Preview: Penn State 2010
|WHAT||Michigan at Penn State|
|WHERE||Beaver Stadium, Happy Valley, PA|
|WHEN||8:00 Eastern, October 30th 2010|
|THE LINE||Michigan -3|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
Run Offense vs Penn State
This is hard to get a read on due to key injuries on both sides. Michigan expects that David Molk, Denard Robinson, and Michael Shaw will be ready to go after the bye week. Any could still be nursing injuries that make them less effective. Penn State's situation is considerably murkier. We know FS Nick Sukay and DE Eric Latimore are out. The following players are all somewhere between questionable and probable:
- LBs Khairi Fortt (stinger, DNP Minnesota), Gerald Hodges (broken leg; played against Minnesota and got two tackles), Bani Gbadyu (played vs Minnesota), LB Michael Mauti (played vs Minnesota)
- DEs Jack Crawford (DNP Minnesota) and Sean Stanley (situational pass rush, not actually injured but in the JoePa doghouse).
All but Crawford (who is very doubtful) are likely to play. At what level is unknown.
The DE issues have been so severe that 310 pound freshman DT Jordan Hill started outside against Minnesota and played most of the game. He was not good, providing zero pass rush and looking like a train trying to double back when the Gophers ran misdirection against him. If he plays much against Michigan he'll be crazy vulnerable on the read option. Penn State is experimenting with freshman Fortt as a standup DE, but he's 230 pounds and should be crazy vulnerable to getting donkeyed by Lewan or Dorrestein. Absent Crawford, Penn State is picking its poison.
The other DE is usually Pete Massaro, a redshirt sophomore who missed last year with an ACL tear. He's a thousand times better than anyone else PSU played against Minnesota, but he's just a guy at the moment.
The interior line is still very good. Ollie Ogbu, who you may remember stuffing DeBord stretches in the 2007 Penn State game, is now a Brooks Bollinger Memorial Eighth Year Senior; Devon Still was a touted recruit and is now entering his upperclass years. They have consistently penetrated opposing offensive lines and are usually the guys responsible for PSU shutting down a run play—Ogbu has 29 tackles and 5.5 TFLs already; Still has 5.5 TFL, three of those sacks. They're thin past the starters, however. Backup DTs have one solo tackle between them.
The linebackers have not lived up to expectations. Don't take my word for it:
Penn State has decided to rent out the "Linebacker U" moniker this season to just about any other team not named Penn State. The group of linebackers are not playing the way we have come to expect our linebackers to play. I'm not sure if it is just this group of guys, or if we were spoiled by having such amazing linebackers (Dan Connor, Sean Lee, Paul Posluszny) with great instincts that we just have come to expect all of our LBs to read and react to plays as quick as that trio did. …We need this group to play better if there is any chance we are going to upset Michigan.
In the Penn State games I've watched Colasanti and Mauti have eaten a lot of blocks. PSU fans like Mauti better than their other guys, so I may just have caught him on an off day or coming off an injury. Colasanti is slow of foot and if a blocker gets out to him he's done. PSU is rotating heavily so Hodges, Gbadyu (right), Nate Stupar, and possibly Fortt are likely to see snaps. Fortt and Hodges are athletic but mistake-prone; Gbadyu and Stupar are veterans no one thinks much of—Gbadyu seems like an Ezeh-level whipping boy for PSU fans.
From this come the numbers:
That's three bad performances and a decent one against Iowa. Minnesota is not good at football. Against beleaguered Purdue the week before they managed 4.3 a carry. It is not good when your run defense is marginally ahead of this year's Boilers.
After a bye week Michigan is seventh nationally in rushing offense, averaging 6.5 YPC. Iowa and Michigan State slowed the Denard Robinson train down, and "slowed" may not be the right word. Robinson still averaged 5.8 YPC against Iowa and the team as a whole put out 196 yards on 41 carries against what was the #2 rushing defense in the country and is currently #8. If Michigan hadn't ended up in a big hole thanks to turnovers and its defense they could have put up truly epic numbers given the competition. At this point questions are dispersed: this is a for real rushing attack with a for real offensive line and the explosive Robinson.
