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Posts Tagged ‘Happy Valley’

#2 Penn State 42 – #19 Michigan 13: Hapless Michigan outplayed, outcoached in State College

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

Michigan entered Saturday night’s matchup with No. 2 Penn State with a chance to make a statement in front of a Beaver Stadium whiteout and a primetime national television audience. They did make a statement, but not the kind they wanted, falling 42-13 and dropping out of the Top 25.

Final Stats
Michigan  Penn State
Score 13 42
Record 5-2 (2-2) 7-0 (4-0)
Total Yards 269 506
Net Rushing Yards 103 224
Net Passing Yards 166 282
First Downs 16 25
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 6-59 1-10
Punts-Yards 6-233 2-99
Time of Possession 32:56 27:04
Third Down Conversions 6-of-16 4-of-7
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-11 7-49
Field Goals 0-for-0 0-for-0
PATs 1-for-2 6-for-6
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 4-of-5
Red Zone TDs-Chances 2-of-2 4-of-5
Full Box Score

It was all Penn State from the outset as the Nittany Lions scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives while Michigan went three-and-out on their first two.

Heisman Trophy frontrunner Saquon Barkley didn’t waste any time making his statement, taking the game’s second play 69 yards for a touchdown. On Penn State’s second possession, it took just four plays to move 78 yards for another touchdown.

Michigan cornerback David Long intercepted Trace McSorley on Penn State’s third possession — which was threatening to score once again — and that allowed Michigan to show a little life. John O’Korn led a 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive that was capped with a 1-yard Karan Higdon touchdown run. But freshman kicker Quinn Nordin, who was once committed to Penn State before flipping to Michigan, missed the extra point to a chorus of boos.

Michigan’s defense forced a three-and-out, but the offense wasn’t able to do anything. Penn State’s next possession stalled at the Michigan 33-yard line on a failed fourth-down conversion, and Michigan took advantage with a 8-play, 67-yard drive capped off by a 6-yard Ty Isaac touchdown run to pull within 14-13.

But it was all downhill from there. Penn State drove for another touchdown to take back the momentum just before the half and when Michigan couldn’t put points on the board on the first possession of the second half, Penn State put the nail in the coffin with a 9-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to go up 28-13. From there, the only drama was whether or not James Franklin would try to top the 49 points that Michigan hung on Penn State in Ann Arbor a year ago. They didn’t quite get there, but the damage was done.

Penn State gained 506 yards on a Michigan defense that was allowing just 223.8 yards per game. Penn State rushed for 224 yards on a rush defense that was allowing just 85.5 yards per game. Penn State scored 42 points on a defense that was giving up just 14.7. Barkley rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 7.2 yards per carry and also caught three passes for 53 yards and a score. McSorely completed 17-of-26 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown and added 76 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry.

Michigan, meanwhile, failed to top 20 points in regulation for the third straight week, managed just 269 total yards, and gave up seven sacks. O’Korn went 16-of-28 for 166 yards but failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third straight game. Higdon rushed for 45 yards on just three yards per carry, while Grant Perry led the way in the air with three receptions for 46 yards.

It was an outcome that most expected, even die-hard Michigan fans, but the matter with which it happened was a worst-case scenario. And now it has a chorus of hot takes and Twitter crusaders calling for Jim Harbaugh’s head. It will die down a bit if Michigan can take care of business the next three weeks against Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland, but it won’t go away completely until he wins a big game. With Wisconsin and Ohio State scheduled to close the regular season, he’ll get that shot, but unless there is significant improvement between now and then, it’ll likely just turn up the noise.

Michigan returns home to face Rutgers (3-4, 2-2) next Saturday at noon. The game will be televised by Big Ten Network.

Game Ball – Offense

None
Higdon averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. Issac averaged 6.0 but got just six carries. O’Korn threw for just 166 yards with no touchdowns and was sacked seven times. Kekoa Crawford made a nice catch, but it was his only one. Donovan Peoples-Jones got involved in the passing game but dropped a bubble screen that had potential for a huge play. Eddie McDoom is probably the best candidate for this week’s game ball with three receptions for 29 yards and a rush for eight yards, but it didn’t have much impact on the game. The offensive line was horrendous. So no game ball is being given out on offense this week.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
Week 5 — Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
Week 6 — Karan Higdon (25 carries for 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per carry)

Game Ball – Defense

Khaleke Hudson (7 tackles — 4 solo — 1 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 pass breakup)
Michigan’s defense had its worst game of the season defensively as Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead did a great job of picking on matchups where the Nittany Lions had advantages. That mostly involved getting Barkley matched up with linebacker Mike McCray who couldn’t keep up, but it also involved utilizing slot receivers against Michigan’s safeties. Hudson certainly wasn’t perfect himself, but he made his impact felt with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup that was nearly an interception in the end zone early in the game.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Week 5 — Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
Week 6 — Rashan Gary (7 tackles — 3 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)

#19 Michigan at #2 Penn State game preview

Friday, October 20th, 2017


(Kirthman F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

A year ago Penn State opened Big Ten play with a visit to Ann Arbor and left with a humiliating 49-10 defeat. It got so bad that, trailing 28-0 in the third quarter and facing 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, James Franklin elected to kick a field goal shorter than an extra point simply to put points on the board rather than try to make a comeback.

Quick Facts
Beaver Stadium – 7:30p.m. EST – ABC
Penn State Head Coach: James Franklin (4th season)
Coaching Record: 55-30 (31-15 at PSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Moorhead (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Pry (4th season)
Last Season: 11-3 (8-1 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 49 – PSU 10 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 13-7
Record in State College: Michigan 6-4
Jim Harbaugh vs PSU 2-0
Last Michigan win: 2016 (49-10)
Last Penn State win: 2013 (43-40)
Current Streak: Michigan 3
Penn State schedule to date
Opponent Result
Akron W 52-0
Pitt W 33-14
Georgia State W 56-0
at Iowa W 21-19
Indiana W 45-14
at Northwestern W 31-7

Somehow, that lifeless group of guys went on to win their next nine games, capturing the Big Ten title and narrowly missing out on the College Football Playoff. They knocked off Ohio State and then topped Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game before losing a shootout to USC in the Rose Bowl.

If anything, that performance gives hope to Michigan to pull off a similar feat this season. The Wolverines’ offense looked inept in a 14-10 loss to rival Michigan State two weeks ago and then they survived an overtime game at Indiana last week. Penn State followed up their loss to Michigan last season with an overtime win over Minnesota before tearing through the rest of the schedule.

Penn State carried enormous expectations into this season and they have so far lived up to them, breezing through the first six games with one of the nation’s best scoring margins, winning by an average of 30.7 points per game. That’s 2.5 more points than Michigan averages per game.

But the Nittany Lions haven’t exactly played anybody yet. The highest-ranked team they’ve beaten, according to S&P+, is Iowa, which is 38th, and it took a last-second touchdown pass to escape Iowa City. The other wins have come over Indiana (44th), Northwestern (69th), Pitt (96th), Georgia State (106th), and Akron (112th).

Penn State is favored by more than a touchdown, but they haven’t faced a defense like Michigan’s or a team with as much talent and athleticism yet this season. Michigan’s young team, however, hasn’t faced an atmosphere like a Beaver Stadium whiteout. So what will give? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Penn State offense

(Gordie Jones, NBC Sports)

Joe Moorhead’s offense ranks 17th nationally and second in the Big Ten in scoring (39.7 points per game), 66th and eighth in rushing (165.0 yards per game), 22nd and second in passing (291.2 yards per game), and 33rd and third in total offense (456.2 yards per game). It’s a potent offense no doubt with a Heisman candidate running back and a dynamic quarterback, but let’s take a moment to consider the defenses it has faced thus far. Iowa and Indiana’s defenses rank 23rd and 22nd, respectively, in S&P+. The Hawkeyes held Penn State to just 21 points — seven coming on the game’s final play. Michigan’s defense ranks No. 2 behind only Alabama. Every other defense Penn State has faced ranks no higher than 44th.

The workhorse is junior running back Saquon Barkley, who may be the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy at this point in the season. He leads the team in both rushing and receiving with 649 yards and six touchdowns on 6.4 yards per carry and 395 yards and two touchdowns on 13.6 yards per reception. In fact, he ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing (108.2 yards per game), tight for fourth in receptions per game (4.8), and seventh in receiving (65.8 yards per game). Yes, only a handful of receivers catch more passes for more yards than Penn State’s running back.

Beyond Barkley, however, only one other player has more than 63 rushing yards and that is quarterback Trace McSorley. The senior leads the Big Ten and ranks 27th nationally with 266.2 passing yards per game, but he’s also effective with his feet with 178 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He also leads the conference with a 67.0 percent completion rate and has a 13-to-4 touchdown to interception ratio.

