|WHAT||Penn State at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
September 24th, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan –19.5|
|WEATHER||sunny, around 70
Meet the new Penn State: they honor Joe Paterno, make questionable in-game decisions, have a wreck of an offensive line, and deploy a legitimately terrifying running back. Sooooo... the old Penn State.
This year's version does have some significant differences. They beat Temple, for one. Also they lost to Pitt. Trace McSorley's an upgrade on Christian Hackenberg; their new punter is an upgrade on the legless duck they ran out last year. The new defensive linemen... are not an upgrade. Neither are the second-string linebackers, all of whom figure to start this weekend.
Penn State's struggled on both lines and Michigan should dominate one matchup and seek to get right in the other.
Run Offense vs Penn State
injury crisis means walk-on Brandon Smith is PSU's starting MLB
The looming question for PSU is whether they will have any of their starting linebackers available. Nyeem Wartman-White is out for the year, again. Jason Cabinda was sporting a large cast on his arm last Saturday and is doubtful. Brandon Bell was on crutches; he's also doubtful. Neither is listed on the PSU depth chart. Without those three, PSU was forced to turn to walk-on Brandon Smith at MLB and sophomores Manny Bowen, their spacebacker, and Jake Cooper at OLB. PFF likes Bowen and hates Cooper; Ace didn't like either but did like Smith.
PSU's rush defense was excellent against Temple, okay against Kent State, and obliterated by Pitt. Pitt rushed for 341 yards on 56 carries; five different players had a run of 20 yards or more and the Panthers put up 42 points on a day where they threw for 91 yards. That was before the injury plague hit its peak. PSU's done fine against their lower-level opponents; where Michigan's run game fits in a spectrum from Pitt to Temple remains sadly unknown.
One thing that is known: Mason Cole will surely appreciate the change of pace from last week. Josh Tupou departs; Penn State arrives with Kevin Givens and Parker Cothren, both sub-300 pounders. Givens is listed at a malleable 275. PFF rates them tolerably well, but their grades are like mine and therefore based on the competition. It's possible both were good against Temple and Kent State and that's overwhelming the Pitt mess. Saturday will be a clarifying event for both teams as they try to gauge their abilities in this department.
FWIW, PSU fans are terrified of jet sweeps. Michigan's been running a ton of them, but with PSU no doubt focusing on improvement there and Michigan having largely omitted their counters for jet sweep overplay from the playbook so far I'd guess Michigan spends more of its time faking the jet than actually running it. Either way the interplay between a soft Penn State edge and the skill position corps that rescued the Colorado game by pounding players near the sideline will be one to watch. Michigan ran a ton of WR screens last year and this is largely the same group on both sides of the ball; watch for Michigan to supplement their actual run game with a virtual one on the outside, whether that's by jet, bubble, tunnel, or flash.
I'm not sure what to expect here. I'm alarmed by the Colorado game but that feels like a highly negative outlier against the worst matchup imaginable for Mason Cole. PSU is a much smaller interior and one that got hammered by the only power 5 team they've played so far. I'd guess Michigan bounces back to "fine, just fine, it's fine" against a depleted opponent. I won't be shocked by a hammering either way.
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN LINEMEN versus COMBO BLOCKING. They shouldn't be so bad at deciding what to do at this stage in their careers. If it doesn't start getting better this week it probably won't until next year, when a new generation takes over.
[Hit THE JUMP for OH MAN THIS LINE against MICHIGAN'S DL]
DPJ, Collins Visiting This Weekend
— Donovan P. Jones (@dpeoplesjones) September 21, 2016
Michigan will have their top two wideout targets on campus for the Penn State game. Five-star Cass Tech WR Donovan Peoples-Jones still isn't saying much to the media, but given the number of visits he's taken it's hard to imagine any other school being out in front, and he's got plenty of connections to the current roster:
"Really trying to see the players that went (to Cass Tech), players I know compete," Peoples-Jones said. "I know Lavert Hill, Mike Onwenu, Jourdan Lewis, all the Cass Tech guys. It's always a great time to see them in action and see them in general."
DPJ's only official visit so far has been to Nebraska, a school that's not a threat to land him. While he plans to see Florida and FSU, he hasn't set those dates yet. Michigan is looking good here.
