Ed-M: Bumped due to info/graphic awesome.
Diarist Note: The Pick-4 contest is up and running at the JCB. We have an assortment of good football and soccer coverage over there to set you up for the weekend. I’ll have weekend picks up later, so you’ll know exactly which teams to fade while I try to gamble my way out last week’s slump.
In a season of transition for both programs, Penn State and Michigan meet in Happy Valley tomorrow night in what could prove to be a signature game for the winner. Neither club has any Big 10 Title aspirations, but critical bowl positioning and perhaps even the inside track to the Gator Bowl, will be on the line when the ball finally kicks off in anger in primetime.
This week’s Big 10 slate is highlighted by the showdown in Iowa City between the Hawkeyes and Spartans, but this contest has implications that loom as large, just in a different venue. What happens to the loser of this game? For Penn State, it means they probably will do no better than a 6-6 record. Or worse. Will the cries for Joe Pa’s head reach the levels of 2003 and 2004 if the Nits revert to their losing ways from the early portion of that decade?
And speaking of cries for heads, how about Rich Rodriguez. There isn't a coach in the country taking more heat for a 5-2 record than Rodriguez, the remaining residue from his 8-16 mark during his first two seasons. A third loss in a row and November might end up being more kind to turkeys than the Wolverines current head coach.
5-2 by year three is just unacceptable, dear.
Everyone here knows all those storylines, so I wont bloviate on and on there. Tomorrow night’s game should be a blast and it will help define what sort of final month either club will have. Here are some of the keys to the game, as I see it through the MGo Over/Under Board. Place your bets accordingly.
First, however, it should be noted that with the conference breaking into two divisions and Michigan and Penn State being seated on different sides, this will be the last PSU/UM in at least a couple of years. Who knows when the Maize and Blue will be back in Happy Valley, so to honor the moment let’s go back in the Way Back Machine, courtesy of Wolverine Historian, and remember the Wolverines' first-ever visit to Beaver Stadium:
Ah, memories. You shall be missed, oh second-largest.
(The picks, after the jump.)
Total Offensive Yards
Line: Michigan –82.5 over Penn State
If you take the chalk, the good news is you get the Michigan offense revved up, ready to go after a week off with a healthy Denard Xavier "Shoelace" Robinson. The bad news is you need the Michigan defense to get enough stops to help the cause.
It’s really a weakness vs weakness pillow fight between the Michigan D and the PSU O. How much of a cripple fight is it on this side of the ball? So much so that some have called the match between the PSU passing offense and UM passing defense as an advantage Michigan. This matchup is similar to the UConn and Notre Dame games, the latter comparison valid more so when Dayne Crist was out of the game with an injury. Michigan’s defense looked more than serviceable in those games and stopped a lot of drives. Matt McGloin might be the worst QB they’ve played all season. That’s got to help.
Meanwhile, I don’t know if Penn State’s defense will have any answers for Michigan. They’re an average running defense and I don’t see how Michigan’s physical offensive line cant help but churn out at least a 200-yard day if they play their A-game. I don’t think the Nits' defense is experienced enough or fast enough in key spots to hold this offense down—at least from a yardage standpoint.
Overall, the Lions have some good looking defensive stats, but a deeper check within those numbers reveals a little bit of fraud within. Those stats lean heavily on shutdown efforts against Youngstown State, Kent State and Temple. In Big 10 play, they’re allowing 406 yards per game. Minnesota and Illinois both gained more than 400 yards against the Nits. There isn't an objective analyst out there who would take those offenses over Michigan. I’m not sure I would take them combined over the Wolverine’s budding machine. Michigan will flirt heavily with 500 yards. Don’t be surprised if they bag beyond that number.
Yes, the Wolverine D has allowed 491 yards in Big 10 play, but these Lions just don’t have the firepower of any of Michigan’s first three league foes. Oh, they’ll do damage, but this might end up being one of the Wolverines' better-looking defensive days, because the Nits lack the blocking to control the line of scrimmage, and I don’t know if this QB can take full advantage of everything the D will give them the way seasoned, talented Big 10 playmakers Chappell, Cousins and Stanzi did. PSU will land some offensive punches, but they just wont be able to keep up. Eventually they fade in the box score to the tune of 505 to 387.
Pick: I think Michigan covers this, fears of the Maize and Blue defense aside.
Time Of Game Evan Royster Breaks PSU All-Time Rushing Record:
Line: Sooner or Later than the End Of The First Quarter
First a key rule in this prop: If Royster doesn’t get the record in this game, all "Later" bets win. But lets face it, barring injury that is not happening.
Royster only needs 31 yards to claim the top spot, a mark he should, at some point at least, climb to in this contest. I wonder how many folks realize that Royster is about to sit atop the prestigious rushing list at Penn State. He’s been around forever, but he’s never been an exciting, must-see talent. Dependable. Reliable. Give him the ball 20 times a game, he’ll gladly run between tackles and into a mass of tacklers. Every seventh carry or so, he’ll break a nice run to spur along a scoring drive. Do this for long enough and you eventually will John Navarre your way into the record books.
