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Posts Tagged ‘State College’

#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

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

#12 Michigan vs Penn State game preview

Friday, November 20th, 2015


Game Preview_PennState_banner

Only two games remain in the regular season and Michigan is still very much in play for a Big Ten championship. A lot still has to go their way — some of it out of their control — but it’s a nice spot to be in after the past seven years. Tomorrow is essentially the Big Ten East division semifinal taking place in State College, Penn. and Columbus, Ohio. Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State all have varying degrees of a chance to face the West division champion in Indianapolis on Dec. 5, and all four face only each other this week and next.

UM-PennState-small
Quick Facts
Beaver Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ABC
Penn State Head Coach: James Franklin (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 38-24 (14-9, 6-8 at PSU)
Offensive Coordinator: John Donovan (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Shoop (2nd season)
Last Season: 7-6 (2-6)
Last Meeting: Michigan 18 – PSU 13 (2014)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 11-7
Record in State College: Michigan 5-4
Jim Harbaugh vs Penn State: 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2014 (18-13)
Last Penn State win: 2013 (43-40)
Current Streak: Michigan 1

For Michigan to have a shot at a likely date with Iowa in Indianapolis, the Wolverines need to beat Penn State and need Ohio State to beat Michigan State. That would set up The Game on Nov. 28 as a winner take all affair. The winner of that one would go to the title game and the loser would have to wait until bowl season to play again.

A loss to Penn State would put Michigan out of the race and leave next Saturday as an opportunity to play spoiler.

Penn State comes in at 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the conference. In James Franklin’s second season, the Nittany Lions have defeated Buffalo (27-14), Rutgers (28-3), San Diego State (37-21), Army (20-14), Indiana (29-7), Maryland (31-30), and Illinois (39-0). They lost to Temple (29-10), #1 Ohio State (38-10), and #21 Northwestern (23-21).

At the start of the season the Temple loss looked like a bad one. But the Owls are currently 8-2 with a close, 24-20 loss to fourth-ranked Notre Dame. Suddenly, that Week 1 loss doesn’t look so bad. Yet the Nittany Lions have lost to the only two ranked teams they have faced — Ohio State and Northwestern. The Buckeyes routed them by four touchdowns while the Wildcats got a 35-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining to steal a two point win in Evanston.

When looking at common opponents, one that sticks out is Indiana, who Penn State beat easily, 29-7, and Michigan snuck by in double overtime last Saturday. However, an important distinction is that Indiana was without quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard for that game. Yes, the two Hoosiers that accounted for 466 of the team’s 527 total yards and three of four field goals against Michigan.

So Penn State is really still looking for its first quality win of the season, an improvement in bowl position, and yes, still a slight chance at winning the Big Ten East. Although San Diego State (7-3) is the only team Penn State has beaten that currently has a winning record, Franklin’s squad could win the East by beating Michigan tomorrow and Michigan State next week, and seeing Michigan State beat Ohio State tomorrow.

With both teams playing for a chance to remain in the Big Ten title hunt, the White Out in Beaver Stadium is sure to be rocking. Thankfully for Michigan, which has lost its last three trips to State College, it’s a noon kickoff rather than a night game, but the Wolverines haven’t been sharp on the road yet this season. Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Penn State has the ball

Penn State ranks 103rd nationally and 12th in the Big Ten in total offense (350.6 yards per game), 98th and 11th in rushing (143.2 yards per game), 89th and 11th in passing (207.4 yards per game), 66th and 7th in pass efficiency (131.0), and 93rd and 9th in scoring (25.2 points per game).

Third-year starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg still hasn’t quite lived up to the hype he arrived with. He currently ranks 9th in the Big Ten in passing with an average of 199.2 yards per game and 8th with a 128.4 passing efficiency. However, his completion percentage of 54.2 percent is better than only Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson (52.6) and Maryland’s Perry Hills (50.0). By comparison, Jake Rudock leads the conference with a 64.2 percent completion rate. One thing Hackenberg has done is limit interceptions, having thrown just three this season.

Hackenberg’s favorite target has been sophomore receiver Chris Godwin. He leads the team with 49 receptions for 808 yards and also has three touchdowns. After a consistent first six games in which he caught either four or five passes for 65 yards, Godwin has broken out with 100-yard games in three of the last four, including a four-catch, 135-yards, one touchdown performance against Maryland. Redshirt sophomore DaeSean Hamilton is the second leading receiver with 31 catches for 426 yards and he leads the team with five touchdown receptions. He hasn’t hit the century mark in a game yet this season but came close with 96 yards against Maryland. Sophomore tight end Mike Gesiki has the third most catches on the team with 12, but just 116 yards and one touchdown.

