him down more than he was given credit for. But, he was breaking arm tackles and was showing more of a burst in the hole than he did in previous weeks. The Michigan defense is not bad against the run because they have a great defensive end in Brandon Graham. He is very fast and very agile. Because the Wolverines use a 3-4 defense, they will flip Graham around on both ends trying to force a favorable matchup. And, it has worked. Graham is the team leader in TFLs (10) and sacks (3). Look for the Lions to use Mickey Shuler and Suhey to help the offensive line keep him under control especially in the run game. The other guy that is a really good run stuffer is Stevie Brown. Obi Ezeh gets most of the credit on this linebacker squad. But, Stevie Brown is the guy that seems to make more plays. He's got more solo tackles, more INTs and more TFLs than Ezeh. But, he's not your prototypical Michigan linebacker so he doesn't get all of the hype. He just does the dirty work.
The passing game is going to be really interesting in this game. The Wolverines have been gashed through air. And, they have really been cut up through the middle of the field. This bodes well for the play action of the Lions as well as the use of the TE down the middle of the field. If Clark can continue to get the time to set his feet and the Lion receivers are able to cut across the field or the TE to run those underneath curls, I think the Lions can really cut up this Michigan pass defense. Moye is going to get quite a bit of attention from the Michigan secondary so I am looking for Galen Hall and Jay Paterno to use him as a decoy to suck a safety out of the middle of the field. I would think that running Moye on a fly pattern and then sending Quarless down the seam or Zug on a deep dig route would yield huge dividends.
There is a big advantage for the Penn State offense in this game. The offensive line is coming together and they have a significant size advantage up front against a smaller Michigan front 3. Plus, the Michigan secondary is not all that good. But, the key will be Clark having time to throw and playing loose. When he presses, the ball tends to take off on him.
Everyone is talking about the Penn State defense against the Michigan Offense. But, to me, it's the opposite side of the ball that is going to make or break this game. Penn State's offense must execute early and they must get points up on the board to give the defense some cushion. Further, the Lions must control the clock like they did against Minnesota because the Michigan offense will tire out this defense and the pass rush especially.
I think the Lions will struggle moving the ball early but will catch their groove in the second quarter as they have done all season long. I don't think the Lions will score a ton of points because I'm sure the play-calling will be conservative and will feature more short and intermediate routes rather than taking shots down the field. That's been Joe's recipe for tough road games against Michigan. Unfortunately, that recipe has yet to result in a tasty dish this decade.
MH: Although Penn State's offense had issues closing out early drives strong, they did put together a solid all-around effort on the day. The Lions dominated in time of possession and mounted several versatile, solid drives down the field. Clark once again managed to spread the ball around and PSU has had a series of go-to targets emerge in the passing game, particularly Derek Moye, who just missed the Player of the Game honor from FOS readers this past week. Also Andrew Quarless has been an impressive target with his consistency.
Against Michigan, Penn State should look to Quarless and Moye to leverage their size and get ball movement into the flat. I suspect we will see the Wolverine coaches looking to stuff the box to clog up the lanes and once again make Daryll Clark put early drives together with his arm. Clark has to remember he has a variety of weapons around him and has to use them. I would actually pull out Moye, Powell and company into the secondary to get them in single coverage with the U-M defensive backs. As you said Nirav, watch for Moye to get bracket coverage, which could create a field day opportunity for Powell and Graham Zug.
I would love to see the coaches to throw out some misdirection in this game with some decoys and screens. The big concern on the line is Brandon Graham taking on the right tackle. The good news is that this is generally on Clark's strong side and could be opportune to set up screen plays. The bad news is that Graham could really limit Clark's ability to roll to his strong side and could contain several options on his side of the field.
I'd love to see some stacked routes that send Moye deep, Zug in the intermediate zone and Quarless down inside so that it breaks up the coverage and gives Clark some options.
As for the running game, Penn State has to get it going like they did against the Gophers. Stephfon Green is likely to be out, so watch for Brandon Beachum to see some action with Evan Royster. Royster will have to be on his game in this one. I agree that, given history, the PSU staff is likely to go conservative, but with the weapons they have, including Shuler and Suhey, they could really cause some headaches for the front seven of Michigan. I almost feel it is better for PSU to be in a tight first half to make them open things up to get ahead. Otherwise if the were to pull ahead early my concern is that they will shut things down and sit on the lead, allowing U-M to get back in the game.
ND: The immovable object against the unstoppable force. The Lions on defense have been stout. They have yet to give up a first half TD; they lead the conference in virtually every single major statistic. But, let's face it. They have yet to play a quality offense this year. That changes this week. Michigan is leading the conference in most offensive categories. They are particularly good at running the football. But, let's face it. They have yet to play a quality defense. They faced Iowa (No. 22) and Michigan State (No. 44). But, their next toughest opponent on defense was Indiana at No. 82 in total defense. Penn State, on the other hand, hasn't faced an offense that is ranked in the top 75 in total offense! So, forget about past performance as any sort of indicator in this game. Let's look at matchups and schemes.
The Lions are very good up front. They have been able to clog running lanes and push the line of scrimmage into the backfield. That starts with the fantastic play of Jared Odrick. He gets immediate penetration up the middle, which disrupts the offense. The next wave of attackers is Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull. Hull continues to take quite a bit of heat but his play this year has been improved over last year and he is making some plays in the passing game as well. The Michigan offensive line is not overly huge as far as height and weight. But, this is a very experienced group of kids. There are only juniors and seniors on the starting line and they have been blocking for Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor for awhile. Minor and Brown are tough backs that have speed but also can run it up the middle. Forcier and Robinson have both done a good job of running the Rich Rodriguez read option. However, Forcier is a probably a bit more unpredictable. Robinson likes to hang on to the ball more times than not while Forcier has been handing off and keeping it equally. People often talk about how the QB needs to read the defensive end and that this read is what is most critical. From what I have seen, it is the play of the defensive tackle that can blow the whole thing up. If the tackle can get into the backfield at the snap, it won't matter what the read is because the defensive end can smother the QB knowing that the tackle has the RB wrapped up. Again, this is where Odrick is really key. If the Lions can stop the run on 1st down, then that gets the Wolverines off schedule and will force them to have to consider throwing more on 2nd down and that is not the strength of this offense.