Michigan's wild card here is Michael Shaw. He was splitting carries with Vincent Smith approximately down the middle before an injury sidelined him for Indiana and limited him to just seven carries against Michigan State and Iowa; he's got the breakaway speed Smith lacks and if healthy could provide a secondary run threat with the potential to test Penn State's battered safety corps.
Key Matchup: Denard Robinson against DE Not Named Massaro. With Crawford out and the delicious possibility of lumbering freshman DT in space, Michigan should be able to put its most explosive player in advantageous positions with the zone read. If it's Fortt, Robinson should be running off tackle at him frequently. Either way that's the place to attack.
Pass Offense vs Penn State
nickelback was a receiver last year
Penn State's results to date:
Not so good. You've got the two game manager types that saw their teams run out to insurmountable leads of two touchdowns in the first half and put the passing in the garage, Nathan Scheelhaase, and Adam Weber, and three of the four put up impressive passer efficiency ratings. The Mathlete has them 37th but a lot of that was built in games against Kent State and Temple; Iowa and Alabama offset with Illinois being hugely negative and Minnesota positive but not enough to offset the Illinois game.
Penn State's pass rush is weak. They're 97th in sacks; as discussed in the previous section they are getting very little from the injury-wracked DEs. Whenever Hill or Latham is out there Michigan is going to be able to single block without trouble; Penn State's best bet may be to throw that guy against Lewan in the hopes that Massaro or Stanley can generate something against Dorrestein. In passing situations Stanley or Fortt should come in to replace the guy who's essentially a DT, which will provide more of a challenge.
The PSU secondary is also thin and young after Sukay's injury. They've moved Drew Astorino to the free safety position and he sounds like a faster combination of Kovacs and Cam Gordon—small, iffy tackler, questionable angles. The differences are in speed and experience. He's returning starter who was honorable mention ABT last year and has returned some punts. The second guy may be freshman Malcolm Willis, who was forced into the lineup after third safety Andrew Dailey had some minor injury problems of his own. Willis tackled well and had more of an impact on the game than either of the starters.
The corners aren't much deeper. D'Anton Lynn is a league-average corner who Penn State fans are very much in favor of for the same reason Troy Woolfolk's injury caused the rending of garments in Ann Arbor. The other guy, Stephen Morris, came in for a beating after the Minnesota game for sloppy coverage and horrible tackling. There are rumors that Chaz Powell might leap into the starting lineup or at least see significant time. This would be risky, since Powell has taken the same "you're a corner, I mean WR, I mean corner, I mean WR, I mean corner" career path that James Rogers has.
That lack of depth means it's going to be another boring week on the UFR D formation chart. Expect nothing but 4-3 unless Michigan gets in third and a billion.
This should be a much easier matchup for Michigan than Iowa and (sigh) Michigan State were. PSU is scrambling to get any sort of pass rush and their linebackers drag out of position a ton in zone; all the rotation makes it likely that no one player will have the consistency in drops either the Iowa or MSU linebackers (who never come off the field) did.
Key Matchup: Roundtree and Gallon vs Lynn and Morris (Powell?) on the bubble. Michigan's most effective passing attacks come from threatening the bubble against teams that can't handle it, then exploiting their over-reaction to it after it works the first few times. With dodgy tackling cornerbacks and injury issues at safety, Michigan should be able to give Denard some easy throws and go from there.
Run Defense vs Penn State
This is going to be slightly hard to believe but this should be… advantage… Michigan?
If Mike Martin is 100%, yes, serious. Penn State against BCS opponents and Minnesota:
Okay, so no one's going to mistake Michigan's D with Alabama, Iowa, or (sigh) Illinois any time soon but the throbbing danger sign for the Penn State rushing game isn't so much the YPC numbers but the distribution. On the road against Alabama in Robert Bolden's second start the run/pass breakdown was 50-50. Against Iowa, Penn State called 43 passes and 21 runs. With a freshman quarterback! In Iowa City! Minnesota even did a somewhat respectable job one week after giving up 126 yards on 12 carries to Dan Dierking. Northern Illinois put up 297 rushing yards on them. Penn State couldn't do much of anything before inserting Silas Redd late.