Even though Barkley leads the team in rushing, it doesn’t mean he’s the only talented pass catcher. Redshirt sophomore Juwan Johnson ranks ninth in the Big Ten with four receptions per game, averaging 50.5 yards per game, while fifth-year senior Daesean Hamilton ranks eighth in the conference with 61.0 yards per game. However, Hamilton has just one game with more than three receptions and that was a nine-catch, 122-yard, three-touchdown performance against Indiana. Johnson, meanwhile, has caught at least four passes in four of six games, including a total of 19 in the last three. Senior tight end Mike Gisecki was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last season and is a good safety valve for McSorley. He has four touchdowns on the season, but hasn’t had one since Week 2.

Penn State defense

(Rich Barnes, USA Today Sports)

Defensively, Penn State’s numbers are pretty impressive in the first half of the season. The Nittany Lions lead the nation in scoring defense (9.0 points per game), rank fifth in the Big Ten and 24th nationally in rush defense (117.3 yards per game), second and ninth in pass defense (167.8 yards per game), and fourth and ninth in total defense (285.2 yards per game).

But while Penn State’s offense hasn’t faced a top-tier defense, its defense hasn’t even faced a competent offense. Northwestern’s 73rd ranked offense (per S&P+) is the best so far. Despite Michigan’s offensive struggles, it’s right on par with that (76th). Penn State allowed the nation’s 113th-best (Pitt), 104th (Georgia State), and 92nd (Indiana) rushing offenses to each rush for over 150 yards. Michigan’s running game, while not a world-beater by any means, ranks 49th, so it should be able to have some success on the ground.

Make no mistake; this is a deep and talented defense. It seems that Penn State always has solid linebackers, and although they had a couple injured in last year’s meeting, that’s true again this year. Senior middle linebacker Jason Cabinda is the team’s leading tackler with 40 tackles, three for loss, and one sack. WILL linebacker Manny Bowen and SAM linebacker Koa Farmer (a converted safety) are both experienced and have combined for 50 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

The defensive front is deep and strong similar to Michigan’s. Redshirt sophomore end Shareef Miller leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and also has 2.5 sacks and three quarterback hurries, while fellow redshirt sophomore end Ryan Bucholz has two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and two quarterback hurries. The combination of fifth-year seniors Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren create a formidable interior. The latter was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season.

Saving perhaps the best unit for last, the secondary is one of the best in the conference. Senior free safety Marcus Allen has been around forever and has been an All-Big Ten performer in each of the past two seasons. He ranks second on the team with 35 tackles, second with four tackles for loss, and also has a sack and an interception. Senior strong safety Troy Apke has 24 tackles and an interception. Corners Christian Campbell and Grant Haley are very good defenders and have a combined 17 passes defended, 14 pass breakups, and three interceptions.

Penn State special teams

Senior kicker Tyler Davis made 32 of his first 34 field goals in 2015 and 2016, earning All-Big Ten second-team honors last season. But he has struggled so far this season, making just 6-of-13 with a long of 47. Sophomore punter Blake Gillikin ranks second in the conference with an average of 44.2 yards per punt. He has booted seven of his 26 punts over 50 yards and has downed 16 of 26 inside the 20.

In addition to rushing and receiving, Barkley is a dynamic kick returner, averaging 32.2 yards per return with one touchdown. Redshirt junior receiver DeAndre Thompkins is the main punt returner with an average of 17.1 yards per return and has also scored a touchdown.

Prediction

There’s a reason Penn State is a heavy favorite and nearly everyone is writing Michigan off. With backup quarterback John O’Korn under center due to Wilton Speight’s injury, Michigan’s offense has struggled immensely against Michigan State and Indiana the past two weeks. Penn State is very good on both sides of the ball and is one of the hottest teams in the nation dating back to last season’s matchup in Ann Arbor. A primetime whiteout is not the type of environment that one of the nation’s youngest teams playing with a backup quarterback can feel confident about going into and earning a win.

But there are a couple of factors working in Michigan’s favor. With Don Brown’s defense playing as perhaps the nation’s best — only Alabama can have an argument about that — the Wolverines will have a great chance to keep the game within striking distance. Even more, it matches up well with Penn State’s offense. As dynamic as the Nittany Lions are, they’ve struggled in a couple areas: third downs and allowing sacks.

Guess what.

Michigan’s defense leads the nation in third-down defense and ranks sixth in sacks. Penn State ranks 77th nationally with a 37.8 percent third-down conversion rate, while Michigan’s defense allows conversions at just a 20.5 percent clip. Penn State ranks 101st nationally with 16 sacks allowed — the same number Michigan’s offense has allowed — and Michigan’s defense is averaging more than three sacks per game. Penn State has allowed 14 of those 16 sacks in the last three games. Iowa, who recorded just eight sacks in its other five games, had four against Penn State. Indiana, who recorded nine its other five games, recorded five against Penn State. And Northwestern, who got to the quarterback eight times in its other five games, sacked McSorley five times.

Additionally, for as good as Penn State’s offense is, they aren’t dynamic in terms of big plays. They average just five explosive runs per game (fewer than Michigan) and 4.3 explosive pass plays per game (Michigan averages three) for a total of 9.3 total explosive plays, which ranks just 40th nationally. They also give up 8.3 tackles for loss per game, a number that only 12 teams nationally can top.

So there’s hope that Michigan’s defense can considerably slow down the Penn State offense. The question is whether Michigan’s offense can put up enough points to make it count. I certainly wouldn’t expect the Wolverines to move the ball consistently, but I’d look for a big night from kicker Quinn Nordin, who chose the Wolverines over Penn State. Michigan will get a touchdown, but will settle for field goals, which in a game like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Points are good. I see this game going down to the wire with Penn State scoring a touchdown late to pull out a win.

Score Prediction: Penn State 23 – Michigan 19

#12 Michigan 28 – Penn State 16: Wolverines take care of business in Happy Valley

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015


Jabrill - DeVenon vs PSU(MGoBlue.com)

With Ohio State looming next Saturday for a potential shot at the Big Ten East division title, Michigan took care of business in Happy Valley with a workman-like 28-16 victory over Penn State.

The defense held Penn State to 207 yards of total offense — most of which came on three big plays — and sacked Christian Hackenberg four times. Jake Rudock continued his ascension with a 25 of 38 for 256 yards and two touchdown performance to lead the Wolverines to victory.

Penn State struck first with a 23-yard Tyler Davis field goal on its first possession of the game, but Michigan answered with a 7-play, 89-yard drive that was capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass from Jake Rudock to Jake Butt. After a Penn State three and out, Michigan made the first mistake of the game when Rudock was intercepted by linebacker Brandon Bell. But Michigan’s defense held strong and forced a punt.

UM-PennState-small-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Penn State
Score 28 16
Record 9-2 (6-1) 7-4 (4-3)
Total Yards 343 207
Net Rushing Yards 87 70
Net Passing Yards 256 137
First Downs 19 14
Turnovers 2 1
Penalties-Yards 13-117 3-30
Punts-Yards 6-198 6-225
Time of Possession 33:22 26:38
Third Down Conversions 7-of-14 3-of-14
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 1-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 4-26 2-10
Field Goals 0-for-0 3-for-3
PATs 4-for-4 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-4 3-of-3
Red Zone Scores-TDs 3-of-4 0-of-3
Full Box Score

Defenses ruled much of the rest of the first half until Penn State found the end zone for the first time with 1:57 remaining in the half. On 3rd-and-6, Christian Hackenberg connected with freshman receiver Saeed Blacknall for a 25-yard touchdown to put the Nittany Lions ahead 10-7.

Michigan marched 70 yards in seven plays on the arm of Rudock, who completed passes of 26 yards to Amara Darboh, four and 11 to De’Veon Smith, 18 to Butt, and then a 11-yard wide receiver screen to Darboh who evaded Penn State defenders and found the end zone. Michigan took a 14-10 lead into the break.

Michigan took the opening possession of the second half across midfield, but stalled and punted it back to Penn State. After forcing a three and out, Michigan again had to punt, but this time return man DeAndre Thompkins muffed it and Jehu Chesson recovered at the PSU 9-yard line. Three plays later, Sione Houma scored from a yard out to put Michigan ahead 21-10.

Another defensive stand gave Michigan the ball back with a chance to put the game away, but Rudock had the ball knocked out of his hands by Bell and Penn State recovered at the Michigan 42. Four plays later, Hackenberg hit Chris Godwin for a 38-yard gain to the Michigan three. But the Michigan defense held strong and forced a 24-yard field goal.

