A Quick and Uninformed Preview of Michigan v. Penn State University
Ah yes. Penn State weekend. One of three big games circled by everyone in the Big Ten as make or break.
Last year it turned out to be a last gasp at what was possible for Michigan. A kiss before dying a miserable death in the [Bowl Redacted]. A lone triumph which equated to a knock out body on the ugliest girl in town. Taken by itself it was spectacular. As a whole, a crime against nature.
For Penn State it was the opposite. Their loss was merely a mole on a supermodel of a season, capped with an Orange Bowl win on (now hapless) Florida State. While she would've been prettier without it, PSU fans sure as hell wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers.
This year the roles are reversed, though not exactly. Last year, Michigan was an underperforming disaster in spiffy uniforms, while Penn State was a Senior heavy team finally living up to its own expectations. This year Penn State is in the process of reloading after three quarters of its 11-1 squad graduated or left for the NFL and Michigan is being the team its supporters have always thought it could be.
In both cases the higher ranked team is on the road. Last year the home team was unranked Michigan. Michigan was 3-3 and coming off a season saving victory over Michigan State. This year the home team is unranked Penn State. PSU is 4-2 and coming off a controversial-yet-still-a-win-so-get-over-it-already-it-kept-us-from-being-3-3 victory over Minnesota.
At that point the similarities end. Last year's Michigan squad couldn't count on its defense, this year's PSU squad has no idea what its offense will do. Penn State is loaded with underclassmen still finding their footing, where Michigan is full of Sophmores and Juniors who already have two years playing time under their belts. Senior leadership is another issue. On offense PSU has but one senior starter. Michigan, while not top heavy, has a lineup sprinkled with senior leadership on both sides of the ball.
Still this is a scary game for Michigan. This is the type of game Michigan more often than not finds itself in a life and death struggle. A simple thought:
This is going to be an exceedingly difficult game to win for a number a reasons:
1. Student Housing - Things have gotten bad at Penn State recently. Too many students not enough housing. This has forced the administration to cut corners for incoming freshmen.
Students are forced to huddle together for warmth in shabily constructed Coleman Tents. The only thing that seems to keep hope alive is the football team. Students can be heard chanting "We Are" "Penn State" late into the night. The chorus is only interupted by the sounds of sobbing and the groans of the dying. This is not new to Penn State. In fact it's been going on for years. The Administration however has cleverly found a way to deflect the blame for their students' misery, A conspiracy between the Big Ten Referees and Michigan. If not for this secret pentaverite, housing would be available for all. Unfortunately, as winter approaches, conditions quickly turn dire and the army is usually brought in to wipe the Paternoville off the face of the earth.
2. It's Up To Luigi - With Mario out it's up to his pals Luigi, Yoshi, and Toad to save the day. Arrington, Breaston and Matthews will have to come up big for Michigan to win.
3. Beyond Tunderdome - It's gonna be loud in Happy Valley on Saturday Night, and romancing Tina Turner ain't helping us out of there alive. The locals, starved of food and shelter (as discussed above), will be out for blood. The raw meat thrown into the stand will only rile their blood lust. Michigan will have to withstand the chants, the thrown severed heads, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to escape back to Bartertown alive.
Happy Valley during a Noon game in 1980
Michael Jackson's "Bad" Plays On A Enternal Loop
4. Night Is When The Zombies Feed - You knew a BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAINS! joke was coming. Michigan has hired several zombie killing experts to patrol the sidelines should Paterno naw through his chains and attempt chow down on the sweet suculent brains of Michigan's starting players. The fear that their brains may be eaten from their skulls is something Michigan will have to play through.
Those are My Thoughts of Great Importance (TM) regarding the game. Now, on to the preview.
Tony Tone Toni - Anthony Morelli. He has his last name tatooed on his arm in case he forgets it. While he ranks 4th in passing yards he also ranks 8th in QB rating in the conference. His 6 TD/5 INT ratio is another reason for pause. When Tony faced Ohio State I'm fairly certain he made brown in his pants. That's the only way to describe the turd he left on the Ohio Stadium field in tossing 3 INTs, no TDs and going for only 107 passing yards.
Since then he has improved. Morelli is coming off his best game of the year against Minnesota. Against the Gophers' pass defense Tony passed for almost 300 yards and tossed 2 TD's without and INT.
Take the Minnesota game out and Morelli has been underwhelming this year. He has a tendency to throw long looping ducks into heavy traffic. Despite his arm strength, which is on full display for seven yard crossing routes, Morelli tends to underthrow everything past 15 yards. He'll get better at that with time, but right now it's not his strong suit. Tony has the tools to be a good Big Ten QB, but will need and offensive line to be able to do it.
