Friday, September 21, 2007

Michigan Vs. Penn State Preview

So the Michigan team that the Maize and Blue faithful were waiting to see in the Big House finally decided to show up, thumping Notre Dame 38-0 in the Wolverine’s most recent game. The Irish offense looked lost, allowing the Michigan defense to shut down any semblance of the game plan prepared by “offensive genius” Charlie Weis. On the other side, Mike Hart (and Brandon Minor) was able to run at will, setting up 2 rushing touchdowns, as well as helping Ryan Mallet to throw for 3 TD’s. The coaching was even good, throwing blitzes at Jimmy Claussen and attacking the weak points on the Irish defense. This victory not only rejuvenated Michiganfans everywhere, but gave a new spirit to a struggling team.

Now, as our own Stu Zaas stated in a previous post, this victory must be “taken with a grain of salt.” Notre Dame is a terrible team and will be lucky to win 3 games this season. Any team (such as Appalachian St.) could have rolled this team just like Michigan. When put against competent talent, like this weekend with #10 Penn St., will the Wolverines revert to their Oregon form or stay as the sharp team that minimized mistakes and played solid defense against Notre Dame?

Michigan Offense vs. PSU Defense

Many college football fans saw this precise offensive-defensive match-up as one of the season’s premiere match-ups. While PSU still has one of the, if not the best, defenses in the nation, Michigan’s offense has left much to be desired. Fourth year start Chad Henne will most likely not be playing in this game and still has made freshmen mistakes in both the games he played. Michigan will once again start true freshman Ryan Mallet, who looked O.K. versus Notre Dame’s paltry defense last weekend. The coaching staff was obviously not calling lots of passing plays for Mallet, who only threw 15 passes, completing less than half. The good news was is that Mallet did not get sacked and did not throw an interception. In fact, his major mistake came on his first play when he fumbled the snap. He spread the ball to all his receivers, with each of his 3 TD passes going to a different receiver. PSU’s pass defense ranks 47th in the country, but still should find a way to make sure that Mallet doesn’t throw 3 more TD’s. Freshman Jimmy Claussen completed only 53% of his passes for zero touchdowns and one pick. Mallet has more talent around him, but hasn’t seen a defense of PSU’s caliber, who will try to confuse him and rush with a variety of blitz packages, while the defensive backs will prevent Mallet from going deep to Mario Manningham.


Good new for Mallet, Michigan’s strength so far this season has been the outstanding rushing of the Wolverine’s leader Mike Hart. Bad news for Mallet, Penn St. has the top rushing defense in the nation, allowing only 53 yards and one TD. Now, Hart is a force to be reckoned with, but PSU will be looking for most of the play calling to go Hart’s way. Look for them to stack the box, looking for the Hart to the left behind Jake Long we have grown accustomed to seeing when Michigan touches the ball. Hart always does keep his hands on the ball, which cannot be said for backup Brandon Minor. Penn St. always seems to have great linebackers, and this year is no exception. Dan Conner and Sean Lee have combined for 52 tackles. PSU will remember the 112 yards and 1 touchdown running back that they saw last year, but Joe Paterno will find ways to slow him down.

Edge: PSU

Michigan Defense vs. PSU Offense

Oh boy. What Michigan defense with show up-the one that forgets how to tackle, cannot cover a single man, and gets no pressure on the quarterback, or the one who held a team to -6 rush yards, forced 4 turnovers, and 8 sacks? We can’t see sure, but it should be more like the second one. The Wolverines return to the hard-hitting styles of Big 10 football and can be assured that Penn St. will not run the dreaded spread offense. The Michigan defense was key to Michigan’s 17-10 victory over the Lions last year. The front 7 knocked out not one but two Penn St. QB’s and limited the Lions’ offensive production.

That being said, Anthony Morelli has minimized the mistakes he has made this season, with 8 TD passes and only one interception. He does not have a standout wide receiver to work with and has been able to spread the ball around to all his receivers. Granted, he has face 3 sub-par defenses, but some argue that Michigan just benefited from a weak Irish squad and can be counted as a weaker defense. Michigan has the number 48 ranked pass defense, but should get some pressure on the quarterback. PSU had a weak line that got weaker with the loss of number 6 NFL draft pick Levi Brown. Morelli should be moving around in the pocket quite a bit and is thankfully not a good rushing QB.

On the rushing side of things, Penn St. features 2 tailbacks who have combined to form the number 33rd ranked rushing offense. Austin Scott has 215 yards and 5 TD’s, while Rodney Kinlaw has 244 yards with 2 TD’s. Michigan’s rushing defense struggled mightily versus Oregon, but held Notre Dame to negative rushing yards. Michigan needs to prove they can consistently tackle and fill up some of the gaping holes they left for Oregon.

Slight Edge: PSU


Special Teams

Apart from the mighty Zoltan Mesko, Michigan has not had a healthy special teams game. We look at the 2 blocked field goals versus Appalachian St. for proof. They have yet to find a solution for returning punts and kicks, and are not consistent on kickoffs. Place kicker Jason Gingell hit everything last week, but has not shown his range or his ability to kick under pressure. On the flip side, Penn St. has returned a punt for a touchdown, has a consistent place kicker who can hit FG’s and drive kickoff’s deep. Michigan’s special teams coverage will have to step up or Penn St. will spend all day with great field position.

Edge: PSU


Intangibles

No doubt Penn St. remembers its last trip to Ann Arbor, ranked number 2 but upset at on a last second Henne to Mannigham touchdown completion, ruining a possible BCS title game season for the Nitany Lions. Michigan is coming off its first victory after a crushing defeat of rival Notre Dame. No doubt the fans will be in this game (backed by the best marching band in the nation I might add), attempting to give the Blue every advantage possible. It is the Big 10 opener for both teams, but it will be Michigan’s fourth straight home game and will have emotion riding on their side, at least to start the game. Hey, maybe another high-profile star will give them a speech before the game.

Edge: Michigan


Prediction

This will be PSU’s first “real” competition of the season (heftily defeating Notre Dame, Buffalo, and Florida International), while Michigan is playing another tough opponent in the Big House. Ryan Mallet will start over the injured Henne, one of Pennsylvania’s own. While Mallet will not look nearly as bad as Claussen did against both these teams, he will have his hands full with Penn St.’s defense and will not start each drive with nearly as good field position as he did last Saturday. Mike Hart will again get a heavy carrying load, but will not be as successful as he has been. Look for at a Penn St. defensive touchdown to be a difference maker in this game. Lloyd Carr needs to be able to change his game plan accordingly throughout the game in order for Michigan to stay in it, but Michigan will be frustrated on offense all day long.

Final Score: Penn St. 23 Michigan 13

Player of the Game: Dan Conner, PSU LB – 9 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT

Listen to the game LIVE on the WCBN sports stream at http://www.wcbn.org/listen.html!

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