Michigan’s offense went three and out, giving Penn State a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion. The Nittany Lions mounted a 10-play, 62-yard drive, but couldn’t get past the the goal line and had to settle for another field goal, this time from 18 yards out.

With the game slipping away, leading just 21-16 with 7:53 remaining, Michigan needed to get something going. Enter Jourdan Lewis. The program’s single-season record holder for pass breakups took the ensuing kickoff and rumbled 55 yards to the Penn State 40-yard line, giving Michigan’s offense a much-needed boost. On the first play, Chesson took an end around 20 yards, and on 3rd-and-6, Chesson was interfered in the end zone giving Michigan 1st-and-goal at the PSU six. Two plays later, Smith broke the plane to put Michigan ahead 28-16. The defense held Penn State off the scoreboard the rest of the way and Michigan completed its first unbeaten road conference slate since 1997.

Although Michigan’s offense struggled to move the ball consistently against a very good Penn State defense, it still managed 343 total yards, and their 256 passing yards was the most Penn State’s defense has allowed all season. Michigan’s receiving trio was consistent as Darboh led the way with seven receptions for 68 yards and a score, Butt with five for 66 and a score, and Chesson with four for 69. Smith led Michigan on the ground with just 39 yards on 13 carries.

Michigan’s defense held Hackenberg to just 13-of-31 for 137 yards and one touchdown, while sacking him four times. Freshman running back Saquon Barkley, who entered the game as the Big Ten’s third-leading rusher, averaging over 100 yards per game, managed just 68 yards on 15 carries — 56 of which came on the first carry of the game.

Michigan, now 9-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten, finishes the regular season next Saturday with rival Ohio State (10-1, 6-1). The Buckeyes suffered their first loss in 24 games on Saturday afternoon against Michigan State, taking some of the luster out of next Saturday’s matchup. The winner of that one needs Penn State to knock off Michigan State in order to advance to the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 5.

Game Ball – Offense

Jake Rudock (25 of 38 for 256 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT,)
It maybe boring to some to give Rudock the game ball for the third straight week, but since Michigan had no running game and he spread the wealth evenly between the big three receivers, it’s really hard to justify anyone else. Rudock has quietly moved his way up the Big Ten quarterback charts the last three weeks. He has completed 69.7 percent of his passes (76 of 109) for 1,033 yards, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions during that span. He’s a major reason Michigan has won the past two weeks and if he performs the same way next Saturday Michigan could send the Buckeyes back to Columbus with a second straight loss.

Previous:
Week 1 – Jake Butt (8 rec for 93 yards and 1 TD)
Week 2 – De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 126 yards, 3 TDs)
Week 3 – Ty Isaac (8 carries for 114 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — De’Veon Smith (16 carries for 125 yards and 1 TD)
Week 5 — Drake Johnson (13 carries for 68 yards, 1 TD, 1 rec for 31 yards, 1 TD)
Week 6 — Mason Cole, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson
Week 7 — Kenny Allen (3-for-3 field goals, 2-2 PATs)
Week 8 — Jabrill Peppers (4 carries for 16 yards, 1 TD, 1 punt return for 41 yards, 1 kick return for 43 yards)
Week 9 — Jake Rudock (18 of 25 for 337 yards, 2 TDs, 1 carry for 4 yards, 1 TD)
Week 10 — Jake Rudock (33 of 46 for 440 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT, 7 carries for 64 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Taco Charlton (4 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks)
Everyone knew entering the game that Penn State’s offensive line was a sieve, giving up the most sacks in the Big Ten by a wide margin. The question wasn’t whether Michigan would be able to get pressure on Hackenberg; it was how many sacks would Michigan record? The answer was four and Charlton contributed half of those. In total, Michigan stopped Penn State behind the line of scrimmage 10 times and Charlton contributed three of those. While Penn State’s leading tackler had 12, and five different defenders had at least six tackles, no individual Michigan defender recorded more than five. But it was the tackles for loss and sacks that made the most impact, forcing Penn State into passing situations where they didn’t have much luck.

Previous:
Week 1 – Chris Wormley (5 tackles, 3 TFL)
Week 2 – Chris Wormley (6 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 3 – Jourdan Lewis (3 tackles, 4 PBU)
Week 4 — Ryan Glasgow (3 tackles, 2 TFL)
Week 5 — Desmond Morgan (9 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
Week 6 — Jourdan Lewis (4 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 touchdown, 1 PBU)
Week 7 — Willie Henry (5 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU)
Week 8 — James Ross (9 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 9 — Chris Wormley (4 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks)
Week 10 — Delano Hill (10 tackles, 8 solo, 1 PBU)

M&GB staff predictions: Penn State

Friday, November 20th, 2015


StaffPicks_banner2015

It’s simple, really. The winner of tomorrow’s Michigan-Penn State matchup remains in the Big Ten title hunt for at least another few hours, while the loser is relegated to playing spoiler next Saturday. Both teams know what they have to do and what’s on the line. Penn State got an extra week to prepare and gets the benefit of home field advantage. Michigan gets a red-hot quarterback-receiver tandem and a chance to play a meaningful Ohio State game for the first time in years. Let’s take a look at our picks.

Justin

While the more high profile Big Ten game with title implications is expected to be played in a cold Columbus rain, State College calls for no precipitation, a light breeze, and 47 degrees. In other words, a perfect mid-November Saturday for football.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn St.
Justin 23 20
Derick 30 24
Sam 22 19
Josh 24 27
Joe 27 24
M&GB Average 25 23

Michigan’s newfound passing game will be put to the test against a strong Penn State defense that hasn’t allowed more than 251 passing yards in a single game this season. Will the loss of Lucas provide a weak link for Jake Rudock to exploit? It all depends on how well the Michigan line holds up against one of the best defensive lines in the country. If he doesn’t have time to throw Michigan will have trouble moving the ball consistently.

The good news is I don’t expect Penn State’s offense to be able to move the ball consistently either. Michigan will place an emphasis on stopping Barkley on first and second down, forcing Hackenberg into third and long situations where the Nittany Lions have struggled mightily all season.

Remember last year’s 18-13 Michigan win? This one will be similar to that. Not many sustained drives, low scoring, and good defense both ways. Michigan will need its dynamic return game to give its offense good starting field position as it has done so well this season and that will make the difference against a Penn State kick return defense that ranks 118th nationally.

In my season preview back in August I predicted that Michigan would finish 9-4 with losses to Utah, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State. The first two of those have come true, but 11 weeks into the season I’ve had a change of heart. Michigan pulls it out and then has to hope the team down south can beat the team up I-96.

Michigan 23 – Penn State 20

Derick

For the second straight week, Michigan hits the road to play an extremely dangerous team. In the final road game of the season, Michigan will play against a 7-3 Penn State team that has no wins against winning power five teams. On paper, Michigan has been much better than PSU this year, but road games have really given Jim Harbaugh’s team trouble.

Penn State is a much better team than Minnesota or Indiana, two teams that easily could have beaten Michigan over the last month. The Nittany Lions are also undefeated at home, and Saturday will be the final game in Happy Valley for Christian Hackenberg and the seniors.

Unlike last weekend, this should be a defensive battle, though probably not of the magnitude we expected three weeks ago. Hackenberg is the X-factor for Penn State. If the future first-round draft pick plays one of his best games of the season, he will torch a Wolverine secondary that’s been exposed throughout the conference season. And if the defensive line gives Hackenberg as much time as it gave Nate Sudfeld, Michigan will need another 40 points to win the game.

I think Michigan can stop the run and make Penn State’s offense one-dimensional. The question becomes whether or not Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers can make enough plays to keep Jake Rudock and company out front. If Michigan runs the ball at all and plays with a lead, I like its chance to close things out and pick up a fourth road win. Michigan will escape Happy Valley with a narrow victory.

Michigan 30 – Penn State 24

Sam

The tables seem to be turning themselves of late for the Wolverines, as the once-dominant defense has slipped up lately behind a banged up defensive line while the once-shaky offense is rounding into form with back-to-back marvelous performances from Jake Rudock. At the same time, the tale of the opponents’ tape is also pulling a 180-degree turn over a course of two weeks. The good news for Michigan is that Penn State’s offense is not run nearly at the pace of Indiana’s, and their offensive line is mediocre. The bad news is that the Nittany Lions boast an impressive defense that should make things much more difficult on Rudock. I think Michigan’s defense will bounce back just enough to hold on at the end and give themselves a shot at the conference championship in The Game. Give me the Wolverines.