You can't take Morelli lightly because of his talent. However, waves of defenders planting him into the field turff seems to shake him up a tad (not that I enjoy it either). Blitzes and pressure do not bring out his best atributes. Hammer him early and often and the ball will be taken out of his hands by the coaching staff.
The highly unheralded Tony Hunt is the Penn State offenses' main weapon. For all the talk that he's just an undersized fullback he's having a pretty damn good year. Hunt ranks 3rd in the Big Ten in rushing, about 100 yards behind Mike Hart. He's gone over 100 yards each of his last 4 games. On the season he's got 7 rushing TDs and one receiving TD.
Penn State like to try to get the ball in his hands about 30 times a game. He'll average about 25-28 rushes a game and catch 2-3 balls out of the backfield. Like Mike Hart, Hunt is not a burner. His longest run of the season is 34 yards, and it didn't result in a touchdown. One thing Hunt is is consistent. He averages a little over four yards a carry. He hits his holes and doesn't screw around in the backfield. He's a north south guy capable of doing some damage of his own to would be tacklers. At 6'2" 230 you want to hit him before he works up a head of steam. tackles or hits in the backfield will be crucial to stopping him. Basically he's MSU's Jehuu Caulcrick in a Penn State Uniform.
Hunt isn't a home run hitter, but he will wear you down. Stops in the backfield and gang tackles will be required to keep him at bay.
The three headed monster of Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood, and Derrick Williams represent PSU's reeiving corps. Combined they have 4 TDs between them.
Sophomore Deon Butler has emerged as one of Morelli's favorite targets in the last two games. He had a monster game against Northwestern, hauling in 11 catches for 216 yards. He followed it up with 6 more catches against Minnesota. All this after catching 8 total balls in the first 4 games. Another of these super soph's is Jordan Norwood. Norwood has averaged about 70 yards and 6 catches a game. However, his only TD came against Akron. Finally there is the supremely talented Derrick Williams, who, to date, is still looking for his breakout game. Williams hauled in a 56 yarder against Minnesota but prior to that had never broken 30 total yards in a game all year.
Like Morelli, all of these players have the ability to burn you but haven't put it together. In their only game against a legitimate secondary, Penn State was completely shut down. Even though they beat Minnesota, it seemed pretty clear the Gophers had a decent read on how to defend PSU's wide outs, just not the speed. At this point there isn't a "Calvin Johnson" or even a "Quarter of a Calvin Johnson" on the wings. Penn State will have to clear their jams quickly and find the soft spots in the Michigan zone to be effective. All they have to do is look at the game film of Michigan Minnesota for a clue. One caveat. They don't have two 6'5" receivers.
Surprisingly, despite the youth of the Penn State line they have only given up 4 sacks all year. That is impressive until you take a look at who they've played. Akron, Youngstown State, Minnesota and Northwestern do not posess a pass rush. Notre Dame does not either, yet they still got to Morelli once. The only team that Penn State has played with an actual defense is Ohio State. Ohio State spent the second half in Morelli's face, picking him thrice and planting him twice. Pass defense is not their specialty.
The offensive line is showing signs of being a dominant running group. 4 straight 100 games for Hunt, including one of those game against OSU, demostrate that they're getting their collective asses in gear on the ground. Hunt is a between the blockers runner, and for that to happen it requires holes for him to squirt through. The line does look to be healthy, but like all young units they are prone to penalties and missed assignments at crucial times.
Again, this is a good developing group that will be dangerous in a year or two. However, for now, they are still young and prone to mistakes.
The middle of the Penn State d-line has turned out to be its strength. With little pressure coming from the DE's, Ed Johnson and Jay Alford have been wrecking havoc straight up the middle. At this point the front four has 10 sacks on the year, with 7 of them split between Johnson and Alford. Running up the middle on them is tough but doable. Running to the ends however seems to be far simpler. Michigan's Guards will have their hands full as the majority of the pressure will come from the middle of the pocket.
The Linebacking corps is among the best in the Big Ten. Erasing the Notre Dame debacle (where they were exposed in coverage), this group has been excellent so far. they are very difficult to run against and possess better than average speed.
the Corners and Safeties are at best inconsistent. Like the rest of the team, there is considerable talent at the DB/S posititions, it's just still being harness. Minus a blown coverage during Troy Smith's fabled scramble, they played excellent defense against Ohio State's outstanding wideouts. Big wideouts tend to give them trouble. Notre Dame and Minnesota used size to their advantage and pounded the ball at them. This group can be exposed underneath, but due to the fact they'll be in nickle for most of the game, don't expect huge looping bombs like the ones we've seen earlier this year. PSU plays to prevent those things.
It's gonna be a good one.