Longevity and playing since Day One has put him in position to break this record, but Royster lacks a signature PSU moment on his resume. He’s certainly not a game-changer. And he’s been a non-factor in every important game they’ve played with him as a feature back. While he does have 10 career 100-yard efforts in Big 10 play, he piles up a lot of numbers against the lesser teams. But so do a lot of stat sheet stuffers.
PSU All-Time Leading Rushers, as of 10-29-2010:
He has passed six famous Penn State names on this list already this season, including a pair of the league’s most explosive backs in the last 15 years with Larry Johnson and Curtis Enis. It should only take a handful or more carries to pass top dog Curt Warner.
Now that guy was a stud, one of the first tailback heroes of my childhood growing up as a football fan. Warner was a two-time All American and the best offensive weapon on the 1982 PSU National Championship season. He was rookie of the year for the Seahawks. Injuries from that point on kept his game down, but for a 3-4 year period he was one of the more famous running backs in the country. Royster will be passing a more talented football player on this last step of his historic climb. I don’t think many people would argue that.
Royster’s climb through the record books this season does leave something to be desired. He blew up against Temple, but otherwise has not really had an awesome senior campaign. He hasn’t rushed for more than 62 yards in any other game. After nearly 2,500 yards and back-to-back 1,100-yard or more campaigns the last two years, Royster may not even hit the 800 mark in 2010. Penn State’s whole running game has been hemmed in all season long. He’s going to hit this record almost two full games after initially projected. Frankly, I thought the record wasn’t even going to last that long, so that tells you something about how meh his final year has been looking on the field.
The longer this record stays off the books, the better for Michigan. Royster will get the bulk of the early carries, so keeping him from this record for any extended time tomorrow night means the running game is stalling and McGloin will be in passing situations.
Royster in his career has a decent amount of success against progressively worse Wolverine defenses. He rushed for 174 yards in 2008 and hit 100 yards on the dot last year. But 41 of those yards came on one play. The rest of the day he went for only 59 yards on 19 carries, for just 3.1 yards per carry. So it’s not like Michigan hasn’t contained him. Of course with the various backhanded compliments towards him in the last 300 words or so, instant football karma might bite me in the ass as Royster takes the first pitch wide for a 40-yard gain.
Longest Touchdown Scored:
Line: Over/Under 50.5 Yards
Did somebody say long touchdown run?
This will probably be an actual prop bet for the game tomorrow night. The on-lines I check out don’t release props until gameday. The ones that do will typically have this as a general box score prop.
In Michigan games this season, the Over on this has been the easiest bet on the board, thanks to Michigan's offense and defense both apt to explode from anywhere on the field. It’s happened in five games, with only the opener against UConn and their last contest with Iowa the exceptions. Most books only put props out for games on TV, so you probably couldn’t have cashed in even if you wanted to in the BG and UMass games, so folks who’ve bet this throughout the season when available are likely just 3-2. Not the easiest money in the world, I guess, but its still a profit. And all three winners were tucked away before the first half ended, so I stand by the characterization in that context.
There have been nine total touchdowns of more than 50 yards in Michigan games this season. Frustratingly for Wolverine boosters, its been an almost equal divide between the good guys and bad guys scoring these home runs. I guess it's some comfort that with five 50-yard plus scores that Michigan at least has more.
Let’s compare a little to the past. Perhaps the last great statistically impressive Michigan offense was the John Navarre-led squad of 2003. In that season, there were a total of 10 touchdowns scored of 50-plus yards, but six came from defensive or special team scores. Just four offensive touchdowns through 13 games from this distance: A pair of Navarre to Braylon Edwards long connections, one in the Minnesota game, the other in The Game; an Asad-Khaliq option run for the Gophers a few plays before the Edwards score; and a 73-yard score after a complete coverage breakdown for Ajim Shabaj to help MSU turn an otherwise blowout into a somewhat cosmetically better looking 27-20 loss to Michigan.
All nine scores this season from this long range came on offensive touchdowns, already twice as many as 2003 in nearly half as many game. Last year, there were 13 such scores, and with just one coming from defense or special teams, so we’re a smidge ahead of that pace this season. One difference is Michigan had one less of these offensive scores than their foes a year ago, whereas now they have one more. Progress, babby. Progress.
Or not. The big play worked against Michigan when it failed miserably against the Penn State-Illinois-Purdue triumvirate. The Wolverines were –3 in this department—one for and four against—against those clubs a year ago. With that same trio lined up again for Michigan beginning with the Nits, it’s a little box score factoid to track as these games play out.
