Ready for Double Trouble

Hull says Michigan's two-headed quarterback will present unique challenges for the Penn State defense this weekend.

When Penn Staters look back on the Nittany Lions' 46-17 victory over Michigan last season, they most likely do a quick mental inventory of the team's second-half scoring binge, maybe watch a YouTube clip of Jared Odrick's game-changing safety and call it a day. It's only natural. As far as Penn State is concerned, that's the good stuff.

But as Josh Hull is quick to remind, the Nittany Lions didn't dominate the first half of that game. Michigan bolted out to a 17-7 lead and appeared capable of springing an upset before the Lions clamped down late in the second quarter.

“They had real good players last year,” Hull recalled, “but I don't know if they necessarily fit [Rich Rodriguez's system]. We struggled with it last year in the first half. We made some adjustments and adapted to it, and we ended up doing all right.”

A year later, Michigan may not have returned to conference championship form, but it's not hard to see Rodriguez's puzzle coming together. Two of the key pieces fell into place in the off-season when the second-year coach signed Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. The true freshmen are splitting time at quarterback and have helped Michigan average a Big Ten-best 37.3 points a game.

“They're both speed demons, they're really fast. It's going to be tough to keep them contained,” Hull said. “I think Forcier is a little more comfortable throwing the football, and the other kid is a little more comfortable taking off and running with it. It adds another facet to the game that we have to worry about. Our defensive line has to do a great job of getting a good pass rush and keeping them in the pocket to allow the linebackers to defend the pass.”

Of course, the Nittany Lions have some playmakers of their own, and Hull is one of them. He's ranked fourth in the Big Ten in tackles with an average of 9.9 a game through seven games. The senior middle linebacker has been part of a strong Penn State defensive effort, with the Lions ranked first in the conference against the run (75.4) and the pass (163.4 ypg) and second in the nation in points allowed (8.7 ppg).

Hull said the keys for Penn State on Saturday will be discipline and patience. Michigan's goal is to stretch the defense so that ball carriers have room to cut back when defenders give chase. Hull said the linebackers would have to be careful not to over-pursue.

“I think it just comes down to playing assignment football,” he said. “Each person needs to focus on doing their job. If we're able to do that, I think we're going to be pretty successful.”

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