I think it's safe to say that before the season just about everyone in Nittany Nation would have called this game a win for Penn State. Now? Not so much. Let's see how your BSD staff sees it play out.
The murky QB situation has really thrown my prediction for a loop. Robert Bolden passed his concussion test Wednesday, but it is still unclear if he will be available to play. I feel he gives Penn State the best opportunity to beat Michigan. If he is unavailable and Penn State has to turn to option B (Matthew McGloin) or C (Kevin Newsome) (or B/C if you think Joe Paterno will use two QBs - which I think he will) then Penn State will need to be flawless offensively. McGloin will have to tame his Brett Favre impersonation and Newsome will have to channel 2002 Michael Robinson (Nebraska game). Can they do it? We'll find out on Saturday. Luckily for both QBs, Penn State does have weapons for them to get the ball to. Derek Moye and Devon Smith need to have big games. The big issue is the offensive line (Michigan's DT Martin is a player and could limit Penn State's love for running the ball right up the middle). Michigan's defense has been lit up by both UMass and Indiana, both lesser teams than Penn State. Penn State should have no problem moving the ball and scoring points but...
The defense is the problem. Denard Robinson has already proved he can score points in bunches. Luckily for the defense, Robinson has a knack for not sliding and taking unnecessary hits that knock him out of or limit him in games. His backup, the dancing queen himself, Tate Forcier, is the likely filler for velcro. I like our defenses chances if it is #5 behind center. Most of the athletes on Michigan's team are on the offensive side of the ball, so Robinson does have some weapons at his disposal. Tackling will be key against Michigan, especially against Robinson. Take a wrong angle or try to arm tackle and he will make you pay. Penn State needs to limit the big plays and try to keep Robinson and company in front of them. Do that, and it's anyone's ball game on Saturday night.
I hope the Penn State crowd is ready to become great again after taking this entire year off.
Prediction: Penn State 38, Michigan 42
As Stefen Wisniewski has pointed out, Penn State's best defense against Michigan is going to have to be its offense. As Illinois and Minnesota have shown us, you can move the ball on the Nittany Lions, and there's no reason to expect the Wolverines won't at this point. The good news is Michigan's pass defense is terrible and it's rush defense is average enough that ball possession could be a real weapon for Penn State on Saturday. If the defense gets even a couple of stops in this game, I really like Penn State's chances. Michigan will challenge, but barring a complete defensive meltdown, it's going to be hard for Denard Robinson to even touch the ball enough to keep pace with Penn State.
Remember, the Lions hung 33 on Minnesota, a defense statistically stronger than Michigan's, with a backup quarterback inflicting much of the damage while not playing particularly well. If Penn State gets near that many points at home before a whited out student section on prime time national televison against a team that boasts only road wins at Minnesota and Indiana in the Rich Rodriguez era, it's hard to see the night ending badly.
Prediction: Penn State 35, Michigan 31
I agree with Fugi that ball control is going to be key in this game. If Penn State can get the lead and possess the ball, the defense can play more aggressively and hopefully force some turnovers. Michigan's only played two road games so far, and didn't look particularly impressive despite winning in South Bend (when ND's starting QB got knocked out) and in Bloomington (in a 42-35 shootout that represents Indiana's best finish in a big ten game so far this year). Hopefully a raucous Beaver Stadium can stun the Wolverines, inspire the defense, and make Halloween weekend a happy one in the valley. But I think this game's more of a trick than a treat (sorry, it had to be done).
Our defense isn't good enough to shut down the Wolverine attack completely, and I just haven't seen enough out of the offense to believe they can execute and limit mistakes to the degree necessary to win, even against a defense as incompetent as Michigan's.
Prediction: Penn State 24, Michigan 30
BSD Mike Says...
I'm actually pretty confident that Matt McGloin is going to play pretty well. He seems to have a fire in his gut that I think his teammates respond to. He may not be as athletic or accurate as Bolden, but this is his third year in the program now. So I'm hoping that means the coaches feel more comfortable in opening up the playbook. Michigan isn't terrible at stopping the run, but they are terrible at defending the pass. So let 'er rip I say.
And here's a side prediction for you. This is the game where Graham Zug gets it going. Remember last year he caught three touchdowns against the Wolverines. Nobody is expecting anything from him. He's been working with McGloin with the second team all season. Look for these two to connect for two or three critical plays.
But as has been already said, Penn State's problems are going to come on defense. Penn State is inexperienced, undermanned, and inconsistent. Denard Robinson is going to get his yards, but Penn State can't let him rip off any 80-yard plays that take the crowd out of the game. Hold his runs to seven yards or less, and hope they hurt themselves with a penalty or turnover.
Ultimately, though, I don't think Penn State has the fire power to keep up. I see Michigan jumping out to a fast lead and taking the crowd ouf the game. Penn State spends the rest of the night trying to catch up, but just can't.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Michigan 38
I've sat here with a blank document open for a while now and I still don't know what to tell you. Michigan is really a tale of two sides of the ball. They can move the ball, but their defense can't stop anybody with a balanced attack. Penn State's task obviously comes down to stopping Denard Robinson and keeping him from breaking out for 140 yard runs, if they can slow him down they have a chance. Personally I think the key to this game comes down to the Penn State offense more than the defense. Since Michigan's defense itself isn't much to write home about Penn State has a shot at taking on Michigan in a shoot-out. That doesn't seem likely, but if Penn State can move the ball against Michigan's sub par secondary, they've got a fighting chance. As far as the quarterback situation. I don't know who will come off the bus first. McGloin is suppose to get the start, but I wouldn't be that suprised if that's not how it all pans out. If McGloin makes decently smart choices he should be good enough, but Bolden obviously would be the quarterback of choice.
Joe doesn't coach against Rich Rod like he's scared of him. I don't think he'll try and Trusselball too much. Penn State will need to hang on to the ball, but draw plays shouldn't be the flavor of the night. I hope.
Prediction: Penn State 34, Michigan 24
Given our scoring production thus far this season, and considering our massive question mark at the most important offensive position (Center), there's no reasonable cause to expect Penn State will outscore the visiting Wolverobinsons. Except one: the Michigan Gergdefense. While Doug Klopacs demonstrated again in the Minnesota game that he can still be counted on for 2-4+ blown or negatively executed assignments, the offensive line also proved that they can periodically sustain pass protected blocks and occasionally get some decent run blocking push. Qualifying adverbs meet Renaldo Sagesse and Greg Banks! If hope is to be laid at the feet of one Matthew McGloin, it will be a quietly productive performance by the Oline that allows it to bloom. Or fester.
Defensively is where the fun will be. Conventional wisdom says our lads fall somewhere between the quality of the Iowan beastly beasts and the Indianan holey holes, and puts us in possible contention if we hold them to 30, while some extremists contend that Michigan's defense is every bit as bad as Indiana's and they 'held' them to 42. In any event it's probably not unreasonable to think that Molk and Denard are more than capable of doing to us at least what they did to Iowa: 522 yards and 29 first downs on a 4.5 yards per carry rush average. If Penn State brings any of those numbers down it will be because of improved linebacker play, a huge wildcard with all the different rotations we trotted out as recently as last week. The best of those, tho, is Mauti in the middle flanked by Stupar and Hodges (whose rusty play last week was to be expected). I can't imagine the coaches will risk giving Colasanti too many series against Michigan's speedy weaponry, but it will be enough to give them theiir easiest gains of the night. While I'm amped to the heavens about the competition and believe we will really fight, the scars of the Illinois game just weeks ago tell me this team remains too young and too inconsistent to put together a complete game against a quality offensive opponent.
Prediction: Michigan 35, Penn State 31