Rich Rodriguez has a pretty good play maker in Tate Forcier. But, he has not asked Tate to win any games by throwing the ball. Forcier has made some key throws down the stretch in games to keep the Wolverines alive. But, he is still too jittery in the pocket. His lack of size, 188lbs (which is probably with all his pads and clothes on), is probably the main reason for that. He is trying to avoid taking hits while throwing the ball at all costs. Forcier has been doing a good job of distributing the football to his various receivers. And, just like any good Michigan team, they like to get the ball to the TE. Kevin Koger is a sophomore who is averaging 14.5 yards per catch and is 2nd on the team with 12 receptions. He's a good player. Though Michigan will have to throw the ball because I think the run game will be shutdown for the most part, I think Forcier will have success through the air.
The Michigan offense is going to have a tough task moving the ball against this Penn State defense. But, if they are able to stay balanced with the run and the pass, I think they can have some success. The key for the Wolverines will be gaining positive yards on first down.
MH: This game should tell us a lot about both PSU's defense and U-M's offense. PSU hasn't played a high-powered offense yet and the decent defenses the Wolverines have faced (Michigan State and Iowa) have been losses for U-M. The question is how these two units matchup when they square off.
True, Michigan is starting a true freshman in Tate Forcier, but despite his youth, he has shown a propensity to manage pressure well. It will be key for Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu to get a consistent surge on the pocket and demand double-ups from the U-M offensive line top open up single assignments on the defensive ends like Jack Crawford, This will allow the line to get pressure on the pocket and perhaps put Forcier on edge.
The issue for Penn State in these situations is containment. Forcier is impressive on the run and actually makes solid plays when he is mobile, so the ends and linebackers will have to try to box him. However, I expect that he will find success, the question is how much and how consistent that success is. The big concern is Michigan getting some dink-dunk drives together and eating up some clock.
The Michigan ground game will look to break open some runs, so if PSU can have Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman on the wings and Josh Hull inside it will be a big advantage. As for the secondary, A.J. Wallace is coming off a career game shutting down Minnesota's Eric Decker. Couple him with D'Anton Lynn and it's a solid corner set, if Wallace packs that physical play to Ann Arbor. The safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay will have to be sharp on their reads and breaks and need to work on getting some big plays and capitalizing on opportunities. If so, it could really give the Lions an edge. If not, Michigan should put together some solid drives.
ND: This game will feature two of the best punters in the conference and the country. Boone doesn't have enough attempts to be nationally ranked but he is averaging 46.5 yards per boot while Mesko is averaging 45.6 yards. That's good for No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference and No. 6 and No. 7 in the country if Boone qualified. Mark, keep an eye out for Darryl Stonum. Not only does this kid catch passes for the offense but he is a top-notch kick returner. Statistically, he is the best kick returner the Lions have faced this season. He is averaging over 27 yards per return and has one return for a TD this season. We'll see if the kick return coverage is up for the challenge and can make some plays. But, the key is getting some deep kicks, which was not there last weekend. Some of Wagner's kicks went into the endzone, but that was after the ball bounced at the 7 yard line. That won't work against Stonum.
MH: Well, it's good in my eyes that Boone doesn't have enough attempts this season in that category. Penn State's coverage will have to converge on Stonum; he's quick and elusive and really gives Michigan a nice weapon in the battle for field position. If U-M has short fields to work from it could really make for a long day for PSU.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: It is time for Lionbacker U to show its dominance. No squad is more critical when playing dynamic, mobile QBs than the linebackers. I like the matchup of the Penn State backers against the tandem of Robinson and Forcier. The outcome of this matchup will determine who wins the game.
MH: I am thinking like you, but I am going closer to the pocket and looking at Penn State's defensive ends; Jack Crawford, Eric Latimore and company against Forcier. If the ends can play containment and take away the clear rollout lanes it will be a major asset for PSU. If Forcier can get outside and get into his rhythm he'll start delivering balls.
Keys to the Game:
ND: Though the defense has been spectacular in the first half, the offense has played very tight and has struggled to get touchdowns. The key for the Lions is going to be playing loose and to make plays in that first half. If the Lions are able to go into the locker room with a lead that will help the psyche of this team and will help them finish the game off in the second half. But, if they are behind at halftime, I don't see them coming back in the second half and turning it around. This is a team that seemingly executes far better when Clark is laughing. Let's hope we see that million dollar smile in the first half.
MH: I am going with attitude and approach. The players need to come out in this game with a positive, determined attitude and not focus on the past Ann Arbor issues. The coaches need to take a gameplan approach that put this team in a position to win. Don't lock things down, but rather open things up and let the guys use their talent to have some fun.
ND: The Lions have matchup advantages all over the field. But, the conservative play on offense and the play making ability of Forcier will be the first real test of the secondary. That will keep the game close and tight until the end.
Penn State 20, Michigan 17
MH: On paper Penn State should win this game, but with the ghosts of Ann Arbor looming and questions around the coach's approach and gameplan I suspect this will be a close one through most of the game with Penn State getting a slight cushion toward the end.
Penn State 23, Michigan 13
Until next time,
Fight On State!