Preview: We Own(ed)... Penn State
Run Offense vs. Penn State
Not likely to be a strength. Penn State has been moidering opposing running backs (see?). They're tenth in the country against the run and that's after games against Minnesota (#4 rush offense) and Northwestern (#12). Hell, even USF checks in at #23. Tamba Hali is making a run at All-American status with five sacks and seven TFL so far. Paul Posluszny has 71 (71!) tackles. They were very good last year; almost everyone is back. They're better this year.
As for Michigan, they're unlikely to radically improve their mediocre-to-date run blocking. They've opened up holes against MAC teams and teams with MAC defenses like Michigan State but haven't shown any tendency towards being able to ground-and-pound even mediocre defenses. Penn State's fast, intelligent linebackers will probably shut down the draws that have been a staple of the offense the past year and a half, leaving the offensive line to try to plow ahead more conventionally.
Mike Hart is still freakin' awesome, yo, but too often this year the three yards he's fabricated from nothing have gotten him back to the line of scrimmage instead of past the first down marker. Expect a rushing performance similar the to one Michigan turned in against OSU last year: not good.
Key Matchup: FB Brian Thompson versus Posluszny. Thompson has emerged as a decent starting fullback and the rushing game's ability to run straight at the Lions will depend heavily upon him blocking Penn State's tackle factory.
Pass Offense vs. Penn State
At this point we've all stopped hoping that Henne's going to rekindle that Rose Bowl magic, haven't we? His good performances this year are heavily tainted by the defenses he opposed in them, defenses that got no pressure whatsoever against him and couldn't cover a disabled goat if asked to. The defenses he's played against that aren't resolutely awful have pwned him. Wicked pwned: he hasn't completed 50% of his passes in any of Michigan's losses this year.
I think it can safely be declared that the Penn State defense is not resolutely awful. They're 20th in pass efficiency D and have an explosive pass rusher or three (20 sacks to date, on pace to easily surpass last year's badass Iowa D number of 35) plus a secondary that's veteran and good. The image of Tamba Hali crushing Ohio State TE Ryan Hamby and then performing a fatality on Ohio State's Rose Bowl chances was at once a joyous, schadenfreude-laden thing and an ominous portent of doom. The similarities between it and the rings true freshman and non-All-American candidate Steve Davis ran around our right tackle are stark and unpleasant to contemplate. And that's just one freakin' guy.
It probably won't be total disaster against Penn State. It hasn't been total disaster at any point thus far. Except against Notre Dame. And Wisconsin. And Minnesota. And that pick against Michigan State. Er. I guess the point is: Michigan's pass offense probably isn't that bad, but it would take a major improvement merely to hold its crappy ground in its first foray against a defense that isn't terrible.
Key Matchup: OTs Ruben Riley/Mike Kolodziej ("small animals in my immediate vicinity post-game") versus Tamba Hali ("wood chipper").
Run Defense Vs Penn State
We have a great run defense that's gashed when Pat Massey gets crushed or one of our outside linebackers does something inexplicable, which means we have an average-to-poor run defense despite having three great players in our front seven (Harris, Branch, Woodley). Penn State's was eating up some of the worst run defenses in the country before running up against a brick wall in Ohio State. We're not either of those extremes.
So what will happen? Robinson is going to run a lot, sometimes from a designed play but often when he can't read the coverage and just takes off. Harris will probably spy on him most of the day and remove the latter option or at least reduce its effectiveness. The draws will probably work since Michigan's apparent answer to the mobile quarterback issue is to lay back... a lot, rushing only three with great frequency and dropping a ton of guys into coverage. Tony Hunt has been playing very well this year but is probably not going to do very well against a Michigan defense that will have to be keying on the run most of the day. Sporadic runs in the teens will occur due more to errors from our safeties and linebackers but Robinson is going to have to throw on third down a lot.
Key Matchup: OLBs Chris Graham and Prescott Burgess versus Their Apparently Religious Objections To Maintaining Outside Containment.
Pass Defense vs. Penn State
Any other safeties want to test fate? Call it the Curse of Cato, since it seems everyone we throw out there ends up injured or goes slowly insane and fails to show up for an NFL camp. Ryan Mundy's career may be over and both starters in his absence didn't say their prayers or something and were subsequently smote by Angry, Michigan-Safety-Hating God during the Minnesota game. Shazor-apparent (not a compliment) Jamar Adams and true freshman converted cornerback Brandon Harrison step forth into the void, awaiting God's boomstick justice.
The cornerbacks are healthy and pretty good, actually. There's a little Todd Howard disease going on and some issues with reading and reacting with Mason, but the coverage should be all right. I don't expect much in the way of laser-accuracy from Robinson; I don't actually expect much at all. Penn State will probably break out the same gameplan it did against Ohio State and Lloydball the hell out of this thing, keeping Robinson from doing anything like throw three picks like he did against Northwestern.