Michigan 22 – Penn State 19

Josh

Wow, what a scare last week was but we pulled out the win! Now on to Penn State, who presents a different challenge. Thankfully, it’s not at night. State College is a very intimidating venue at night, I love noon kickoffs.

On offense: Jake Rudock and the passing game has come on very strong as of late, and just in time since the run game seems to be lacking for whatever reason. However, Penn St. has an excellent front four and if they can pressure Rudock it will be a very long day with very little scoring. While I didn’t hold my breath for Rudock’s ability to complete some long balls it was apparent last week that he is more than capable, given time. I’m not so sure he’ll have that luxury against the Nittany Lions. If Michigan is to win this game they’ll need to keep Rudock upright, at least long enough to get some passes off, and that will be tough against guys like Anthony Zettel and Carl Nassib. I’d expect 2-3 sacks by Penn State, maybe more. That said, they will be without stud safety Jordan Lucas, leaving a hole in the back of the defense, limiting the blitzing package that they usually employ.

I think Jake Rudock will lead Michigan in rushing, again. For whatever reason the run game has been stagnant, part of that is the offensive line not opening holes and part of it is our running backs not being able to find the holes. Against a very stout defense I expect another lackluster run game again. But at least now we know we can count on Rudock to win the game with his arm. Then again, this isn’t the Rutgers or Indiana defense.

On defense: Indiana, yes Indiana, absolutely gashed us on the ground last week to the tune of 300-plus yards. Yet that doesn’t concern me against a team like Penn State, despite having one of the top three backs in the Big Ten in Saquon Barkley. Why? Because Penn State is a slow pace team. A very slow pace team. Part of the reason IU had such success, aside from missing Ryan Glasgow, was their tempo was such that it didn’t allow Michigan to substitute as much as they may have wanted, leading to very gassed defensive linemen as the game wore on. That won’t happen with PSU. Sure, they’ll try to run temp to take advantage of that but they’re not built to run a tempo offense so I don’t think that will be much of an issue. That said, I still think Barkley approaches 150 yards on the ground, he’s just too good not to get those yards and our linebackers haven’t shown the ability to get to the edge quickly enough.

As far as Hackenberg is concerned I think he’s better than we’ve seen but he’s still susceptible to sacks, and lots of them. I’m pretty sure no one else in the Big Ten has been sacked more than him. If Michigan can get a good pass rush, and be able to rotate their line to keep them fresh, then expect to see more #SACKenberg than Hackenberg. The Penn State offense wouldn’t normally worry me but the last few games have exposed some massive holes in this defense and has shown it to not be an elite unit. Couple that with a big loss in Ryan Glasgow (this defense is only average without him IMO) and Penn State’s odd proclivity for big plays with Saquon Barkely and receiver Chris Godwin and you have a recipe for an upset.

I said in my season preview that I thought Michigan would lose to Utah, MSU, OSU and then one of the 50-50 games. PSU was one of those. After needing a last second goal line stand (made even easier with the Hoke-ian clock mismanagement) and double overtime to beat Minnesota and Indiana, respectively, I think Michigan’s late game luck finally runs out in Happy Valley. Penn State makes a few big plays (which they are very good at despite all their other struggles) and pulls off the upset. Sorry folks, but Michigan won’t be playing for a Big Ten East division title against the Buckeyes next week.

Michigan 24 – Penn State 27

Joe

This is a huge week H U G E ! ! !  I will assume that coach will have this team geared up and ready on both sides of the ball along with special teams. There is no way they start peeking ahead. This unranked PSU team is 7-3 and has the potential to put up some big numbers. Defensively, we have a big advantage and should control them up front. Rudock has progressed each week and will limit his mistakes. I think Butt will get his along with Chesson and Darboh. I have no idea who will get the bulk of carries as long as we mix in some Jabrill along the way. He is a GAME CHANGER and GAME BREAKER that we have not seen in a very long time. I think this one is closer than we all would like, but the good guys will come out on top. I have Michigan winning by three.

Michigan 27 – Penn State 24

Inside the Numbers: Beating the odds you don’t want to beat

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013


(John T. Grellick, Detroit News)

Michigan’s soul-crushing, quadruple-overtime loss to Penn State last Saturday has sent much of its fan base into panic mode. Despite Michigan being one of 17 unbeaten teams prior to last weekend, many fans and national media personalities have given up on the Wolverines after just one loss, some even going so far as to predict that Michigan will stumble to a 2-4 or 1-5 regular-season finish. The changes in expectations are not because Michigan lost to a far inferior team—the Nittany Lions were only a 2.5-point underdog. Instead, the changes in expectations are because Michigan was on the wrong end of the last-minute luck it benefited from in its first two seasons under head coach Brady Hoke.

What is last-minute luck? It is a term that embodies a rare combination of coaching miscues, lack of execution, bad bounces, and missed opportunities that allows a left-for-dead opponent to steal a win in the final minute. The more popular term for this type of collapse is “choking.”

In 2011 and 2012, Michigan benefited from such last-minute luck in two contests: Notre Dame in 2011 and Northwestern in 2012. This stroke of last-minute luck was not going to continue to work in Michigan’s favor. Sooner or later, there would be a game in which the Wolverines would fall victim to it. This is the nature of football, especially at the collegiate level. It happens to all teams. No team is immune. Unfortunately, it happened to Michigan in the worst possible way this past Saturday in Happy Valley.

After a sloppy start, which saw Michigan commit three turnovers and fall behind, 21-10, the Maize and Blue dominated the first 20 minutes of the second half, outscoring the Nittany Lions, 24-3, to take a 10-point lead. Proceeding from this point, Michigan encountered seven situations in which it could have sealed its second consecutive road victory for the first time since 2010. The Wolverines needed to capitalize on only one of these seven to escape with a 6-0 record. However, the last-minute luck got the best of the Wolverines, and the victory slipped through their fingers.

Here is a breakdown of just how much needed to go wrong for Michigan to lose this game:

Situation 1: Fourth quarter, 9:22 left, Michigan leads 34-24. Penn State ball

Breakdown: Penn State needed to cut Michigan’s lead to one score to stay in the game. For the second series of downs, which referees granted to PSU by calling a ticky-tacky defensive pass interference penalty against Michigan linebacker Desmond Morgan, the Nittany Lions faced fourth and one on the PSU 47-yard line. If Michigan—which had allowed only one fourth-down conversion to opponents in six tries before this play—would have forced a turnover on downs, the Wolverines would have maintained a two-score lead for the win and remained unbeaten .

Instead, Penn State running back Bill Belton dove through the pile for a two-yard gain and extended the drive, which led to kicker Sam Ficken’s 43-yard field goal, closing Michigan’s lead to seven.

Situation 2: Fourth quarter, 0:57 left, Michigan leads 34-27. Michigan ball

Breakdown: Michigan lost eight yards on back-to-back plays, one of which was an untimely delay of game penalty, setting up fourth and 17 at the outskirts of kicker Brendan Gibbons’ range. Hoke had two options: (1) go for the win and attempt a 52-yard field goal; or (2) try to pin Penn State deep in its own territory with a pooch punt. If Hoke would have opted to go for the win, and Gibbons would have converted the 52-yard field goal, which would have matched the career long he set against Nebraska in 2012, Michigan would have secured a 10-point lead for the win and remained unbeaten.

Instead, given that field goals no less than 52 yards in the fourth quarter or overtime are good only 40 percent of the time, Hoke chose to have punter Matt Wile kick a pooch punt to force PSU to drive 90-plus yards for a game-tying touchdown with no timeouts and less than a minute remaining. However, Wile—who had dropped inside the 20-yard line 83.3 percent (10-for-12) of his punts that were snapped in opponent territory in 2012 and 2013—punted the ball one yard deep in the end zone for a touchback, which meant Michigan exchanged a chance to seal a win for only 15 yards of field position.

Situation 3: Fourth quarter, 0:50 left, Michigan leads 34-27. Penn State ball

Breakdown: With no timeouts and less than a minute remaining, Penn State needed to travel 80 yards in a hurry to score a game-tying touchdown and force overtime. Since 2003, only six teams have scored a touchdown under these circumstances, one of which was Michigan against Notre Dame in 2011. If the Maize and Blue would have prevented Penn State from scoring a type of touchdown that has happened only once almost every two seasons of college football, on average, for the past decade, Michigan would have maintained a seven-point win and remained unbeaten.

Instead, Penn State receivers Brandon Felder and Allen Robinson made three spectacular catches in four plays to move the Nittany Lions to the U-M one-yard line. Further, on the second and third of these receptions, Michigan cornerback Channing Stribling was in perfect position to intercept both passes, but he mistimed both of his jumps, allowing Felder and Robinson, respectively, to jump over him and make the grab as he was falling back to Earth. Penn State proceeded to punch in the first rushing touchdown Michigan had allowed on the following play to tie the game.