What's wrong with the Penn State rush offense? Pick a problem. The top two tight ends are out for the year, leaving Penn State with a true freshman or WR Brett Brackett—they literally cannot field a reasonable "big" package. Their fullback is a converted linebacker who can lay the wood but is really erratic. And the offensive line is a shambles. They've got one guy—guard Stefen Wisnewski—who's okay to good and four guys who are turrible. The tackles are 6'3" and 6'4" and can't move. When Penn State tries stretch plays they get slanted past like they're not there. The interior line cannot get a push on anyone. Royster apparently showed up to camp overweight and lacks the je ne sais quoi that will see him break PSU's all time rushing record sometime Saturday.
The many limitations of the blockers have seen Penn State totally shelve the stretch, which has been the play most deadly against Michigan's combination of mediocre/freshman defensive ends and overrun-happy linebackers. They're also limited in their ability to pull linemen—about all they can do with consistent(-ish) success is do inside zone stuff and drive block.
The lone bright spot has been freshman Redd, a darting runner with outstanding balance and the quickness to turn a broken play into something positive. Though he occasionally does that freshman thing where you try to bounce everything outside because you think it's still high school, he's PSU's version of Hopkins—fans are clamoring for more of him. Stepfon Green, who you may remember from such plays as "Gratuitous 80 Yard Screen Touchdown," is still around; he's a north-south runner with excellent top end speed but not a lot of wiggle—i.e. just the kind of guy Michigan desperately needs but Penn State can't use much because a busted block is a two yard gain with him.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan may have found a middle linebacker in Kenny Demens. If they have found such a thing and he's actually the guy he seemed like against Iowa, Michigan's run defense could (should?) improve from meh to somewhat respectable. We'll probably see some holes in his game against a team that's had an opportunity to scout him, but those will probably show up in the passing game. Penn State is not at the point where they can do much other than the basics.
Mike Martin has been proclaimed 100% after the bye week; if that's accurate Penn State isn't going to get much in the A gaps this week and will have to head further outside, where Roh can be contained and Banks/Black beat up. The DEs versus the tackles will be a matchup of twin weaknesses and could provide Penn State what running game they're going to have.
A bold prediction: Michigan holds PSU under 4.0 YPC.
Key matchup: Banks/Kovacs/Mouton keeping contain on runs that threaten to go outside the tackle. PSU isn't going to get much up the middle if Martin is healthy and Demens for real, but Iowa made a lot of hay on the outside.
Pass Defense vs Penn State
There are three entirely different balls of wax here depending on who actually plays for Penn State. Kevin Newsome is the easy one. He'll run a wildcat offense that will throw only when absolutely necessary and will be super bad at it. It doesn't sound like Robert Bolden is going to play but if he does he will be able to cut apart Michigan's secondary if given time.
gunslinger w/ gunslinger beard
The most likely opponent tomorrow, though, is walk-on Matt McGloin. McGloin came on in relief of Bolden and went 6 of 13 for 76 yards, two beautiful touchdowns, and one awful interception. Apparently he fancies himself a Favre-ian gunslinger; he reminded me of a walk-on version of Forcier. He's capable of almost anything down to down. The two touchdowns to Derek Moye could not have been better throws, especially the second—a picture-perfect fade against great coverage. His interception was a Sheridan special, a vastly underthrown ball chucked into double coverage. Several other incompletions were no-hopers to Tacopants. And that's all we know. Those thirteen passes are McGloin's career to date.
Penn State's receivers are huge or tiny with little in between. The two outside guys are 6'5" Derek Moye and 6'3" Justin Brown, with 6'5" quasi-TE Brett Bracket playing a lot in the slot and sometimes moving down to be a highly ineffective inline blocker. 5'7" Devon Smith is the slot waterbug du jour; Graham Zug also gets time but has been a drop machine this fall and finds himself marginalized. No one in this unit, even the tiny guy, is likely to shake many tackles. They are not YAC guys.
