12 October 2006

Michigan vs. Penn State

For most of this week, I have felt the same way as I did in the week leading up to the Ohio State game. I knew the opponent was a better team, and while I tried to come up with all the reasons why Penn State might win, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. And so I expected since last Saturday to be writing today about how I think Penn State will fight to the end, but it just wouldn't be enough.

Hold the presses, I'm changing my mind.

Perhaps I've been drinking too much of the blue Kool-Aid, but I think Penn State can pull this one off.

Realistically the Ohio State game was close. The offenses scored 14 and 6 points, respectively. The game was close until the last 2-3 minutes, and was much closer than the final score.

At Ohio State, everything was stacked against the Lions, not the least of which was playing an away game at the Horseshoe. On Saturday night, that advantage should be turned around as the Wolverines come into Beaver Stadium. The white-out will be in full effect, and the fans will be going nuts. If Beaver Stadium could intimidate Ohio State last year, it can surely intimidate Michigan this year (and despite the "Big House" being just slightly larger than Beaver Stadium, its fans do not have nearly the reputation for noise as we do). So home field advantage plays in favor of the Nittany Lions. This could be crucial.

On offense, Penn State is third in yards per game (406.7) while Michigan is eighth at 383.0. On the ground, the teams are evenly matched in yards per game while Penn State owns a slight advantage in passing yards. Personnel-wise, Michigan running back Mike Hart gets more attention, but Tony Hunt is just as good and less injury-prone then Hart. Michigan's only significant advantage is scoring: the Wolverines are putting up 33.5 points per game while Penn State's red zone woes have led to only 25.8 points per game.

On defense, Michigan is first against the run while Penn State is second, not too far behind. Against the pass, Penn State is seventh and Michigan is tenth. No real advantage here for either team. In scoring, the Wolverines again have a slight advantage, giving up 14.2 points per game while the Nittany Lions are giving up 20.3 points per game.

With the exception of scoring (no doubt due to Penn State's red zone problems), neither team has a sizable statistical advantage. Both teams have top running backs, but both teams are also very strong against the run. We can expect both defenses to stack up against the run and force the quarterback to pass. In this case, Michigan is at a disadvantage without top wideout Mario Manningham (24 receptions, 524 yards, 22.0 yard average, and 9 touchdowns). Michigan quarterback Chad Henne will have to rely on Steve Breaston (unproductive so far at only 9.7 yards per catch) and Adrian Arrington. Anthony Morelli will need solid games from everyone: Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood, and Derrick Williams. Assuming Michgan's corners try to take away the wideouts, Andrew Quarless or whomever else plays tight end will need to come up with a few catches as well.

This game will come down to which team can run the ball better against a superior run defense, and after that, who can find the wideouts to make the big plays. This could easily be another one of those games that comes down to a few plays on either side. Special teams could also be huge. Penn State can move the ball, and they don't need to be spectacular in the red zone, just good enough.

On Saturday, I think Penn State will ride Tony Hunt as far as he can take them (a 5th straight 100-yard game?), and the coaches will expect a solid if unspectacular performance from quarterback Anthony Morelli to complement the run game. On defense, Penn State will play to stuff the run and force Chad Henne to find receivers downfield. He'll need Breaston and Arrington to carry the load. If Penn State can take away one or both of these guys, the Wolverines will be in for a long night. The loss of Manningham will definitely hurt.

JoePa said in his weekly press conference that the crowd can't win the game for Penn State, but having been in Beaver Stadium for last year's Ohio State game, I beg to differ. The crowd could easily cost Michigan a few timeouts or a delay of game or false start penalty. In game this close, that could be enough to tip the scales. I'm calling for the upset this week: Penn State 20, Michigan 17.
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