Situation 4: Fourth quarter, 0:02 left, game tied 34-34. Michigan ball

Breakdown: After a long kickoff return by Dennis Norfleet, Michigan reached the outer limit of Gibbons’ field-goal range with a few seconds remaining in regulation. Hoke sent out Gibbons for a potential game-winning, 52-yard field goal, which, as aforementioned, would have matched his career long. If Gibbons would have made the field goal, it would have been his fifth career game-winning or game-tying kick in the final five minutes of regulation or overtime, and Michigan would have earned a three-point win and remained unbeaten.

Instead, Gibbons’ kick was dead straight, but he did not muster enough power to push it over the crossbar as the ball landed a few yards short, sending Michigan to its third overtime game in the last 20 contests.

Situation 5: Overtime, game tied 34-34. Michigan ball

Breakdown: Penn State’s offense took the field to start the first overtime session and failed to score points when Ficken missed a 40-yard field goal wide right. Since 2007, in 287 overtime periods, the team with its offense on the field first has failed to score 79 times. Only 13 of those 79 times the second team has failed to score, too. Michigan went to the ultra-conservative strategy it deployed in the same situation in overtime against Virginia Tech in the 2012 Sugar Bowl: three straight runs in heavy formations and then kick for the win. If the same result as the 2012 Sugar Bowl would have occurred in Happy Valley, Michigan would have won and remained unbeaten.

Instead, the Nittany Lions blocked Gibbons’ 40-yard attempt—the first Gibbons’ field goal to be blocked in 25 games, dating back to Northwestern in 2011—and forced a second overtime.

Situation 6: Third overtime, game tied 37-37. Michigan ball

Breakdown: This will be the situation that will forever be burned in Michigan fans’ memories. Like the first overtime, Penn State went scoreless during the first possession of the third overtime, fumbling the football on a wide-receiver end around. Since 2007, no team had failed to score in an overtime period after the opponent went scoreless during the first possession of that period twice in one game. On second down, quarterback Devin Gardner threw a nine-yard hitch to wide receiver Jeremy Gallon that was spotted one yard shy of a first down, despite replay evidence that Gallon moved the ball past the first-down marker. On third and one, rather than using Gardner’s feet or arm to pick up a first down, Michigan handed the ball to running back Fitzgerald Toussaint—who averaged a school-record low of one yard per carry on 27 attempts—out of the I-formation, which led to no gain.

Although a first down would have allowed Michigan to shorten the distance of a field-goal attempt for Gibbons, he still had the opportunity to end the game with a 33-yard field goal from between the hashes. Under Hoke, Gibbons had made 29-of-31 field goals from less than 40 yards away (93.5 percent), including his last 22, before lining up for this try. If Gibbons would have continued his streak, Michigan would have won and remained unbeaten.

Instead, Gibbons missed a field goal from less than 40 yards away for the first time in 22 games, pushing it wide left and sending Michigan to its first ever four-overtime marathon.

Situation 7: Fourth overtime, Michigan leads 40-37. Penn State ball

Breakdown: Penn State faced fourth and one on the 16-yard line. Rather than attempt a 33-yard field goal to force a fifth overtime, PSU head coach Bill O’Brien opted to go for the victory. At this point, Michigan had allowed opponents to convert only two of seven fourth-down attempts this season. If Michigan would have stuffed the Penn State offense here, despite all the previous miscues and missed chances, the Wolverines would have won, improving their all-time overtime record to 9-1, and remained unbeaten.

Instead, Belton, who initially was stuck behind his offensive line, budged his way past the line of scrimmage for a three-yard gain to keep the Nittany Lions’ drive alive. Four plays later, Belton finished off the Wolverines with a two-yard touchdown run, capitalizing on Penn State’s first chance to win the contest.

Many of the critical issues that Michigan needs to fix—ball security, the performance of the offensive line, and offensive play calling—contributed to the collapse. It would be understandable if fans and media were pessimistic about Michigan’s success for the rest of the season because of these issues.

However, it would not be as understandable if the reason for pessimism was just the fact that Michigan lost. It took an unfathomable amount of bad breaks and last-minute bad luck to prevent Michigan from defeating a team it was favored to beat by only 2.5 points on the road, and becoming one of only 15 unbeaten FBS teams left. Don’t expect a chain of events like this to happen again to Michigan for a very long time, and certainly not again this season.

­­­­­­­­­­­­

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Indiana

1. Trends in the Michigan-Indiana series favor the Wolverines heavily. Michigan holds a 52-9 record against the Hoosiers and has won the last 17 contests. Further, Michigan is a perfect 18-0 at home under Brady Hoke, while Indiana is only 2-22 in its last 24 conference road games.

2. Despite turning over the football 13 times this season, which is more than the number committed by 93 FBS teams, Devin Gardner leads the Big Ten in total offense (285.8 yards per game) and most points responsible for (17.0 points per game).

3. Through the first six games of the season, Michigan has scored three non-offensive and two defensive touchdowns. Further, the Wolverines have scored defensive touchdowns in back-to-back games—Blake Countess’ 72-yard interception return against Minnesota and Frank Clark’s 24-yard fumble return against Penn State. This is the first time since 2004 that the Maize and Blue has scored defensive touchdowns in two straight games.

If you are interested in more stats, notes, and nuggets, you can follow me on Twitter: @DrewCHallett

Same game, different culture: Penn State

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013


(Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

As SuperFan of the Maize Rage student section at the University of Michigan, I have the opportunity to travel to all of the Michigan football away games and experience what football Saturday means in different parts of the country. This feature will run after each away game this season, detailing the gameday experience for Michigan games outside of Ann Arbor. Previously: UConn.

When Michigan fans travel to different schools to watch the Wolverines play on the road, they regularly have to get used to a much smaller stadium and quieter atmosphere. In Week 4, the Connecticut Huskies broke a Rentschler Field record by packing 42,000 people into the stadium; about 70,000 less than that of a typical Ann Arbor game day.

This weekend was a different story. As the few Wolverine fans trickled into Beaver Stadium they realized that the structure was possibly even more impressive than our very own Big House.

When I first arrived in State College, one of the first things I learned was that this was the biggest game of the season for the Nittany Lions. On Friday night before the game the students were happy to explain their hatred for both Michigan and Ohio State, but it was clear that the night game against the Maize and Blue would be Penn State’s bowl game this year.

Beaver Stadium is an imposing structure, both inside and out (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Not having been to Penn State since the Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky scandal, I wasn’t sure how touchy of a subject it was among the students. Surprisingly, it was basically the butt of all the jokes. Though our little group in maize never brought the scandal up, we did end up discussing it multiple times throughout the weekend. Penn State students want to prove that they have moved on from the nightmare and won’t let it define them.

Instead, they just want to beat Michigan.

While tailgating before the game on Saturday, Penn State fans made it very clear that Michigan was their main target. An enormous homecoming crowd of almost 108,000 couldn’t have included more than a few thousand Michigan fans. It was easy to pick them out because of the famous Penn State white out.

The white out stands for what separates the Penn State game environment from that of Michigan. During a maize out, Michigan Stadium has one maize section where the students stand and a mixed bag of maize and blue throughout the rest of the bowl. Fans don’t put much stock in participating in the game atmosphere but simply want to watch their team win. It’s tradition.

But in Happy Valley every single fan is ready to cheer like crazy for Penn State from the opening kickoff. The white out was breathtaking. Over 100,000 strong were decked out in all white and shaking white pompoms as Bill O’Brien led his team onto the field. This scene was unlike anything our little group of Michigan students had ever experienced, but we had faith that our undefeated Wolverines would quiet things down.

For much of the second half, we were exactly right.

Michigan came out of halftime with a bang, returning a fumble for a touchdown on Penn State’s first offensive play. A quarter later, the Wolverines were ahead by 10 points with six minutes to go and we were enjoying the eerie silence in the enormous stadium.

Though it has a smaller capacity than the Big House, Beaver Stadium is built entirely above ground and is much more intimidating both inside and outside. Second and third decks keep all of the sound in while reaching up much higher than the final rows in Ann Arbor. If you’re wondering how a structure like this can be safe, you aren’t alone.

Penn State’s famous chant is the Zombie Nation cheer, which gets the entire audience involved in jumping and screaming along. Because it was one of the things I was really looking forward to, I asked our host, a senior at Penn State, about Zombie Nation.

“There’s a new rule that we can only do it two times each game,” he told me. “We were doing structural damage to the stadium so they had to limit us.”

