Game 6 Preview: Penn State

Penn State Vitals
3-2 overall, 0-1 Big Ten
Head coach: Bill O'Brien
     Career: 11-6 (2nd year)
     at PSU: 11-6 (2nd year)
Offense: Multiple, but spread mostly
     Rush: Zach Zwinak (84-369 yards, 8 TDs)
     Pass: Christian Hackenberg (109-182, 1,367 yards, 8 TDs)
     Rec.: Allen Robinson (38-621 yards, 5 TDs)
Defense: Multiple
     Tackles: Glenn Carson (39 tackles)
     Sacks: DaQuan Jones (2.0-16 yards) and Kyle Baublitz (2.0-8 yards)
     Int.: Five tied with 1

When Michigan has the ball
As most eyes will be on Devin Gardner to see if he can prove himself a worthy QB in a major road test, my eyes will be fixed on the offensive line. Make no mistake, Michigan will try to run the football in this game. And just when you thought it would be absolutely insane for them to call another run play, they'll do it.

And it's not because Penn State has a shutdown defensive backfield...they don' all. I just think at least to start the game, Michigan will put the emphasis on running the ball not only to try to control the game early – but as they did against Minnesota, but also to ease Devin into this game with plenty of handoffs.

This a far cry from what you or I would picture a typical Penn State defense to look like. They still have some great players like defensive linemen DaQuan Jones and CJ Olaniyan. The linebacking unit, always sound at Penn State, is led by senior MLB Glenn Carson. But a lot has changed since the sanctions have taken hold on the PSU program, and it would seem that the defense has taken the initial brunt of the depth issues surely to plague the program as a whole very soon.

This is a Penn State team that just allowed Indiana to hang 44 points on them. Forty-four points to Indiana. The Hoosiers ran 80(!) plays against Penn State and averaged 6.08 yards per play. If Michigan can even sniff that sort of offensive output, then it could be a big night for guys like Fitz Toussaint/Derrick Green, Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon.

Against Minnesota, Michigan showcased an unbalanced line on more than a few occasions, and it resulted in quite a bit of success. The beauty of course being that every time you saw either Lewan or Schofield on the other side of the line, you knew right where the ball was going...and it still worked. I'm sure there are a few wrinkles to that look that Borges would like to add in, but why rush it if it's already working just fine. I'm okay with this.

It might be a little premature to hope that Michigan can be a consistently good offense, even against bad defenses. But it would be nice to see some overall improvement in that department. It all starts up front, of course, and they key to everything is to get the offensive line playing as a unit. Based on what we saw last week, I don't think it will take that long.

When Penn State has the ball
Wide receiver Allen Robinson. Remember that name, because he's the only real threat on the Penn State offense. He's made Christian Hackenberg look like a pretty good QB through the first few games of the season (at times). He's a very good receiver who would easily be a very good receiver on almost any team.

Penn State's spread offense is a high-tempo offense that doesn't like to huddle. They will ultimately default to pass-mode when things get tough and that's when Hackenberg has looked both impressive and very shaky at times.

The ground game? Well, it's been less than effective for much of the season. Zach Zwinak averages 4.4 yards per carry for the season with 8 touchdowns. PSU as a whole though ranks 69th in the nation and 11th in the Big Ten in rushing offense. Translation: Contain Robinson = receive bacon.

The key to the game for the defense is clear: stop Robinson, or—like Indiana—shut down everything else so that any damage he does is offset by turnovers when Hackenberg forces it in there. Preferably, Blake Countess can do a much better job than Indiana's corners against Robinson, and with the way he's jumping routes this year he's going to get a chance or two to come away with an interception.
For Michigan, they must force pressure on Hackenberg. I assume the front 4 will get help from the linebackers, especially if Jake Ryan, or JMFR, makes his return. That could place Beyer back onto the line where a DL pass rush could be improved. The loss of Pipkins to the ACL Michigan hating Gods will be felt, but shouldn't derail the rotation Mattison has going there.

