Michigan - Penn State Preview

MAIZE OUT!

If you're going to the game, wear your maize shirt over your sweatshirt. If it might rain, take 3 dollars to Target and buy a yellow poncho. Seriously people...let's make this maize out thing real!

I don't usually dive into a full-fledged preview of up-coming games. But this week feels like it's worthy of a really good look at the matchups and what I think will be the outcome this Saturday afternoon.

Penn State has lost their last 5 games in Ann Arbor dating back to 1996. Last season, they snapped their 9-game losing streak to Michigan with a 46-17 win in Happy Valley. While Michigan led at halftime 17-7 after an impressive 1st half of pounding the football with RB Brandon Minor. The 2nd half proved to be too much as Penn State rolled offensively while Michigan never got their running game back on track.

This year's game looks to be much closer as Michigan's much improved offense tries to put a dent in the talented Nittany Lion defense.

First, let's look at the biggest matchup of the day:

Michigan Offense vs. PSU Defense
No question, Penn State has a very good defense this season. They rank 5th overall in total defense nationally. They given up an average of 238.86 yards per game through 7 games. Actually, they lead the Big Ten in the following defensive categories: Scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, pass defense and tackles for loss.

Players to watch for are LB Josh Hull who leads the Nittany Lions in tackles this season with 69. Also, LB Sean Lee who's only seen action in 4 games this year due to injury, but is expected to be on the field this weekend. DT Jared Odrick and DE Jack Crawford will keep the OL very busy. Both have spent quite a bit of time in the offensive backfield this season making life miserable for the 6 fluff opponents Penn State has seen so far this year.

The key to this game offensively for Michigan is to do exactly what we did last year in the first half. Establish a running game between the tackles (or outside the tackles for that matter). Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are both supposed to be healthy and ready to go this weekend. And we will need them. Game like this are why these guys are here. We're going to need their size and strength to put some pressure on PSU's front 7.

If we can establish a decent running game, and only if, then we will be able to pass the ball downfield with some success. If we remain one-dimensional throughout the game, then we will have a serious problem moving the ball. Penn State is too good for us to allow them to load up on the pass.

Michigan Defense vs. Penn State Offense:
Here's where things get a little more interesting. Penn State has a couple play makers with QB Darryl Clark and RB Evan Royster. They're not as experienced as they were last year in WR or OL, so that could be an area where Michigan could afford to take some risks. I expect to see a lot of blitzing by Greg Robinson...a lot.

I'm not sold on Darryl Clark's arm right now. Through the first 4 games of the season, he was mediocre at best. Against Iowa he tossed 3 INTs and only 1 TD. Through the last 3 games, he's been much more of a running QB where his stats have greatly improved than over the first 4.

Royster's stats on the ground have also shown improvement since the Iowa loss. Although his TD count is low for a starting RB, his yards per game have been much more solid.

On defense, Michigan must contain Clark and make him try and beat us with his arm. Both Michigan and Penn State know the winner of this game is the one that controls the line of scrimmage.

I'm kinda-sorta more confident that Michigan's secondary is in the best shape it has been all season now that we're healthy and Troy Woolfolk is starting at CB opposite Donovan Warren. I'm a little weary of our safety situation...but hopefully those guys (Williams and Kovacs) will step it up this week. But if the secondary is the unit that breaks down this weekend, it will be because the front 7 didn't do their job.

Intangibles:
Michigan owns Penn State. Okay, yeah we lost pretty badly at their house last year. But if this year has taught us anything, is that last year was soooo last year.

I'm not sure anyone really knows anything about Penn State other than in their one true test...at home at night, they lost to Iowa by 11. When we traveled to Iowa City two weeks later to play under the lights, we only lost by 2. Does it mean anything? Maybe not. You can't really compare teams that way...but that's all we really have to go by with this Penn State team. In their 6 wins, they beat Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Minnesota. Not exactly easy to tell if all these grand assumptions about how awesome Penn State is are fairly accurate or not.

Fun With Stats:
We're 5-0 at home. We average 42.6 points per game at the Big House. We average 30.5 points per game against winning teams. Penn State averages 20.3. Oddly, we average 24 points per game in our 2 losses. Penn State averages just 10 in their one loss.


So...Who Will Win?
I'm going to be so bold in saying that not only do I think Michigan will win, but by how many touchdowns? Am I being a complete homer with that statement? Yes. But I don't really ever say that when I'm previewing a game, especially a game of this magnitude.

I really just feel very confident about this Michigan team right now. I could feel their confidence after the game last week. In the tunnel after the game last week, you could hear players chanting "Beat Penn State!" They're humble, but confident. They feel like they've got a lot to prove to people. This game is another step in moving on from 2008. Penn State handled us last year. In our last 5 games of this season, 4 of them are against teams that beat us last year. Three of those games take place in the Big House.

Redemption is at hand. This Michigan team is hungry. Each player is ready for this game. They don't play for themselves, they play for the guy next to them. Penn State better bring their best game, because Michigan is ready. Forget what you read about Minor or Brown or Molk on the injury report. Those things are meaningless. Nothing will keep those three off the field this weekend.

This is Michigan's game to lose. No one is going to take it from us.

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