While Georgia has been making a push of late, four-star AL WR Nico Collins will visit Michigan for the fifth time this weekend, and nobody pays their way for five unofficial visits without some serious interest. Sam Webb caught up with Collins's father, who as it turns out has been doing his part to recruit Collins to the Maize and Blue since he was a youngster:
"I'm a Michigan fan through and through,” the elder Collins said laughingly. “I could be in Jamaica somewhere (and) I'm still a Michigan fan. Yeah, I'm a Michigan fan through and through. The football down here is pretty tough, but you like to be true to your team. You grow up as a Michigan fan or any fan, that's who you like to ride with."
"I used to talk to (Nico) about Michigan a lot when he was a little younger. He wouldn't buy into it. He's always been a closet Michigan fan, but it actually took the trip... the first visit on campus… (that is what) I think sold him."
The elder Collins also called Jim Harbaugh a "genius at what he does," and took note of number of freshmen who saw the field immediately, saying "that's a big thing." Despite the rumored surge from the Bulldogs, Michigan is still the odds-on favorite.
Meanwhile, Corey Malone-Hatcher is doing his best to push for a commitment from Tarik Black. Michigan may not have any receivers committed to the class yet; that doesn't mean they're in bad shape at the position—far from it, in fact.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
[ed-Seth: Eat Well Embrace Life has a new hummus dropping on shelves today:
It’s made of Cayenne, Chipotle, and Jalapeno Peppers (no relation).
(Okay maybe there’s some relation).]
It’s been way too since we had seafood on the tailgate post. It’s also been too long since we wrapped something in bacon. Even if it was last week (which it wasn’t) it’s not good to go too long between things wrapped in bacon.
I really love this combination and guests at the last tailgate agreed. This one is super tasty and can be cooked on the grill, in the smoker or in your oven at home. It can be prepped the night prior and tossed on the grill in the AA Pioneer parking lot an hour before kickoff. AND….it’s served on a stick. Albeit, a tiny stick, but it’s still a stick and everything is more fun served on a stick.
Salmon (Skin removed)
Bacon (thick sliced)
Maple Syrup (Grade A, not the pancake syrup)
Meat Church Honey Hog Rub
[After the JUMP: as if the first two words in this recipe didn’t grab you, there’s also Bacon and Salmon. Also a giveaway at the end]
(Guess what? I published a book this offseason. It’s about baseball. The Cubs. The White Sox. And that one time they played each other in the World Series. Check it out. It’s only available via Amazon Kindle right now, but a print on demand option is coming soon)
Jabrill Peppers leads the nation in tackles for loss and punt return yards. We all knew that. But I liked typing that out. And reading it over and over and over……
How has the unique start to his season impacted the Heisman race? His odds to win the trophy have fallen from 25/1 to 20/1. There were seven players with shorter odds than Peppers in the preseason. There are still five players ahead of him now. Two players, Lamar Jackson and Greg Ward Jr., have jumped ahead of him on the board. Ward Jr. has gone from 35/1 to 18/1. Meanwhile, Jackson is now the overwhelming betting favorite at –225 after starting out as a 50/1 three weeks ago. Below is a list of the top-6 betting favorites and their opening preseason odds.
|Candidate||Current Odds||Preseason Odds|
|Greg Ward Jr.||1800||3500|
I like the steadiness of McCaffrey. He started 6/1 and remains 6/1. Other notable odds not seen above: Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield started the season at 10/1 with the fifth shortest odds available. Today, he’s not even listed on the updated betting board. Had we made this chart a week ago, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Deondre Francis would have both been in the top-6. However in the wake of the Noles beatdown at the hands of Louisville, both have dropped. Francis began the season as a 60/1 shot, but was down to 12/1 a week ago after his hot start. Like Mayfield, he is no longer on the betting board. Cook remains in contention, although his odds have been falling all season. He opened at 8/1, was 12/1 a week ago, and today you can get Florida State’s star tailback at 33/1. For perspective, San Diego State tailback Donnel Pumphrey is just ahead of him at 25/1.
[Hit THE JUMP for things more interesting than Heisman odds]
Talk about the line play through three games. Some room for improvement, do you think?
“Yeah, absolutely. There’s always room for improvement. They’ve done a good job and we’ve got to keep on getting better just in pass protection, which is—we’ll do that, and communication. But they’ve done a nice job, and we expect a big game this week.”
Do you see guys still playing too high at times?