Derick (2nd from left) and his crew were impressed by the atmosphere and how welcoming the Penn State fans were (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

At the suggestion of damaging a concrete structure like Beaver Stadium I was astonished, but when Penn State came back and tied the game with under a minute remaining in regulation, Zombie Nation blared and the back wall of the stadium was visibly wavering back and forth with the Nittany Lion faithful.

It was the most incredible atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of, and I wasn’t even in an appreciative mood. Four overtimes later Michigan had missed easy kicks and taken costly penalties and Penn State was celebrating an unbelievable win.

Following such an emotional win I expected to be mercilessly harassed by the Penn State students all night, but was surprised when they continued a trend set before the game. While migrating toward the stadium for the game, our little group of Michigan fans was welcomed to Happy Valley countless times. Students, alumni and others went out of their way to walk past us and say good luck.

It was extremely strange. We weren’t sure how we felt about the hospitality because it didn’t feel right, but it was much better than being harassed in Columbus or East Lansing. After the game there were fans that laughed and jeered at us, but the number that told us good game probably outnumbered them.

Even though they always seem to beat Michigan in recent years, and they ended our undefeated season, it’s hard to hate Penn State fans because of how cool they were; both when they were sure they would lose and after they had won.

I hope that Michigan fans can learn from the atmosphere that exists within Beaver Stadium. The students lead the charge, but alumni and casual fans set it apart by participating much more than those around other Big Ten schools. Even the younger fans are fully invested in Penn State football, as we found out when a couple of three-year old girls started the “we are” “Penn State” cheer all by themselves from atop an RV after the game.

While I wouldn’t trade game day in Ann Arbor for anything, I do think that Michigan fans can learn from the commitment in Beaver Stadium. Michigan’s tradition and history set it apart, but there is room to make the Big House even better.

Winning on the road is a great feeling, but losing is definitely the worst. Thankfully, the Penn State faithful were bearable after the game, but I still had a bad taste in my mouth after Michigan blew the 10 point lead.

The first loss is one of the hardest each year, but Michigan won’t have to deal with an atmosphere like Penn State’s for the rest of the season.

Losing is never fun, but witnessing a Penn State night game was an incredible sports experience. Hopefully Team 134 can tighten things up and send us home with more road wins in 2013.

Happy Valley Heartbreak: Penn State 43 – Michigan 40

Saturday, October 12th, 2013


Through the first two-plus years of the Brady Hoke era he has shown a willingness to roll the dice at times. Les Miles he is not, but he appeared to be at least a bit more bold than the coach he cut his teeth with, Lloyd Carr. But on a beautiful Saturday night in front of a raucous white-out Beaver Stadium crowd, shades of Carr emerged – and not the good ones.

Up seven with 6:35 remaining, Michigan got the ball back needing to run out the clock or score to put the game away. They did neither. The Wolverines were able to move the chains three times and run 5:45 off the clock, but it wasn’t enough. A delay of game penalty on 3rd-and-9 from the Penn State 27 moved the ball back five yards, and a three-yard loss by Fitzgerald Toussaint left Hoke with a decision of whether to punt the ball back to Penn State with a minute left or attempt a 52-yard field goal to seal the game. He chose the former but Matt Wile booted into the end zone resulting in just a 15-yard net gain.

Final Stats
Michigan Penn State
Score 40 43
Record 5-1 (1-1) 4-2 (1-1)
Total Yards 389 390
Net Rushing Yards 149 85
Net Passing Yards 240 305
First Downs 21 24
Turnovers 3 4
Penalties-Yards 7-62 5-56
Punts-Yards 6-245 4-179
Time of Possession 36:13 23:47
Third Down Conversions 4-of-18 3-of-16
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 2-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 4-16 3-22
Field Goals 4-for-7 3-for-5
PATs 4-for-4 4-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-3 5-of-6
Full Box Score

Penn State went 80 yards in just five plays, getting completions of 14 yards, 29 yards, and 36 yards, and ultimately punching it in with 23 seconds remaining on a one-yard run by freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

Michigan had one more chance to win it in regulation after a 34 yard kickoff return by Dennis Norfleet gave the Wolverines good starting field position. Devin Gardner found Jeremy Gallon for 25 yards and then got another five-yard completion to Justice Hayes to give Brendan Gibbons a 52-yard attempt to win it. But the kick fell a few yards short and the game went into overtime.

In the first extra period, Michigan’s defense held strong, forcing a field goal attempt. Penn State kicker Sam Ficken missed the 40-yards try and all Michigan had to do was score to win the game. Instead of playing aggressively to move closer to the goal line, Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges elected to run Toussaint twice, each for a yard, and then have Gardner position the ball for a Gibbons field goal attempt. But Penn State blocked it sending the game into a second overtime.

This time Michigan started with the ball and got a 25-yard field goal out of it. Penn State couldn’t move the ball and kicked a 36-yard field goal to send the game into a third extra period.

Head Coach Bill O’Brien, who also calls the plays, went with an end-around on the first play, but Allen Robinson fumbled the pitch and Frank Clark recovered. Once again, Michigan just needed a score to win the game. Two Toussaint rushes for no gain bookended a nine-yard completion to Gallon forcing Michigan to attempt yet another field goal. This time, from 33 yards out, the usually reliable Gibbons missed and the game went on.

In the fourth overtime, Michigan was once again unable to move the chains and had to settle for a field goal. Gibbons connected from 40 yards out to put the Wolverines ahead 40-37. Penn State ran it three straight times to get to 4th-and-1 from the 16. O’Brien decided it was time to put the game on the line and go for it. It worked as running back Bill Belton gained three yards. After an incomplete pass and a two yard gain, Penn State faced 3rd-and-8. Hackenberg fired a pass incomplete to the middle of the end zone, but safety Jarrod Wilson was flagged for pass interference giving Penn State the ball on the two. One play later, Belton rushed to the left and into the end zone for the win.

Frank Clark's big game and Jake Ryan's return weren't enough to get the win (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan had several opportunities to win the game but failed to both execute, both on the field and on the sidelines. Not once in the four overtime periods did Michigan throw the ball into the end zone. The closest was a lob to freshman tight end Jake Butt around the 2-yard line, which was knocked away by a Penn State linebacker. Instead, Hoke and Borges went the conservative route, content to ride a running game that went backwards more often than it went forward and settle for field goal attempts.

Michigan gained 149 yards on the ground, but 121 of them were by Gardner. Toussaint had 27 carries for 27 yards and Derrick Green had three for one yard. That’s less than a yard per carry by Michigan’s running backs. Yet time and again Gardner handed off just to see Toussaint run into a face full of tacklers at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Gardner completed 15-of-28 for 240 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions to go along with his 121 yards on 24 carries. Devin Funchess led all receivers with four catches for 121 yards and two scores. Gallon caught seven passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.

Michigan’s defense got a great game from Frank Clark who scooped up a Penn State fumble on the first play of the second half and raced 24 yards for a touchdown. He also recorded two sacks, recovered a fumble in overtime, and nearly had an interception. Jake Ryan, playing for the first time this season after tearing his ACL in April, recorded three sacks, one for loss.

The Wolverines held Penn State to just 85 yards rushing on 44 carries, an average of just 1.9 yards per carry, and the Hackenberg touchdown at the end of regulation was the first rushing touchdown Michigan has allowed all season. But in the end, is was Penn State that made the right calls and executed at the right time to earn the victory.

Michigan falls to 5-1 on the season, 1-1 in the Big Ten and returns home to face Indiana (3-3, 1-1) next Saturday. A lot of work needs to be done if Michigan wants to win the Legends Division with a brutal schedule coming up, but the good news is the division is still within reach. Stay tuned for more analysis in the coming days and previews of the Indiana game.

M&GB staff predictions: Penn State

Friday, October 11th, 2013


If not for Blake Countess’ pick-six last Saturday, my score prediction would have been dead-on, but I’ll gladly take an extra seven points and a defensive touchdown over getting my prediction exactly right. Now if it had been a Minnesota score to ruin my pick that would be a different story. But Michigan’s 42-13 win over Minnesota was exactly what the Wolverines needed to put the Akron and UConn games behind them.

Now, Michigan gets a chance to make a statement with a big win on the road. Penn State certainly isn’t a powerhouse at this point, but they are better than every team Michigan has faced this season save Notre Dame and the Wolverines’ recent road woes – 10-18 since 2008 – make nothing a sure bet. Is Michigan in danger of its first loss of the season? Let’s take a look at our picks:

Justin: Jake Ryan returns from injury and immediately turns Michigan’s defense into a juggernaut. He leads the Wolverines with 15 tackles, two sacks, and picks off a pass and Michigan cruises to a 42-0 win.