Key Matchup: Deep, open Derek Williams versus Michael Robinson's history tendency to suck. It's going to happen. There's going to be a heavy play action bite or a blown coverage or something truly wacky and blackly humorous and Williams is going to be striding downfield with someone behind him--probably Adams--running real fast, trying hard not to think about what just happened. Robinson will either hit him or miss him.
Hey! Steve Breaston! Goddamn, nice to see you. You're a little late. How come we never see you and Garrett Rivas in the same room?
Key Matchup: Garret Rivas versus AAAAARGH! AAAAARGH!
Something, I know not what, brought me up short--perhaps an acrid, unfamiliar smell or the suspicious patterns of light that reached my questing eyes. I felt a deep disquiet. All around me the jungle laid, waiting. It was as if I had placed my foot directly above a trap laid by the forest itself. The normal teeming, beastly chatter that composes a background symphony to all one's movements in this accursed place had utterly ceased. The impression was one of indrawn breath. A tense moment passed; I saw a clearing; men were in it; strange men, desperate men; I listened...
"Gorgoroth, we beseech you. Fill the hearts of our enemy with dread at our coming. We are weak, and he is strong, but many battles have we won against these interlopers from the far east. We ask you, in our time of need, to smite them! They have scorned you! Scorned you and your kitten cuteness! They revel in the mature form of the feline beast! They mock your adorable mewling with their pre-canned growling sound! We bring you forth to destroy them, to make our Brie Stone(?) fly, to grind their fence into the ground with our Heart, to strike them off their lofty perch!"
The ground trembled, and I momentarily glanced around me, checking for an exit route. When I looked back, indescribable horror confronted me.
GET OUT OF MY MIND! GET OUT OF MY MIND!
A terrifying ululation filled the canopy. Birds burst from their perches, scattering feathers in their mad flight to escape. I looked deep into the heart of a terror I have not words for. These desperate, mad people! Their eyes! One turned right towards me, spotted me, and burst forth with words in their savage language that chilled my very bones. I cracked. In a panic, I tore through the forest, screaming, my voice merging with theirs until memory fades--all that remains is the sensation of branches whipping at my exposed skin, the sting of the myriad cuts I sustained, and a deep disquiet I fear will never leave me. I passed out of sight and time for how long I do not know.
When I awoke, my tattered body laid on the forest floor; the stars were out, and it was unseasonably cool.
Three Things I'd Like To See:
- Trickeration. Copious freakin' trickeration, man. I don't think the PSU defense is going to give us much of anything unless we pull some Houdini. Let's see the Bass/Breaston option, some single wing, transcontinental stuff, slip screens, the diamond formation, flea-flickers, anything. It's time to empty the cookie jar.
- A tight end lined up next to whichever RT is playing Tina.
- Two David Harris clones.
Three Things I Don't Want To See
- Our OLBs losing contain yet again.
- Michael Robinson running effectively.
- This game.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +2 for No, I Guess Henne Isn't Back; +1 for Safety Smiting; -1 for He's Still Michael Robinson; -1 for Maybe Breaston...; +1 for ...Naw.)
Desperate need to win level: 5 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -2 for We're Playing For Pride? Pride Blows; +1 for At Least We'd Still Own... Penn State; +1 for Stay Out of Detroit)
Loss will cause me to... I dunno. Go to the hockey game. At this point it's academic, isn't it?
Win will cause me to... run over to BWI to revel in the misery.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: I was warned to predict a Michigan loss deep down in my bones, unlike last week's patently ironic, Angry-Michigan-Safety-Hating-God-baiting prediction of 3,000 points via lasers for Minnesota that faintly cloaked a confident prediction of victory.
Well, you got your wish. How are we going to move the ball? Hart will probably do a few nice things but unless the OL gets hopped up on PCP they're not going to create anything approximating a consistent run game, which leaves it in the hands of Henne and the Deadly Squirrel RT Platoon. Feelin' good? No.
Defensively, well, we aren't Ohio State but neither are we Minnesota. Penn State fans seem to have forgotten all about the fact that Robinson is terrible simply because they're winning against really bad defenses and scoring via short drives courtesy boneheaded turnovers. Robinson's been bombing it deep all year because that's the only throw it's safe for him to make. Michigan is going to hold up just fine against the Nittany Lion offense... save for the semi-frequent occurrences of lost contain and safeties blowing coverages or run defenses. Penn State scores when we screw up.
This will be a contest of errors. Whoever makes the fewest will win; that'll be Penn State.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Hart gets a total of sixty rushing yards.
- When you combine the pure aesthetic value of the upcoming festival del suck with my psychological state in regards to it, this will be the least enjoyable game I've ever seen in Michigan Stadium.
- 7-6, Penn State.