Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Decade

Penn State. When you're Michigan, that's a team you have not lost to since 1996. That's a long time, even in Joe Paterno time. It's easily the longest losing streak Paterno has ever had to one opponent.

Well, that streak would appear to be in as much jeopardy as it has ever been. Michigan is 1-2 and I really don't have to go into much detail about the pair of brutal losses they suffered. Penn State is 3-0 and ranked #10 in both polls.

But is it really such a colossal mismatch? Does Michigan have any chance?

Let's take a little closer look.

Penn State is 3-0, but what have they really proven? Not much if you ask me. Florida International? Buffalo? Not exactly world beaters that they've played thus far and in fact they are two of the worst teams in the country. Then there is the common opponent in Notre Dame. Any blind person can see that Michigan dominated Notre Dame far more than Penn State did. Be it score (38-0 vs 31-10), yards gained (379-295), yards allowed (79 vs 144), or whatever other measure you want. Not exactly top 10 material if you ask me.

Then we come to Michigan. 38-0 over Notre Dame? I would've predicted that before the season began. After the 0-2 start and with Chad Henne out I did not see that coming. But what to make of it? Are all Michigan's struggles on defense really related to spread offenses with mobile QBs? It'd be nice if that were the case but it can't all be that simple. Is a beatdown of perhaps the worst Notre Dame team of all time really worth anything? Maybe not. There are still major questions about Michigan starting first and foremost with the QB situation. Will Henne play? Possibly, but unlikely if you ask me. Will Mallett be asked to do anything other than hand off to Mike Hart 50 times? Hopefully. Will he be up to the task? I have no idea.

Some keys for Michigan against Penn State:

1) Exert dominance in the ground game. Penn State has a young front four and Jake Long and co. need to continue the power ground game to keep the heat off Ryan Mallett. Let's be honest, Penn State has never held Mike Hart under 100 yards and they are unlikely to do so on Saturday. He's going to get the ball a lot.

2) Let Mallett make some plays down the field. He still makes some freshman mistakes like calling the wrong audible or locking on to one receiver at times, but the talent is undeniable. He might be big and lack speed, but he moves in the pocket well and is a natural at throwing on the run looking quite coordinated unlike Chad Henne who is more of a pure pocket passer that struggles to connect when rolling out. And yeah, he might have the strongest arm in the county as he looks effortless tossing it 30 or 40 yards on a line. I hope he gets to air it out a few times against a PSU defense that will be keyed on Mike Hart.

3) A big game by the defensive line to slow down the PSU rushing attack and get in Anthony Morelli's face. The DL dominated against Notre Dame and has a lot of talent, but they still need to prove it against a real opponent this year. Saturday would be a good day to start.

4) A solid showing in special teams. Zoltan the Destroyer needs a big game and it would help if they didn't muff any punts or miss any easy field goals.

I pretty much wrote off the 2007 season after the Oregon game. It's still brutal, but if the players still want to fight for the Big Ten title they need a great performance this week against a program looking to end a long losing streak.



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