Ok, so that probably won’t happen, but it will be great to see Ryan back on the filed even if only briefly to start getting him re-acclimated to game action before the brutal November schedule hits. He likely won’t play enough to make much of an impact on the game, but if Michigan plays the way it’s capable of playing it shouldn’t need him in this one anyway.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn State
Justin 31 20
Chris 28 21
Josh 38 17
Sam 31 24
Derick 31 24
Katie 35 21
M&GB Average 32 21

Michigan has more weapons to go around, especially with the move of Devin Funchess to wideout, opening up the field for Devin Gardner. His big game last week will force opposing defenses to respect the downfield passing game in a way they haven’t had to until this point, which means the running game will be more effective. The insertion of Chris Bryant into the lineup last week gave Michigan the ability to run more of a power running game and Indiana had some success running right at Penn State last week when it wasn’t throwing the ball.

Defensively, Michigan will give Hackenberg the short, underneath throws and try to prevent the big plays to Allen Robinson. Look for Greg Mattison to dial up some pressure to force the young quarterback to make quick decisions and ultimately lead to turnovers.

The team that wins the turnover battle will win this game and with the expanded offense Gardner has at his disposal combined with the youth of Hackenberg, I think that will be Michigan.

Michigan 31 – Penn State 20

Chris: Penn State recovers from their loss last week and plays well at home, but it’s not enough.

Michigan 28 – Penn State 21

Josh: Please see yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Michigan 38 – Penn State 17

Sam: With the non-conference season in the rearview mirror and one win already in the books, the Michigan Wolverines take to the road for the second time in their 2013 football campaign. Three weeks and two games ago, Michigan made the trip to East Hartford, Connecticut for a night game against UConn that proved to be much closer than expected. With a record crowd of 42,704 watching at Rentschler Field, Devin Gardner overcame four awful turnovers and a 14-point third quarter deficit to lead the Maize and Blue to a 24-21 nail-biting win.

This Saturday, the visiting Wolverines will once again be playing under the lights (for the third time already this season), but in an environment that figures to be much crazier this time around in Happy Valley against Penn State. With a putrid crowd of nearly 93,000 against Eastern Michigan earlier this year, one of the smallest since 2001, and an all-time record of 110,753 in 2002, Beaver Stadium will be rocking in white-out fashion.

Luckily for Brady Hoke and his Michigan squad, Penn State is struggling through their second year of heavy sanctions to the tune of a 3-2 record. Already with a loss to Central Florida four weeks ago and a 44-24 beatdown suffered at Indiana last week, the once-proud Lions are certainly beatable this year. But if you combine Michigan’s inconsistency, a Bill O’Brien-coached offense at Penn State, and a raucous night crowd, you will find a game that will likely be up for grabs.

With Devin Funchess warranting attention outside, look for a big game from Jeremy Gallon and others (MGoBlue.com)

Christian Hackenberg, O’Brien’s star freshman quarterback, has been very good at times and sports a 60 percent completion mark and a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio; unfortunately experience is not on his side, and Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will be throwing different looks at Hackenberg all night. Penn State will also have a trio of running backs in Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch who have big-play ability and all gain more than four yards per carry, but Michigan has been solid against the run for the better part of the year.

Last week’s insertion of Chris Bryant into the starting lineup at left guard seemed to open up some running lanes for Fitzgerald Toussaint, but even more surprising was a stacked offensive look with Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield, and Bryant all lined up to the left of center Graham Glasgow.

If Michigan trots out in that power formation again, expect to see some play action open up deep for quarterback Devin Gardner. On paper, Michigan has been the much better team so far, but these two squads should be battling into the fourth quarter with a critical win on the line. Vegas opened the books favoring Michigan by just one point, and still Michigan is giving less than a field goal to the Nittany Lions with a -2.5-point margin.

Michigan’s confidence should be back, however, after a big win over Minnesota last week, and Penn State is still playing for pride alone. Hackenberg will throw for two touchdowns but will also lose a crucial second half turnover that Michigan will take advantage of on the way to a Wolverine win.

Michigan 31 – Penn State 24

Derick: Michigan will face it’s toughest opposing crowd of the season Saturday after nearly failing the first road test in Connecticut. If Rentschler Field was a tough venue for Team 134 to play in then Beaver Stadium will provide a very rude awakening.

Fortunately for the Wolverines the running game perked up after the  shift in the offensive line and stabilized a struggling offense. Devin Gardner looked comfortable running both the play action and bootleg screens with Fitzgerald Toussaint picking up solid gains on first and second down. If he can take care of the football and make the easy passes then the defense should be able to carry the Maize and Blue to victory.

Though Happy Valley proves a tough test, I think Greg Mattison will have something prepared for freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Michigan wins the turnover battle and as a result, improves to 6-0.

Michigan-31 Penn State-24

Katie: So the Wolverines are 5-0 but it doesn’t quite feel that way. After two tough weeks where backups should have seen playing time but instead were left to watch as their teammates played for their B10 Championship lives, a win against Minnesota doesn’t exactly cleanse the palate.  It was a good win, but a victory in Happy Valley is a most necessary followup. And considering that the Nittany Lions are 3-2, with a loss last week to the Hoosiers, the outlook is rather good for the Wolverines to continue undefeated.

But the Nittany Lions have been amassing more than a fair share of offensive yards per game, averaging 475. With a starter out for Michigan in Ondre Pipkins, the Wolverines could certainly use someone who is arguably the best player on the defense, Jake Ryan. to return. The counter to racking up so many yards per game however, is how many the Penn State defense is allowing.  Against Indiana, the Lions gave up 486 yards and lost 24-44. If Michigan can put Penn on its heels early, with consistent throws and a good running game, they should be able to dig the Lions into a pit they can’t claw out of. The key for the Wolverines will be to do better on 3rd down percentage defensively. If the Nittany Lions aren’t able to rack up a series of long drives, it isn’t likely that their defense will be able to hold Michigan.  I’ve got the Wolverines winning this one, even given the hostile crowd they will be playing in front of (fingers crossed that Gardner doesn’t get rattled, or that Morris would be ready at the helm if he is).

Michigan 35 Penn State 21

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For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Penn State game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with Jared Slanina and Bill DiFlippo of the Penn State SB Nation blog Black Shoe Diaries; Monday’s First Look: Penn State, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. We also featured a new urban garden campaign by Vincent Smith, Martavious Odoms, and Brandin Hawthorne to expand their Pahokee garden and build one in Denard Robinson’s hometown of Deerfield Beach, Fla. Finally, Alexandra showcased some great maize and blue fashion that you can find in and around Ann Arbor to look great on gameday.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlog, Maize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, Maize and Blue News, and The M Block.

From the other side, game preview from Black Shoe Diaries as well as their roundtable predictions.

Michigan-Penn State game preview

Friday, October 11th, 2013



Five years ago Michigan traveled to State College looking to continue its decade-long dominance of Penn State. Michigan came in with a 2-4 record and Penn State was undefeated, ranked third nationally. It was Rich Rodriguez’s first season and despite the poor start and the contrast on the opposite side, there was still an optimism that Michigan could pull it out. After all, the Wolverines had won the last nine in the series. Despite the largest line against in Michigan history (23.5 points) a nervousness permeated the white out Beaver Stadium crowd.

Michigan quickly took a 10-0 lead on a Brandon Minor run and a KC Lopata field goal. By halftime Michigan led 17-14 and that nervousness was amplified. Penn State opened the second half with a field goal to tie the game and then sacked Nick Sheridan in the end zone for a safety to give the Nittany Lions their first lead. And then the flood gates opened. Four touchdowns and a field goal in the final 18 minutes and Penn State sent Michigan home with a 46-17 loss.

Quick Facts
Beaver Stadium – 5pm EST – ESPN
Penn State Head Coach: Bill O’Brien (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 11-6 (all at Penn State)
Offensive Coordinator: Bill O’Brien
Defensive Coordinator: John Butler (2nd season)
Returning Starters: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)
Last Season: 8-4
Last Meeting: Penn State 41 – Michigan 31 (2010)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 10-6
Record at Penn State: Michigan leads 5-3
Current Michigan Streak: Lost 3
Last Michigan Win: 2007

After the game, Rodriguez said, “Oh, we executed for a while and then we didn’t. That’s what happened. We executed, we moved the ball a little, and then we didn’t, we didn’t.”

Looking back, that statement and that game embodied the next two-plus seasons and Michigan hasn’t beaten Penn State since. The Nittany Lions won in 2009 and ’10 before the teams took a two-year hiatus.