We know how Michigan can grab these scores. Denard to the House. Stonum, Roundtree and Hemingway can take any pass for a score from more than half a field if given a chance. Ten guys can out-execute the other team so well that even Vinnie Smith can score from way downtown bang territory.
Dude is so due.
But how about Penn State? One thing they can do is hit a couple big plays a game with their wideouts. They have tall, long-striding flankers that could easily gallop down the field and behind the secondary for a touchdown bomb that even a walk-on can throw. 6-foot, 5-inch Derek Moye has an 80-yard score this year and averages 18.3 yards per catch. This he has been doing against more challenging defenders than J.T., Rogers, and the three freshmen.
While that’s the only score from more than 50 the Lions have scored this year, Ben Brackett and Devon Smith have season-long plays of 48 and 49 yards respectively. They can be long range targets tomorrow as well. A week ago, PSU picked off a deep pass in the endzone, returned it half the field and the Lions scored on a bomb to Moye the next play. That play was only from 49 yards, but I could totally seeing a sequence like that befalling Michigan tomorrow. Whether its from more than 50 or not, who knows? I do know that if this prop is offered, I am grabbing it tomorrow night. There have been 22 of these plays in Michigan’s last 19 games. Welcome to the Richard Rodriguez Era of Michigan football: where literally any play from anywhere can go to the House.
The pick: Pour a drink, enjoy the ride and pray that if this hits its because a guy in a Winged Helmet is going the distance.
Total Rushing Yards
The Line: Silas Redd –15.5 yards vs Stephen Hopkins
An interesting battle of freshmen running backs. And with each of their roles in the offense seemingly on the increase, perhaps an underrated storyline as this contest plays out. Can either of these teams get any shot in the arm from these first-year tailbacks? If so, the one that receives more of a boost could have enough overall to win.
First, the man wearing the boring uniform: Silas Redd was a big-time recruit in the 2010 class. He had an offer from Michigan as well as from Oregon, Stanford, and Boston College, but the Connecticut (figures) back spurned them all in favor of Penn State rather early in the recruiting cycle. He’s a bona fide blue chipper. Rivals ranked him as a 4-star and the 4th best running back in this class behind Marcus Lattimore, Steven Dyer and Lache Seastrunk. We’ve seen what Lattimore and Dyer can do, and we might be learning down the stretch of the season what Redd can do. He’s played in six games, always getting an assortment of carries. He averages 6.1 yards per carry and is coming off season highs of 71 yards and 9 carries a week ago against Minnesota. The Lions rushing attack has lacked an extra gear all season long. Did they find the catalyst for that gear in that effort? Royster is on the brink of an all-time program record, Moye’s catches always seem to go for chunks of yards and Stefon Green’s talent continues to tantalize, but Redd might be this team’s most explosive offensive performer right now. But will he get used enough to showcase that?
In the (other) blue corner, the Wolverine, Stephen Hopkins: a Texas recruit arriving on campus with a bruising back build who quickly carved out a spring football mythology as a Leroy Hoard-clone and possible instant contributor. Given he’s only had 17 carries in just four games, I’d say almost every Michigan fan is surprised by how little we’ve seen of him on the field. Like Redd, Stephen’s coming off his busiest game of the season after his eight-carry effort against Iowa. While Michael Shaw coming back from injury might suggest Hopkins will go back to no carries land, there’s a sense that his effort against the Hawks, combined with Michigan’s erstwhile struggles in third and shorts when using our mighty mites, means that Hopkins's role is only going to increase as autumn carries on.
Or maybe its our imagination yearning for a big back trucking fools in the open field that has us believing that. Unlike Redd, Hopkins was not a notable recruit. He was a three-star, per Rivals, but he failed to crack that service's top-100 list at the running back position. Hopkins, however, doesn’t need to put up blue chip stats to make a difference for Michigan in this offense. He can be a role player that puts Michigan over the top down the stretch this season, while Redd might have to develop into the team’s best player if the Lions want to hit any sort of high water mark like a January bowl.
- UM –82.5 yards
- Later than the end of the first quarter for Royster
- Over 50.5 yards on the longest scoring play
- Redd –15.5 yards.
I want Hopkins to win this, but I dont know if I can trust Rodriguez to not forget about him, and it really seems like Redd, once Royster has his Navarreian record, is on the verge of becoming the Nits' featured back.
As for the game? I love teams coming off at least one loss and bye, and I love teams playing with rest and revenge. I’m taking the Wolverines and laying the 3-points. I think this game plays out exactly like the Notre Dame and Indiana games. Michigan had several chances to put those games away after second-half defensive stops. The same thing happens here, except Michigan puts the game away this time with a score. Michigan goes up 35-21 with a clutch fourth quarter drive to salt the game away. The Lions will score late to cut the margin to a touchdown, but the Wolverines recover an onsides kick with 11 seconds to go to finally clinch the game and bowl eligibility. Book It.