True freshman running back Saquon Barkley is the Big Ten’s third leading rusher, averaging 104.5 yards per game, which falls behind only Indiana’s Jordan Howard (149.9) and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott (142.5). Barkley missed two games in the middle of the season and also got just one carry in the season opener. If you remove Week 1 — his first collegiate game — his average jumps up to 119.3 yards per game in the seven he has fully played. Last year’s leading rusher, redshirt junior Akeel Lynch, has seen his carries plummet to just 54 this season, though he’s still averaging 5.1 yards per.

The offensive line is one of the reasons Hackenberg has struggled. The Nittany Lions rank dead last in the Big Ten with 33 sacks allowed, an average of 3.3 per game. By comparison, Michigan has allowed 14. In fact, Penn State’s offensive line has allowed an astounding 99 sacks during the Hackenberg tenure.

When Michigan has the ball

Penn State’s defense ranks 13th nationally and 4th in the Big Ten in total defense (311.2 yards per game), 48th and 8th against the run (152.2 yards per game), 2nd and 1st against the pass (159.0 yards per game), 11th and 5th in pass efficiency defense (104.09), and 13th and 5th in scoring defense (17.7 point per game).

Senior defensive end Carl Nassib is the danger man along a tough defensive front that leads the Big Ten with 42 sacks. Nassib leads all conference individuals with 15.5 sacks of his own. His 19.5 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles are also tops in the conference. Mason Cole will have his hands full. But it’s not all just Nassib. The other defensive end, redshirt sophomore Garrett Sickels, and senior tackle Anthony Zettel have three sacks apiece. And we can’t forget redshirt junior tackle Austin Johnson, who ranks second on the team with 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. All told, that’s 27 sacks from the starting defensive line alone. By comparison, Michigan has 25 as a team.

Sophomore middle linebacker Jason Cabinda leads the team in tackles with 71 and also has 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He’s also tied for the team lead with six passes defended and leads the team with five pass breakups. Outside linebacker Brandon Bell, a junior, has 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss of his own in eight games, while the other outside linebacker, Troy Reeder, has yet to record a sack but has 5.5 tackles for loss and an interception.

The secondary suffered a major loss when senior safety Jordan Lucas — a captain — was lost for the year against Northwestern. He ranked fourth on the team with 56 tackles. The other starting safety is sophomore Marcus Allen, who has 57 tackles and one sack. In Lucas’ place will likely be redshirt junior Malik Golden, who has 17 tackles and an interception as Lucas’ backup. The corners are sophomore Grant Haley and senior Trevor Williams, who have combined for 51 tackles, four for loss, three interceptions, six pass breakups, and nine passes defended.

The other third

Kicker Joey Julius has made 10 of 12 field goal attempts with a long of 40, though the hefty redshirt freshman was pulled in favor of redshirt sophomore Tyler Davis after having two extra points blocked by Illinois. Davis is 3 of 3 on the season with a long of 42. Sophomore punter Daniel Pasquariello ranks 9th in the Big Ten with an average of 40.2 yards per punt. He has booted eight of 43 punts over 50 yards with a long of 60 and landed eight inside the 20.

Redshirt freshman running back Nick Scott and redshirt freshman safety Koa Farmer are the main kick returners, averaging 23.8 and 28.1 yards per return, respectively. Fellow redshirt freshman receiver DeAndre Tompkins averages eight yards per punt return.

Prediction

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.

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. 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

First Look: Penn State

Monday, November 16th, 2015


Penn State White out

Michigan survived a scare at Indiana on Saturday, but no matter how you look at it, the Wolverines remained in contention for the Big Ten title. This Saturday is a big one in two ways. One is out of Michigan’s control as they need Ohio State to beat Michigan State. But the one part the Wolverines can control is on the field at Penn State. Let’s take a look at how the teams compare.

