Saturday, October 11, 2014

Preview: Michigan vs. Penn State

Rush Offense vs. Penn State Rush Defense
The Wolverines are now #57 nationally with 181 yards/game on the ground, and they're #32 in rushing average (5.1 yards/carry). They were unable to find a consistent running game against Rutgers last week, but they did improve as the game went along, particularly behind left guard Graham Glasgow and left tackle Mason Cole. The top rusher is Derrick Green (471 yards, 5.7 yards/carry, 3 touchdowns), who will miss the rest of the year with a broken collarbone. Default starter De'Veon Smith (282 yards, 6 yards/carry, 4 touchdowns) is a somewhat ponderous but hard-running back, and we will probably see more Justice Hayes (5.3 yards/carry, 0 touchdowns) and Drake Johnson (3 carries, 28 yards). Quarterback Devin Gardner had a couple rushing touchdowns last game and is a potential game-changer when scrambling out of the pocket. Meanwhile, Penn State has a stingy run defense and gives up just 60 yards/game, good enough for #2 in the country behind Louisville. Teams average 1.99 yards/carry against them, which is best in the nation. Their leading tackler is middle linebacker Mike Hull with 53 stops, while the next best on the team is strong safety Ryan Keiser with 23. That's a huge dropoff from #1 to #2, so Hull is the main cog in the defense. Ends C.J. Olaniyan (6'3", 252 lbs.) and Deion Barnes (6'4", 255 lbs.) are not big but have a fair amount of talent, and redshirt junior Anthony Zettel (6'4", 274 lbs.) starts at three-tech. The only defensive lineman with impressive size is redshirt sophomore nose tackle Austin Johnson (6'4", 313 lbs.). The loss of Green removes an element of explosiveness from the running game, and an already stingy PSU front will probably feast on an improving but underperforming Michigan line.
Advantage: Penn State

Pass Offense vs. Penn State Pass Defense
Gardner has - finally and mercifully - been named the permanent starter at quarterback. His numbers are not great (63% completions, 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions), but he's the best Michigan has. Top target Devin Funchess (29 catches, 392 yards, 3 touchdowns) looks to be recovering from a high ankle sprain, but he has not scored a touchdown since the season opener against Appalachian State. The other wide receivers are not noteworthy, so it seems like tight ends Jake Butt (7 catches, 96 yards, 1 touchdown) and Khalid Hill (4 catches, 37 yards) will factor in more and more. Slot receiver Dennis Norfleet can't catch the ball downfield, but he's somewhat effective on short passes. Michigan is tied for #92 in sacks allowed, which is not as bad as it could have been following a game against Rutgers. Penn State is #58 in the country in giving up just under 229 yards/game. No opponent has completed even 57% of their passes against the Nittany Lions, and they picked off 5 Gary Nova passes in their contest against Rutgers. Junior cornerback Trevor Williams (6'1", 188 lbs.) and senior safety Adrian Amos (6'0", 209 lbs.) are tied for the team lead with 2 interceptions each, but the team has just 5 return yards on 6 interceptions. The front has accrued 13 sacks, which is tied for #37 in the country, and they're led by Zettel (3.0), Barnes (2.0), and Olaniyan (2.0).
Advantage: Penn State

Rush Defense vs. Penn State Rush Offense
The Wolverines are decent against the rush, ranking #12 at a fraction over 100 yards/game. They're tied for #15 in the country in allowing just 2.93 yards/carry. Linebackers Joe Bolden (48) and Jake Ryan (46) lead the team in tackles by a wide margin. Meanwhile, defensive end Frank Clark (6.5) and Ryan (6.0) lead the squad in tackles for loss. The unit has improved this year, especially on the interior, where defensive tackles Ryan Glasgow and Willie Henry are significantly better than last season. Meanwhile, Penn State is #115 in rushing the ball and averaging 101 yards/game on 3.1 yards/carry. Starting running back Bill Belton (5'11", 204 lbs.) averages 3.9 yards/carry, and bruiser Zach Zwinak (6'1", 233 lbs.) averages 2.8. The only back to reach even 80 yards in a single game was third-stringer Akeel Lynch (6'0", 215 lbs.), and that came against UMass. The offensive line is fairly young with two redshirt juniors (LT Donovan Smith, C Angelo Mangiro), one redshirt sophomore (RG Brian Gaia), and two redshirt freshmen (LG Brendan Mahon, RT Andrew Nelson). This should be Michigan's most advantageous matchup.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Defense vs. Penn State Pass Offense
Michigan's secondary is reeling a little bit after last week's disaster, when they allowed 404 yards to Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova. That performance dropped them to #40 against the pass (215 yards/game) and #82 in passer rating defense. The Wolverines have been banged up in the secondary, including safety Delano Hill, safety Jeremy Clark, and cornerback Jabrill Peppers. Furthermore, Michigan's secondary has created just one turnover, an interception from Jourdan Lewis. Michigan ranks #51 and has 12 sacks on the season, but nobody has stood out as a pass rusher; backup end Taco Charlton leads the team with 2.5 quarterback takedowns. On the flip side, Penn State is tied for #102 in giving up sacks (14 so far). Even so, they are #25 in throwing the ball (307 yards/game), albeit with the #82 passer efficiency rating. Sophomore starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg (6'3", 234 lbs.) is completing just 58% of his passes for 4 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, and he's coming off of a poor performance against Northwestern (48%, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception, 4.8 yards/attempt). The surprise star on offense has been redshirt freshman wideout DaeSean Hamilton (6'1", 203 lbs.), who has three 100+ yard games this season and leads the team with 36 catches. On the opposite side, redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis (6'1", 199 lbs.) averages 17 yards/catch. Tight end Jesse James (6'7", 254 lbs.) could be a matchup problem with his size, but outside of their win against Akron, he has averaged just 9.3 yards/catch with 0 touchdowns. Belton is also someone to watch out of the backfield (14 catches, 129 yards, 1 touchdown). It doesn't make sense to me, but based on what Rutgers did to Michigan, I have to give this category to . . .
Advantage: Penn State

Roster Notes
  • Players recruited by Michigan include S Marcus Allen, DE Deion Barnes, RB Bill Belton, WR Saeed Blacknall, TE Adam Breneman, LB Ben Kline, OT Brendan Mahon, DE C.J. Olaniyan, and DT Anthony Zettel
  • Defensive end Brad Bars is the older brother of Michigan redshirt sophomore OG Blake Bars
  • Players from the state of Michigan include FB Charles Idemudia, DE C.J. Olaniyan, and DT Anthony Zettel
Last Time They Played . . .
  • Devin Gardner ran 24 times 121 yards
  • Fitzgerald Toussaint ran 27 times for 27 yards
  • Devin Funchess caught 37- and 59-yard touchdown passes
  • Brendan Gibbons was 4/7 on field goals, including having one blocked
  • Christian Hackenberg completed 23/44 passes for 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, but he was clutch when throwing to Allen Robinson (5 catches, 84 yards, all seemingly over Channing Stribling) late in the game
  • Bill Belton scored an easy 2-yard touchdown to win the game in four overtimes by a score of 43-40
  • Michigan once again comes out looking somewhat competent on offense
  • Michigan unveils the power read option for the first time this season
  • The Wolverines intercept Hackenberg twice
  • Penn State 24, Michigan 21

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