Tomorrow, Michigan will face Penn State for the first time under Brady Hoke looking to return to the dominance of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and across the field will be a new face as well. Bill O’Brien left the New England Patriots to take the PSU job amidst the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. He held the team together through the worst times and is now in the process of guiding the program out of it.

He led Penn State to a respectable 8-4 record last season after an 0-2 start. Now, he has started 3-2 through the first five games this season, dropping a home contest to UCF 34-31 and the Big Ten opener at Indiana last Saturday, 44-24. The three wins have come over opponents with a combined record of 5-11: Syracuse (23-17), Eastern Michigan (45-7), and Kent State (34-0).

Can Michigan go into Happy Valley and do just what UCF and Indiana did, or will the Wolverines’ struggles on the road continue? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Penn State offense: When Penn State has the ball

Much of the reason for optimism in State College lies in true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. A five-star prospect rated as one of the top two quarterbacks in last year’s class, Hackenberg has taken the reigns of the Penn State offense from the start. He’s had his ups and downs but there’s no question the talent is there. He has completed 109-of-182 passes (59.9 percent) for 1,367 yards, eight touchdowns and four touchdowns. By comparison, Devin Gardner has thrown the ball 64 fewer times with almost the exact same completion percentage for 331 fewer yards, eight touchdowns and eight picks.

Hackenberg has thrown for fewer than 200 yards just once – against Kent State – and has topped 300 yards twice, including a 340-yard performance in last Saturday’s loss. But it took him 55 passes to get there. His stat sheet from the last three games certainly reads like a true freshman: 21-of-28 (75 percent) for 262 yards and one touchdown against UCF; 13-of-35 (37.1 percent) for 176 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Kent State; and then 30-of-55 (54.5 percent) for 340 yards and three touchdowns against IU. At that rate, he’s due for a downswing, although the two good performances came in losses.

He has benefited from the Big Ten’s best receiver, junior Allen Robinson. He set the Penn State record for receptions in a season with 77 a year ago for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns en route to to being named the Big Ten Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year. This season he has caught at least seven passes for at least 129 yards in four of the five games. He had just three catches for 43 yards against Kent State, but exploded for 173 yards and two touchdowns on 12 receptions last week. His 38 receptions and 621 yards lead the Big Ten and the team by far, and at 6’3″, 210 pounds he’ll be a tough matchup for Blake Countess.

Allen Robinson is on pace for almost 1,500 receiving yards this season (Mark Selders)

Only two other Nittany Lions have double digit receptions, junior tight end Kyle Carter and senior Brandon Felder. Carter ranks second on the team with 147 yards on 11 catches. Felder ranks second in receptions with 16 for 135 yards. Neither has a touchdown catch. Sophomore Geno Lewis is the only other receiver that has a touchdown reception and that came in the season opener, although running back Bill Belton has two.

Speaking of running backs, the main guy is senior Zach Zwinak, who has gained 369 yards and eight touchdowns on 84 carries so far this season. He’s coming off a 1,000-yard season (exactly) a year ago despite starting just four games and playing considerable time in nine. His best game this season was a 128-yard, three touchdown performance against UCF in which he averaged 6.1 yards per carry. The 6’1″, 240-pound back runs more like a fullback with a straight-ahead, bruising style.

The aforementioned Belton has carried the ball 43 times for 284 yards and two scores, while sophomore Akeel Lynch has rushed for 270 yards on 35 carries. The latter has a pair of 100-yard games this season, both of which he averaged over eight yards per carry. At 6’0″, 211, he’s got good size, but he also ran the team’s third-fastest 40 time in the spring.

The offensive line has three returning starters from last season, led by first-team All-Big Ten guard John Urschel. Redshirt sophomore left tackle Donovan Smith started nine games last season, earning ESPN.com Big Ten All-Freshman honors. Redshirt junior Miles Dieffenbach is the left guard after starting 11 games a year ago. The new starters this season, replacing All-Big Ten performers Mike Farrell and Matt Stankiewitch are senior center Ty Howle and senior right tackle Adam Gress. While there is certainly talent along the line, the jury is still out on its performance. The rushing offense ranks 11th in the Big Ten and only two teams – Northwestern and Illinois – have allowed more quarterback sacks so far.

It’s no question that O’Brien likes to utilize the arm of Hackenberg and target Robinson. Through five games, Hackenberg has completed seven passes of 40 yards or more and six of them have gone to his favorite target. Greg Mattison may choose to play this one similarly to how he defended Notre Dame’s pass-happy offense, but the main difference is the experience at quarterback. Tommy Rees was experienced and Hackenberg is just five games removed from high school, so look for some of Mattison’s patented blitz packages to try to confuse him.

Michigan offense vs Penn State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Only five starters return from last year’s defense that ranked as one of the Big Ten’s best. The scoring defense ranked second and total defense ranked fourth, but three of those who were lost are currently on NFL rosters – defensive tackle Jordan Hill and linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti.

The returning star is the reigning Thompson-Randle El Big Ten Freshman of the Year, defensive end Deion Barnes. However, he has struggled to perform up to expectations so far this season with just 12 total tackles, one for loss, and half a sack. The most disruptive lineman has been senior tackle DaQuan Jones, who leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Redshirt junior CJ Olaniyan is the other end and has 19 tackles, four for loss, and one sack. The other tackle is a combination of redshirt freshman Austin Johnson and redshirt junior Kyle Baublitz.

Stephen Obeng-Agyapong does a little bit of everything for the Penn State defense (Mark Selders)

The linebacking unit is where most of the makeover has taken place. The lone returner is senior middle linebacker Glenn Carson who leads the team with 39 tackles and also has 3.5 tackles for loss and half a sack. He has started 12 games in each of the last two seasons. The two outside backers are redshirt junior Mike Hull and redshirt freshman Nyeen Wartman, although senior strong safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong started in place of Wartman last week. Obeng-Agyapong has 23 tackles, one for loss, a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery.

The secondary has two returning starters, junior safety Adrian Amos, who moved from cornerback, and senior Malcolm Willis. Willis ranks third on the team with 24 tackles and both have an interception. The corners are sophomores Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams. Williams played in all 12 games as a true freshman last season, although it was on the offensive side of the ball at receiver. Lucas also played as a true freshman, but more sparingly. As a unit, they have struggled with good passing teams, giving up 288 yards against UCF and 336 to Indiana.

The other third: Special Teams

Junior kicker Sam Ficken made 14-of-21 field goal attempts last season and has hit 8-of-10 so far this year with a long of 54. He also handles kickoff duties. Senior punter Alex Butterworth also returns from last season in which he averaged 37.4 yards per punt, which was 11th in the conference. So far this season he ranks eight in the Big Ten with a 40.2 average. The kick and punt return units rank in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Geno Lewis averages 23.8 yards per kick return, which ranks eighth, and safety Jesse Della Valle averages 11.5 yards per punt return, good for fifth. The kick coverage unit ranks ninth, just ahead of Michigan, so there is the possibility of one of the two teams breaking one.

Prediction

It’s no secret that Brady Hoke’s teams have struggled on the road and the performance against UConn three weeks ago did nothing to dispel that notion. Beaver Stadium is a tough place to play, especially for a quasi-night game with a white out crowd. To prepare, Michigan spent time in practice this week whispering. Yes, Devin Gardner called plays in a whisper to simulate the noise Michigan will have to play through.

On paper, the two teams are pretty similar, but Michigan has the better defense and more weapons offensively. Indiana and UCF beat Penn State through the air, and the move of Devin Funchess from tight end to wide receiver has opened up the passing game by giving Gardner a huge target and taking some of the pressure off of Jeremy Gallon, Jehu Chesson, and Drew Dileo. As the season goes on, that will allow Al Borges to open up the playbook and be less conservative.

Last week we saw a conservative game plan because that’s all that was needed and Hoke wanted to get the running game going. It didn’t yield a big rushing average, but led to most of the touchdowns and controlled the clock. Expect much of the same tomorrow, but with a more involved passing game to force Penn State to sit back.

Defensively, Michigan will focus on stopping Robinson and putting pressure on Hackenberg. Look for a similar defense to what was run against Notre Dame with more pressure. He has a great arm but is not very accurate, especially when facing pressure, and Indiana did a good job last week of keeping him off balance. Robinson will probably get his one big play, but Michigan will force other receivers to step up.

It will be close most of the game with Michigan pulling away in the fourth as long as the turnovers are kept under control the way they were last week. The Wolverines simply have too many weapons for Penn State to handle and Michigan will whisper its way to a big road win.

Michigan 31 – Penn State 20