“Yeah. You always can improve on the offensive line with pad level. You’ve got to get lower and get your eyes in the right spot and be physical with your hands and move your feet and know where you’re going and communication and targets and that sort of thing still needs improvement. Every day you’ve got to work on that and that’s important.”
Do you still see a rotation with the two Bens at left guard?
“Rotation’s always open. Rotation’s always open.”
Talk about Bredeson’s progression.
“Done a nice job. Really has. He plays, like I mentioned before, quick twitch and smart and can process quickly on his feet. Like all those other freshmen, has done a nice job transitioning there and really improved.”
What did Wilton show you in that game? You take the first game interception and then the big hit and coming back in.
“Wilton’s a true competitor and he’s a tough guy. I think anybody who plays the quarterback position’s got to be a tough guy. You’re gonna take hits you don’t want to happen, we don’t want to happen, but it’s how they respond. I mean, that was a tough hit on him and he bounced up and he led us the rest of the game and took us back from being behind. Just really pleased with what he did. It shows his true character and how important it is, the team to him and him being a competitor and winning every down.”
[After THE JUMP: what’s up with the Morris/O’Korn thing, complimenting large gentlemen plying their trade, and a big compliment for Speight]
- The sound is a little weird. This is because Craig is in the wrong chair, probably.
- Iowa falls, Ed is kermittishly sipping tea.
- Peppersageddon. Why are you trying Peppers on the edge?
- Repetition will make the defense better.
- Worry about Braden/blitz pickups.
- Colorado’s nose tackle is good.
- Let’s hope Speight was injured and trust in Harbaugh
- Ohio State-Oklahoma. Is Louisville a playoff team—they’ve got Clemson and Houston on the schedule.
You can catch the entire episode on Michigan Insider's podcast stream on Audioboom.
THE USUAL LINKS
Previously: Penn State Offense
the mutant muscle in Amara Darboh's arm just twitched for, oh, no reason.
Penn State's defense got the job done against Temple despite entering the game down their top corner, two starting linebackers, and a rotation defensive end; they finished it without their other starting linebacker, who's now out for the year; both starting safeties also exited due to minor dings during the game, though both got back in. While not dominant, they held the Owls to only 5.2 yards per play, and shut down their running game almost entirely after they struggled mightily in that regard against Pitt the week prior.
Unfortunately for PSU, there were still obvious deficiencies despite facing a Temple offense that ranks 104th in S&P+. Unless PSU is awarded points for degree of difficulty, they could be in for a rough afternoon against Michigan.
Personnel: Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:
We're continuing to incorporate Pro Football Focus grades into these posts. A red border around a player indicates a sore spot, which we've defined as a player who averages around a -2 PFF grade per game—or, alternatively, someone who stands out for the wrong reasons on film. In the above, Michigan guard Ben Braden and PSU linebacker Jake Cooper fall under this category because of their PFF grades, while PSU spacebacker Manny Bowen has a solidly positive PFF grade but looked like an easily exploitable player to me.
Yes, PSU is down all of their starting linebackers after Nyeem Wartman-White injured his knee against Temple. Safety Koa Farmer is making a midseason position switch to strongside linebacker (backing up Bowen) to help cover for depth. The new starting MIKE is redshirt junior walk-on Brandon Smith, who appeared in three games before this season.
Base Set? 4-3 under. Bowen will slide over the slot against three-wide formations. When PSU goes to a nickel set, they usually bring on Christian Campbell as an outside corner while sliding John Reid inside. Grant Haley missed the Temple game, so that could change; he's listed atop the depth chart, which has removed all the other injured players, in Penn State's game notes.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
SPONSOR NOTES: Sauce Castillo may just be off the hook since Iowa lost to NDSU and does not look like a psycho killer this year. But if Michigan does lose to Iowa, hoo boy you're going to be a pariah! A persona non-grata! That'll show you to skip the ads.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, he is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan was very heavy in this game, with only a quarter of their snaps featuring 3 or more wideouts. 27 of them had 0 or 1. CU was very consistent with their formations, running a pure 3-4 on all non-passing downs:
They ran a standard nickel on passing downs.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL the expected starting five with the exception of one drive for Bredeson in the first half. Smith got about half the snaps at RB with Evans and Isaac getting the rest; FB once again split just about down the middle between Hill and Poggi.