Penn State team stats & Michigan comparison
Penn State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 25.2 | 32.6 93 | 49
17.7 | 14.8 13 6
Rushing Yards 1,429 | 1,688 1,522 1,032
Rush Avg. Per Game 142.9 168.8 97 67
152.2 103.2 47 8
Avg. Per Rush 4.1 | 4.3
3.8 3.1
Passing Yards 2,074 2,249 1,590 1,655
Pass Avg. Per Game 207.4 224.9 89 67 159.0 165.5 2 6
Total Offense 3,503 3,937 3,112 2,687
Total Off Avg. Per Game 350.3 393.7 103 71 311.2 268.7 13 2
Kick Return Average 23.4 32.6 28 2 25.8 21.0 118 66
Punt Return Average 7.8 12.3 72 24 5.3 13.5 32 113
Avg. Time of Possession 29:32 | 33:19 76 | 10
30:28 | 26:41
3rd Down Conversion Pct 28.0% | 43.0% 126 40
33.0% | 23.0% T30 | 3
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 33-180 | 14-74
T120 | T28
42-316 | 25-198
1 | T35
Touchdowns Scored 31 40
22 | 16
Field Goals-Attempts 13-16 | 14-18
8-12 | 12-15
Red Zone Scores (33-36) 92%|(40-42) 95% T12 3
(24-26) 92%|(18-22) 82% 121 T49
Red Zone Touchdowns (21-36) 58%|(29-42) 69% (18-26) 69%|(8-22) 36%

After a rough showing for Michigan’s defense in Bloomington, Penn State is a welcome sight — at least on paper. The Nittany Lions rank 93rd nationally in points per game (25.2), 97th in rushing (142.9 yards per game), 89th in passing (207.4 yards per game), and 103rd in total offense (350.3 yards per game). But before we start licking our chops, the last offense Michigan faced with numbers like that was Minnesota and well, the Gophers came up a yard short of knocking off the Wolverines.

If Michigan doesn’t shore up its run defense — which is sorely missing Ryan Glasgow, who hurt his pectoral muscle against Rutgers — it could be in for a repeat of this past Saturday. Freshman running back Saquon Barkley ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 104.5 yards per game. He missed two entire games and got just one carry in the season opener, which helps explain why Penn State’s rushing game is just 97th nationally. But he tore through Rutgers (195 yards on 21 carries), Ohio State (194 yards on 24 carries), and Northwestern (120 yards on 25 carries). He hasn’t had fewer than 62 yards in a game since Week 1, and that 62-yard performance came in the first half of the San Diego game before he got hurt and missed the rest of the game. By comparison, De’Veon Smith leads Michigan with an average of 64.7 yards per game.

The good news for Michigan is that Penn State’s passing game isn’t nearly as dangerous as Indiana’s, despite the hype of the last three years surrounding quarterback Christian Hackenberg. A big reason for his struggles is the pass blocking, or the lack there of. Penn State has allowed eight more sacks (33) than any other team in the Big Ten and ranks 120th out of 126 teams nationally in sacks allowed — just four short of the most. Hackenberg is completing just 54.2 percent of his passes, which is worst in the Big Ten by far. By comparison, Jake Rudock leads the Big Ten with a 64.2 percent completion rate.

Penn State also struggles to convert third downs. Their 28.3 percent conversion rate is better than only Kent State’s 23.3. The sacks and Hackenberg’s poor completion percentage are a big part of that, which means stopping Barkley on first and second down will go a long way toward coming out of State College with a win.

Defensively, Penn State will be one of the best Michigan has faced this season. Michigan’s pass offense has broken out the past two weeks with 777 yards, eight touchdowns, and just one interception. But Penn State’s pass defense hasn’t given up more than 251 yards in a game all season. Seven of 10 opponents have been held below 200 and four of those below 150.

The rush defense isn’t quite as formidable, giving up 152.2 yards per game on the ground. That ranks 47th nationally and eighth in the Big Ten. However, Michigan struggled to run consistently against Indiana’s 13th-ranked run defense, and if the Wolverines can’t pass at will, how will they move the ball?

If there’s one area that Michigan could capitalize it’s in the kick return game. Michigan ranks second nationally with an average of 32.6 yards per kick return. Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis, and Jehu Chesson have done a great job of setting Michigan up with good field position and that could pay off this Saturday. Penn State has given up two kick return touchdowns this season — including one to Northwestern last Saturday — and they rank 118th nationally.

An early glance at the statistical comparisons between the two teams suggests a low-scoring defensive battle. Michigan will have to load up the box to stop Barkley and force Penn State into third and long situations, and Jake Rudock is going to have to take care of the ball the way he has the past two weeks if Michigan wants to force a winner takes all matchup with Ohio State the following week.

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.

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

____________________________________________________________________________
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