As for the prognosis for Jake Ryan as he reemerges in the Michigan defense...I think it's going to be a multi-week process. We might see him in a handful of plays tomorrow...maybe a series or two per half. Next week against the Hoosiers, we see some more...and then Michigan takes the bye week to assess his situation as they prepare to add him back fully to the game plan for the November stretch.

Relevant links from sites we trust
Wolverine Historian:

Black Shoe Diaries (PSU blog):
By the time kick-off rolls around on Saturday, i will absolutely convince myself Penn State is going to win this ballgame. But my rationality right now says that just isn't going to happen. Michigan has the athletes to really attack this Penn State defense and will find the end zone enough times to lead throughout. Penn State will show some improvement from the dreadful performance against Indiana, but the offense will stall one too many times to leave with a 'W.'

Maize & Brew:
This one lost a bit of luster last week. Penn State had a decent resume built up over the first few weeks of the season. The lone loss to UCF was somewhat explainable because the Knights have looked solid this year (thanks in part to giving Clemson a run), and Penn State had dispatched its lesser opponents with relative ease (gee, wouldn't that be nice). Sure, you could look at Penn State's statistical profile and roll your eyes when you realize who the teams were that Penn State rolled most of those rushing yards up on, but I guess the same can be said of Michigan's struggles with the inept.

Touch the Banner:
Overall, Penn State's opponents have averaged 3.2 yards/carry and scored 6 touchdowns on the ground. Jones in particular will be a load to handle for Michigan's young interior offensive linemen, and Penn State always has some of the most technically sound linebackers in the country. I think Michigan will have to resort to some more designed runs for quarterback Devin Gardner (56 carries, 318 yards, 6 touchdowns) if they want to have regular success on the ground.

Maize & Go Blue:
Defensively, Michigan will focus on stopping Robinson and putting pressure on Hackenberg. Look for a similar defense to what was run against Notre Dame with more pressure. He has a great arm but is not very accurate, especially when facing pressure, and Indiana did a good job last week of keeping him off balance. Robinson will probably get his one big play, but Michigan will force other receivers to step up.

Every once in a while, a game comes along when all of the stars align and Michigan just plays the way you've always wanted them to play. Much like how the Tigers played in their ALCS-clinching game against Oakland last night, when you have all the key players on your team step up at just the right time, it can make you feel invincible. Wouldn't it be so nice to see that happen for Michigan tomorrow? Doesn't this team deserve that feeling?

On paper, Michigan should win this game going away. But there are certain x-factors that will effect the outcome. Can Michigan play mistake-free football? How will Devin perform in a hostile environment? Will the offensive line hold up? And I think most importantly, will Penn State put their ineptitude aside and play well above their pay grade for one game...their biggest game of their season?

Those variables are what's keeping the spread at 2.5 in favor of Michigan. And I think it's probably the right call. Games like this typically come down to things like special teams and turnovers. You just can't predict how the ball is going to bounce, sometimes.

But all things being equal, Michigan should win. They're the better team with better depth and better coaching. But it's Saturday evening in Happy Valley, and that can scare even the most confident Michigan fan. It will be good TV, that's for sure. And should hopefully be an exciting game to watch.

Tweet obnoxiously if...
• The Fitz/Green two-headed monster is eating LBs alive.
• The unbalanced OL is doing things like it did last week resulting in the above.
• The defense is pressuring Hackenberg, resulting in turnovers.
• Special teams big play.

Commence panic if...
• Turnovers.
• Turnovers.
• Turnovers.
• Hackenberg finds a wide open Robinson a lot.

Michigan 27 Penn State 19

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Week 7 Big Ten Power Rankings and Bowl Projections...
Pipkins Out With Torn ACL


  1. If PSU only scored 20 points on IND, what gives you the idea that they can come close to that against UM? Lets face it, IND is as pathetic in the B1G as it gets on D and PSU couldnt put more than 20 on them. I think Countess will minimize Robinson and UM rolls 35-10

  2. Nice post meh, lets watch and see how the game eventually unfolds, your blog reminds me of an equally interesting blog on my reading list .
    keep up the good work.