ABC Keith Jackson College Football-like Intro
The defending Big Ten Champions struggling, unranked and playing at home against a Big Ten rival ranked in the top 10. Looks like a sure thing for Michigan, huh? That's what Penn State thought last year as they played the defending champs in Ann Arbor. Michigan was unranked at 3-3 and Penn State was 6-0 and ranked #8. Yet Michigan pulled off the upset and ruined the Nittany Lions bid for a perfect season. This week Penn State looks to return the favor. It's Penn State at 4-2 and unranked while Michigan is 6-0 and ranked in the top 5. Paternoville is set up. The lights will be on, ABC will be there and the whiteout will be in effect. 10 years and seven straight games the Lions have dropped to the Wolverines. It's just another tough Big Ten road game to Michigan. To Penn State it's the Superbowl. (Cue goose bumps)
At Penn State they camp out for days before the game, wear white, and deafen the opponent with skull crushing noise. At Michigan, they shake their keys.
You already know. Chad Henne is having his best year so far in the Maize and Blue completing 62% of his passes for 1100 yards, 13 TD and 4 INT. He's everything everyone thought he would be coming out of high school. Last year against Penn State he went 21-36 for 212 yards and 2 TD.
But both of Henne's TD's went to Mario Manningham. In case you've been under a rock this week, Manningham will not be playing for a while after having orthoscopic knee surgery this week. Stepping up as Henne's primary target will be either Steve Breaston or Adrain Arrington. It was Breaston that set up the winning score for Michigan last year with a great kickoff return. Breaston is second on the team in catches with 23, but his average is less than stellar at only 9.7. He's had trouble catching the ball at times and may not have the faith of Henne when tough yards are needed. Thus far he has no TD's on the year. Arrington poses more of a deep threat with 12 catches. He averages over 16 yards per catch and has 3 TD's on the year. But without Manningham to draw the defense, these guys will have to step up and find ways to get open.
Steve Breaston, a.k.a. Lion Killer
But what makes Michigan go is their brutal running game. Mike Hart has managed to stay healthy and is having a fantastic year averaging 132 yards/game with 5 TD. He has a combination of size, power, and speed that makes NFL combine scouts drool. Last year he rolled up 108 yards and a TD on 23 carries against the Lions. Stopping him is the key to stopping Michigan.
Michigan fans heart Hart
This is a smart well balanced offense that can beat you with the run or pass. It doesn't help that they don't turn the ball over often.
As scary as the offense is, the defense is better. Ranked #1 in the NCAA in rushing defense only giving up 40.3 yards per game and ranked #10 in total defense giving up 250 yards per game. But they have loosened up a bit giving up 108 yards to Minnesota and 60 yards to an MSU team that was playing from behind much of the game.
Not so much
Alan Branch anchors the middle of the defensive line in Michigan's 4-3 scheme. At 6'-6" and 331 lbs he clogs the middle and eats up blockers. On the ends, Rondell Biggs has 3 sacks, but Lamarr Woodley is the real beast. He is one of those rare DE's that can take over a game and kill an entire series. On the year he has 5 sacks. He is the first dominating DE Penn State has faced this year. PSU RT John Shaw is going to have his hands full and may need some TE support.
The linebackers are Crable, Harris, and Burgess. All three are seniors that are well coached and play smart. Harris plays the middle and is an effective run stopper leading the team with 40 tackles. Burgess seems to be coming on strong at weak side linebacker and looking good each week.
The secondary features All Big Ten corner Leon Hall. The senior has 11 career interceptions including one against Penn State last year. He's a shutdown corner that may be worthy of a first round pick in the NFL. I expect where ever he lines up Penn State will be throwing the other way. The other corner is Morgan Trent who broke a bone in his hand against Wisconsin earlier this year. He sat out against Minnesota but returned for Michigan State and didn't look very good. The Wolverines don't have much depth at corner so whoever plays opposite Hall can expect to see a lot of action.
Lamarr Woodley will try to take the wood to Morelli
The safeties are Mundy and Adams. Both are first year starters. They missed some plays against Michigan State that gave up some big yards so the Lions will look to exploit that as well. If there is a weakness on the Michigan team it is pass defense where the Wolverines are giving up 210 yards per game for a #81 ranking in the NCAA. Lloyd Carr has been known to drop back into ridiculous prevent defenses late in the game when he's sitting on a 10 point lead. How much of that is bad defense and how much is teams throwing a lot in attempts to catch up? Who knows.
When Michigan has the ball I look for Penn State to creep Donnie Johnson up into the box for run support. Hart is good at getting outside and the Michigan TE's have been good at sealing it for him. But Donnie has been good at blowing up sweeps and screen plays all year and he'll have to do that here when Michigan runs Hart to his side of the field. With Manningham out Penn State is going to force Henne to beat them with Arrington and Breaston. Arrington has looked good at times, but anyone opposite of Manningham would see a lot of single coverage. The corners played some of the softest coverage I have ever seen against Minnesota. Maybe they were baiting Michigan on tape, but I doubt it. Minnesota on the road is too good to not play your best. I would be surprised if Penn State came out playing that soft again. Joe Paterno said looking back against the Gophers he felt they were too soft. I expect the pressure to be turned up a notch. But the real key for the Lions is to stop Mike Hart. He'll get his yards and probably finish somewhere around 125. But if Hart has a big day with 150 or 200 yards they're done.
When the Lions have the ball I expect pretty much the same thing we've seen all year. A lot of running Tony Hunt between the tackles. He doesn't have the speed to get outside and our TE's can't seal a block anyway. Michigan is going to stack the middle and dare Penn State to beat them running outside. They will also bring up the safeties to stop Tony Hunt. In the passing game we'll see a lot of short and middle range out patterns to Butler and Williams since that seems to be Morelli's favorite pass. Occasionally they will throw a deep ball to keep them honest. And they'll throw in some trickeration with an end around and Derrick Williams in the back field.
Ok, Mike. What's Going to Happen?
Michigan is going to get their yards. Mike Hart will finish with around 125 yards and probably a couple scores. Hart and their offensive line are too good. Their passing game will look pretty average without Manningham, but I expect Michigan will play pretty conservative on offense in the hostile environment.
Tony Hunt is not going to have much room to run. The wide receivers are going to have a tough time getting open and Morelli is not going to have much time to throw. Having said that, Penn State will put together four good drives in this game. Four times they will get into Wolverine territory. What they do with those opportunities will determine the outcome of the game. If we see the team that jumps offsides, misses blocks, and can't hold a snap on a field goal, Penn State is going to lose. If they punch it in the endzone each time they will win. I think we'll see half and half. They will get in twice and stall twice.
The bottom line is that Michigan is a couple notches better at every position on offense. They don't make mistakes. We do.