Thursday, October 12, 2006

Penn State Preview

Yeah, yeah, it's almost Christmas Eve on Blue and White Illustrated and the few loony PSU fans that ruin the perfectly good reputation of Penn State fans (cough, cough, MarshCreekEagle, cough, cough). You know, that time of year when they can really step up the conspiracy theories and hope that their team doesn't drop a deuce against Michigan again. What's it been now? 10 years since the last Penn State victory over Michigan? Man, that's a long time. You know at some point Penn State will overcome it to win, but is this really the year? Michigan has better coaches and more talent. The game is at Penn State, but playing on the road hasn't slowed down this Michigan team yet going to South Bend and Minneapolis for easy wins.

Did I say road games at Notre Dame and Minnesota? Yep, those are the only 2 common opponents between Penn State and Michigan and the results couldn't be more different. Notre Dame - Michigan smoked 'em and Penn State bent over and took it from the Irish. Minnesota - Michigan coasted to an easy victory while the Nittany Lions needed a generous PI call on 4th down in OT to avoid losing.

How do the teams stack up statistically?

Michigan ground game
The Wolverines rank #1 in the Big Ten and #17 nationally in rushing offense at 196 yards per game and 4.4 per carry. A lot of this has come in garbage time when Michigan is running out the clock by just pounding it into 8 man fronts. Penn State is #14 nationally in rushing defense surrendering only 80 yards per game and 2.5 yards per carry. Expect Michigan to go for somewhere around 150 as a team and 4 per carry as Michigan might focus more on rushing earlier in the game instead of just waiting until the game is out of hand.

Michigan passing game
Mario Manningham will not be playing. That's the bad news. The good news? Michigan currently ranks #13 nationally in pass efficiency and Chad Henne has been throwing strikes all over the field. Adrian Arrington and Steve Breaston will be relied upon heavily to carry the load at WR. Greg Mathews and Carl Tabb will vie for PT at the #3 WR spot. Look for a big game from the TEs, though. Tyler Ecker might be back and Massey and Carson Butler are more than capable of exploiting a Penn State LB crew that struggles to cover the deep middle of the field. Penn State only ranks #47 nationally in pass efficiency defense and just got torched by Brian Cupito last week to the tune of nearly 350 yards passing. Read that again. Brian Cupito. If Manningham was playing, you'd expect this to get ugly. As it stands, Michigan will move the chains regularly via the pass. Look for a big game from Chad Henne.

Penn State ground game
Penn State has been solid on the ground this year ranking #20 nationally at 191 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Lots of damage against some pretty bad opponents, though. Tony Hunt is the ultimate solid but not spectacular back. Michigan still ranks #1 nationally in rushing defense surrounding a mere 40 yards per game and 1.7 yards per carry. If Penn State thought they had a solid rushing D, Michigan is flat out nasty and has played better competition (did you see what they did to PJ Hill?). Expect Penn State to struggle to run the ball. I'll be surprised if they get 100 as a team for the game and they'll be under 3 yards per carry.

Penn State passing game
Anthony Morelli has lead his team to the #83 ranking nationally in passing efficiency this year. Yikes. That's not good for a junior. How in the heck are he and Chad Henne in the same class? Do they teach quarterbacking in State College? Did he honestly pass up a chance to go to Pitt to play in this offense? Michigan has been solid against the pass this year ranking 25th nationally in passing effiency defense. Morelli will struggle if Michigan can bring the heat with their pass rush.

Special teams
Neither team has been great in special teams this year. Gotta give a slight edge to Michigan, though. Zoltan Mesko is really starting to flash his cannon leg at punter and Garrett Rivas is ugly but effective with his FGs. Then you've got the record setting Steve Breaston as a returner. He hasn't broken one yet this year, so look out.

Predictions? Geez, this is hard. I want to say this is going to be a very difficult game for Michigan. I mean those Penn State fans will be out for blood against the team that has owned them for a decade. It's at night. etc. Whatever. The left side of my brain looks at this completely differently. Fact: Michigan has a better rushing attack. Fact: Michigan has a better passing game. Fact: Michigan has a better rushing defense. Fact: Michigan has a better passing defense.

Penn State is really going to have to play above their heads to win this one. Either that or come up big in the turnover margin. Did I mention that Michigan is 6th nationally in turnover margin and Penn State is 73rd? Ouch!

I'll give Penn State a little benefit of the doubt for hanging close with the Buckeyes in a rainstorm in Columbus.

Michigan 27, Penn State 17



Anonymous andrew said...

great preview. another factor in those numbers, of course, is the level of competition each team has played. CMU and Vandy are far better than Akron and YSU (!). they've played OSU in a rainstorm, who are better than Wiscy, but MSU is far more capable (despite the brainlocks they suffer) than northwestern. even if you want to say the competition, overall, has been similar, Michigan has been much more impressive.

i feel the whole "night game emotion" and losing streak fears, but i just can't bring myself to believe this will be a tougher hurdle than notre dame or wisconsin. Michigan wins by at least 2 scores, imo.

Fri Oct 13, 03:57:00 PM  
Blogger robert paulson said...

I admit that my score prediction is giving Penn State more credit than they have earned on the field this year. They don't have a single good win yet this year, unless they want to hang their hat on the OT thriller in Minny.

I'm also building up the loss of Manningham just a bit. Michigan is a LOT better than any team Penn State has beaten this year.

Fri Oct 13, 04:03:00 PM  

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