Butt and Darboh were just about omnipresent; Chesson only got slightly more than half the snaps since Darboh was preferred in one-WR formations. Bunting got about half the snaps; Perry and Asiasi both got about a dozen. Various other guys got 1-5 snaps.
[After THE JUMP: I'm fretting.]
The linebackers on Saturday said they were getting sucked up sometimes in play action. On some of those slants, is that one of those cases where they were just a little too aggressive?
“Yeah, I mean, I think so. The bottom line is we want to stop the run first and foremost. That’s just kind of a learning thing, a seeing thing. I think we’re going to get better at that. But yeah, they did, they got sucked up a little bit in trying to stop the run. We’ve got to work on it and get a better feel.”
Talk about the impact of special teams and how it helped turn that thing around Saturday.
“Yeah, special teams is a huge facet of every game and we want to always make an impact. Our team, we talk about attacking and putting the opponent on their heels in all special teams categories. I think we were able to have an impact. It’s funny, because to everyone else it’s like ‘Oh, what tremendous game’ and then to me it’s like we left so much out there. We can get a lot better and make more impact plays on teams, and we’re working at that and working to build off of the game to do some more stuff. Yeah, we felt good and felt that we were able to contribute. That’s all we want to do is get out there and if the team needs a big-time special teams play, we want to be able to make it and switch the momentum.”
With the punt game and the amount of kicks you guys are effecting, are you doing something different schematically or is that just having the right guys in the right places?
“You know, it’s a lot of different things right. What I’m going to say is that the kids have bought in, they’re going hard, they’re understanding it, they love it, they take pride in it, and we’re doing whatever we see to try to effect it. We got a weapon back there, so it’s kind of fun calling that game because you kind of can do some different things and try to figure out what they’re trying to do. And then these guys have really bought into it. It’s cool.”
Jabrill being in the back gives you more options with the other ten guys on the field?
“Oh, absolutely, yeah. I mean, it’s a matter of are they coming with a block, are they coming with a hold up, are they coming with a block and a hold up, are they setting a wall—it’s just different things in different areas of the field what we’re able to do. He makes us more dynamic, I think, as any returner does.”
[After THE JUMP: why teams might still kick to Jabrill, more on the linebackers, fixing field goal issues, and how many plays Jabrill would play if he had his way]
About Last Week:
Life comes at you fast.
The Road Ahead:
Penn State (2-1, 0-0 B1G)
Last week: Beat Temple, 34-27
Recap: Everyone joked all off-season about Penn State getting a shot at a revenge game against Temple. Based on their reaction to beating a mediocre Temple team by a touchdown, Penn Staters didn’t seem to understand that we were doing so in a mocking sense. Then again, this shouldn’t be terribly surprising. After all, self-awareness has never been their strong suit.
Flowers, signs and balloons outside the stadium by where the Paterno statue was. pic.twitter.com/tMNYihUUSC
— Eric Adelson (@eric_adelson) September 17, 2016
This tidbit didn't make it into my Paterno column. Someone thought quoting MLK would a good idea on this billboard? pic.twitter.com/CahyEqlNkG
— Juliet Macur (@JulietMacur) September 17, 2016
From a football standpoint, Penn State had a mediocre day, largely because of the fact that the entire team exploded. Saquon Barkley missed much of the game with an ankle injury. Nyeem Wartman-White busted up his knee early, and will miss the rest of the season. This is on top of the fact that Jason Cabinba and Brandon Bell both missed the game with injuries, and their status going forward is unknown. The offensive line remains healthy, but continue to be not good (they were held to 3.1 yards per carry, though they did not surrender a sack).
This team is as frightening as: A team that has incurred the wrath of an angry Olmec deity by holding a ceremony to honor that deity’s nemesis, and the angry deity for some reason doesn’t buy the argument that “we weren’t honoring Xtapolapocetl, we were honoring all of the people who PLAYED for Xtapolapocetl.” Fear Level = 4
Michigan should worry about: Getting too close to Penn State whilst said Olmec deity is exacting his revenge.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Penn State is 9 of 33 on third down, which is 117th in the country. Michigan’s defense has allowed conversions on 4 of 38 third downs, best in the country.
When they play Michigan: Burn it all.
This week: at Michigan, 3:30 p.m., ABC (Michigan -19(!))
[AFTER THE JUMP: Several movie references that date me]