This will no doubt bring thunder down from the sky and see McGloin put up 500 yards, but the PSU receiving corps might actually be a good matchup for the Michigan secondary. James Rogers may not be able to change directions without going BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP but he is 6'1" with good leaping ability; JT Floyd isn't quite as big but he's a decent-sized corner too. Remember how Michigan neutralized Michael Floyd? Yeah, that could happen.
Michigan could also see a reprise of that weird 2008 game where Sheridan owned the Metrodome. McGloin may be a walk-on but so is the best player in Michigan's secondary. I have no doubt guys will be open and coverages busted as Penn State mounts some number of legitimate scoring drives between 2 and n.
On passing downs Michigan will probably drop eight, count on Martin, Roh, and Van Bergen to slice through PSU's all-guard offensive line, and wait for bad throws and decisions. There should be enough of those for Michigan fans to feel as good about their defense as they did after the first half of the Notre Dame game.
Key matchup: Demens, Mouton, Rotating Spur, and Kovacs against Brackett and Smith underneath. McGloin is going to be throwing a bunch of short routes and Michigan's going to have to cover them so McGloin can go out there and just have some fun in his Wrangler jeans by throwing several horrific interceptions.
Massive Penn State advantage because of one thing: the kicker. Colin Wagner is 14 of 17 on the year. Michigan's rotation is 2 of 8. The punt and punt return units are basically a wash, with Michigan looking a little less awesome in raw yardage but not enough that it seems like it will be a difference.
Kickoffs will be advantage Penn State, as M decommit Anthony Fera is getting them to the endzone and Michigan's kickers are getting them to the eight. Penn State has a big advantage in kick return yardage but since that's mostly from a touchdown against Youngstown State its relevance is questionable.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
- The Anointed Kenny Demens reverts to The Enigmatic.
- Denard's throwing is still goofy even after the bye week.
- Martin does not look 100%.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Penn State actually rolls with Freshman DT as a contain guy on the zone read.
- The Hopkins is unleashed.
- Penn State has to bring a safety into the box.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 (Baseline 5; +1 for Road Night Game In Happy Valley, –1 for Against A Walk-On With Inadvisable Beard, –1 for Behind An Offensive Line Equivalent To Michigan's 2008 Edition, –1 for Versus A Defensive Line Choosing Between A DT And A LB At The Contain Denard Position, +1 for General Overconfidence Check, +1 for We Make The Turnovers Real Good, –1 for But Seriously Kenny Demens.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Penn State Is Not Good, +1 for Bowl Eligibility, +1 for Margin Of Error Is Out The Window, +1 for If You Lose To This Shambles Of A Team And Their Walk-On Quarterback It's Curtains, +1 for And Who Wants To Draw The Curtain Over Denard?)
Loss will cause me to... spend the next four weeks talking about Harbaugh.
Win will cause me to... exhale.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
If Bolden does not play, Penn State will require several acts of God to win. Here is why in a statistic: Michigan's rushing defense is giving up 4.0 YPC. Penn State's rushing defense is giving up 4.0 YPC. They are equivalent. Michigan's rush offense is ripping foes for 6.5 YPC; Penn State is trundling along at… 4.0 YPC. This holds up even when you get all fancy. By the Mathlete's reckoning, the #2 Michigan rush offense is going up against the #53 Penn State rush defense. The inverse matchup is an evenly matched pillow fight that sees #93 take on #96. And most of this went down before Kenny Demens supplanted Ezeh and Penn State started scrambling for real at defensive end and safety.
If Penn State is going to win this game it's going to be by shredding a very shreddable Michigan secondary. If Bolden is slinging it around like he did against Minnesota, Penn State can keep within striking distance and all it will take is an all-too-predictable pile of Michigan mistakes to lose the game. If it's some combination of McGloin and Newsome the punts and picks will be too frequent for Penn State deal with, mistakes or no.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Hopkins gets more carries than any other back.
- Robinson hits 150 yards rushing and 200 passing.
- Special teams costs Michigan something between 3 and 7 points.
- Michigan, 31-21.