It's Michigan week. It's your BSD staff predictions. You know the drill.
Brain says Penn State, heart says Michigan. Looking at the Wolverines, their defense seems poorly equipped to handle Penn State's attack. You know, other than the fact that Brandon Graham is lining up against our 3rd team offensive right tackle. There's that. Still, their linebackers are prone to jumping on play-action fakes and the secondary isn't great. If Penn State can move the ball on the ground with any sort of competence, Clark could conceivably turn that into a big day (in fact, both teams have significant issues at both safety positions). It'll be up to the interior group of Eliades, Wisniewski, and Troutman to open up holes. Eliades looked downright menacing pulling around the line and leading Royster against Minnesota.
Defensively for Penn State, there's bad news. Tate Forcier may be a mistake-prone freshman, but he's still not Nick Sheridan. He played poorly against Iowa and became rather skittish under pressure. If Penn State can get to him, he'll turn it over. Odrick and Ogbu will be their usual disruptive selves, but what will PSU get from the edge? Denard Robinson is a concern, naturally, but Penn State tends to be rather disciplined on defense. Dynamic and surprising? No, but disciplined.
But it's Michigan, and Michigan Means Puckering from the coaching staff. Even when Penn State has a clearly superior team, like last year, it's a horrific struggle. This is not a clearly superior Penn State team, but it's good enough to be a 4 1/2 point favorite on the road. They're a bad matchup for Michigan, save the obvious Graham v. Poti battle. Insert kicking game caveat (I'll be shocked if Michigan doesn't score or set up an easy touchdown on a kick return) and crackpot officiating conspiracy theory here (however, if I see Dave Witvoet's face, all bets really are off and I'll spend Saturday afternoon in the fetal position if Penn State leads by any less than 20 points).
Like it or not, this game goes down to the wire. I will not be remotely surprised if Penn State loses.
Prediction: Penn State 21, Michigan 20
BSD Mike Says...
On paper, I don't see any reason why Penn State should lose this game. They have better talent, more depth, more experience, and I would even say better coaching. But, it's Michigan, where officials don't seem to give us any calls. It's Ann Arbor, where Nittany Lion dreams go to die. So that has me scared.
I think the Penn State front seven should be able to contain the Michigan running game. On his podcast, Brian asked me how confident I was in this and I mentioned this isn't the first zone read option team Penn State has played and I pointed to Illinois as an example. Brian, perhaps rightfully so, kind of scoffed at the remark suggesting Illinois is not a true test. This is true since I think Michigan has more athleticism at running back and Forcier is a better passer than Juice Williams. But I should have expanded my statement to say this is a very experienced front seven for Penn State. Guys like Navorro Bowman, Josh Hull, Sean Lee, Jared Odrick, and Ollie Ogbu have been the anchor of the defense for three years now. These guys have been around the block. They know the drill by now. They will not be fooled.
But the defensive ends are another story. Jack Crawford, Jerome Hayes, and Eric Latimore do not have a lot of experience. How well they keep up with Rich Rodriguez's cat-and-mouse game will determine how well Penn State contains the Michigan offense.
When Penn State is on offense I believe they have the balance to take advantage of what Michigan gives them. I think the Wolverines will try to take away the running game by stacking the box and hope they can force Daryll Clark into making some turnovers. This could open up some big plays to Chaz Powell and Derek Moye off of play action. And after our discussion with Maize-n-Brew this week where he mentioned their weakness in covering tight ends, I'm interested to see if Andrew Quarless can have a big day.
The wildcard in all of this will be Joe Paterno. Will he allow the offense to open up the playbook? Will he let the Tom Bradley defense attack the freshman quarterback? Or will he pucker up at the first sign of trouble and hope to hang on for a 13-10 win like he did in 2007? I have a good feeling about this game, but I think it will be closer than we all care for it to be.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Michigan 24
The general feeling is uneasiness, and I’ve been trying to figure out all week if that is the reality of the situation or just the annual lead up to the Michigan game. The 2002 and 2005 games will die hard.
But it’s important to be levelheaded here. The defense has been playing lights out, seven games in and not a single first half touchdown. Yeah? Well Rittenberg has your Debbie Downer right here:
We've seen Penn State rise to No. 2 nationally in scoring defense (8.7 ppg) despite facing no FBS offense ranked higher than 79th.
Michigan, on the other hand, is second in both rushing and passing yards per attempt in the Big Ten, although helped by 700-something total yards against one of the worst teams they are eligible to play against. But it wasn’t just Delaware State that showed up to play Michigan with a sub-part defense. The average rank of the D1-A defenses they’ve faced is 68; that includes two teams at 100+.
Basically, something has to give. Either Penn State can’t continue to dominate on defense or Michigan’s two thousand percent year over year increase (rounding) in offense will come to a halt. Vegas (47.5 o/u, PSU -4.5) is effectively predicting Michigan to hit around 21 points, which would be a season low for them.
So to run with this scientifically questionable analysis: can Penn State score more than 21 points? I suspect a slow start but persistent ground game will get them there. Super-soft cover-3 keeps Michigan in it in the 4th, but I remain cautiously optimistic.
Prediction: Penn State 34, Michigan 24