Nittany Lion Preview – Game 8, 2009 – at Michigan


#13 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS at MICHIGAN WOLVERINES: 5-2 (1-2), tied for seventh in the Big Ten.

ALL TIME SERIES NOTES: In these two teams’ previous 14 meetings, Michigan has won 10 of them including nine of the last ten. Michigan’s one loss in that stretch was the 46-17 loss last year at Penn State, the biggest loss be either team in the history of the series.

PREVIEW: Since joining the Big Ten, no single team has been a bigger burden on Penn State than the Wolverines. After winning three of the first four meetings, including a 31-24 thriller in 1994 that vaulted them to the top ranking in the nation, Penn State has dropped every game except for last year’s contest. Furthermore, Penn State has not won in Michigan Stadium since 1996, a span stretching five games. This series has also been memorable for close games with bad officiating (from this point of view), including the 2002 three-point overtime loss/Tony Johnson foot in/out of bounds game and the 2005 two-second game, the only one the Nittany Lions would lose that year.

LAST WEEK: Michigan crushed FCS opponent Delaware State 63-3 while Penn State shutout Minnesota 20-0 in the aftermath of a freak October snowstorm that made gameday in Happy Valley a surreal experience.

GETTING TO KNOW THE WOLVERINES: After a disastrous 2008 season which saw Michigan set a school record for losses, head coach Rich Rodriguez appears to have the Wolverines turning the corner in his second year. Michigan began the season 4-0, including a thrilling victory against Notre Dame in the second week of the season. Since beating Indiana in week four, Michigan has lost two of three games. Both of those games were away from Ann Arbor, at Iowa in primetime and in East Lansing against rival Michigan State.

STATISTICAL MATCHUPS: A comparison between the Lions and the Wolverines (national rankings in parenthesis)…

  • Penn State’s Passing Offense vs. Michigan’s Passing Defense
  • Penn State, 245.7  ypg (37th); Michigan, 232.9 ypg (80th)
  • Penn State’s Rushing Offense vs. Michigan’s Rushing Defense
  • Penn State, 187.0 ypg (25th); Michigan, 130.4 ypg (58th)
  • Penn State’s Scoring Offense vs. Michigan’s Scoring Defense
  • Penn State, 29.6 ppg (42nd); Michigan, 21.9 ppg (46th)
  • Penn State’s Passing Defense vs. Minnesota’s Passing Offense
  • Penn State, 163.4 ypg (14th); Michigan, 191.6 ypg (86th)
  • Penn State’s Rushing Defense vs. Michigan’s Rushing Offense
  • Penn State, 75.4 ypg (6th); Michigan, 235.0 ypg (8th)
  • Penn State’s Scoring Defense vs. Michigan’s Scoring Offense
  • Penn State, 8.7 ppg (2nd); Michigan, 37.3 ppg (9th)
  • Turnover Margin (per game)
  • Penn State, -.14 (t-67th); Michigan, -.43 (88th)

OFFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Quarterback Tate Forcier is fourth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, but has struggled over his last five games. Two weeks ago against Iowa, Forcier suffered a concussion and played just one series in last weeks woodshedding of Delaware State. The Wolverines are a very balanced team running the ball, as they have three players with over 40 carries. The rushing attack is led by Carlos Brown (44 carries for 336 yards and 3 TD’s) and Brandon Minor (57 carries for 274 yards and 4 TD’s), but also features back-up quarterback Denard Robinson, who has carried the ball 47 times for 273 yards and five scores. The Wolverines ground attack is second to none in the Big Ten (Penn State is next closest with 48 less yards per game), and has accounted for 55% of their total yards this season. Doing the receiving for Michigan has primarily been Martavious Odoms, who has 19 receptions for 238 yards and one score.

DEFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Obi Ezeh leads Michigan in tackles with 55 from his linebacking position. While the Wolverines have improved from 2008 defensively, they are neither strong against the run or the pass, ranking in the middle of the pack against the run and slightly below average against the pass. In the secondary, keep an eye out for Donovan Warren, who is second in the conference in pass breakups and tied for second with three interceptions.

WHO NEEDS TO STEP UP; MICHIGAN: To take pressure off of a below average secondary, Michigan has to be good against the rush on first and second downs. Being ranked seventh in the conference against the run and eighth in the pass means Michigan will likely need turnovers to help them stay in the game, so we’re going to key on Warren when Clark is throwing the ball and defensive end Brandon Graham when the Lions choose to run. If Graham can play in the backfield for a god part of the day, Penn State’s offense might be neutralized.

On offense, the key player has to be Forcier, who was great against Notre Dame in leading the Wolverines to victory. Penn State will not hold this team down rushing, but The Lions are the best defense that Michigan has faced to date, especially against the run. Forcier must make throws and use his mobility to extend plays and find open receivers.

WHO NEEDS TO STEP UP; PENN STATE: In Penn State’s first true road test of the season, it is unquestionable that the Lions need quarterback Daryll Clark to have a good day. He should be able to find some holes in Michigan’s secondary and on those occasions, receivers need to be hit. Also, don’t forget that Clark has legs, which he can use to run; hopefully we see some of that Saturday.

Defensively for Penn State, Josh Hull, Navarro Bowman and Sean Lee (who is expected to play) all need to have good games against the Wolverines zone-read offense.


  • Penn State: RB Stephfon Green (ankle, out), RB Brent Carter (knee, possible)

WEATHER FORECAST: Coludy with a very slight chance of rain, highs in the low 50’s


  • Daryll Clark can become Penn State’s second starting quarterback in school history to beat Michigan twice; the other was Wally Richardson who also beat the Wolverines as a fifth year senior, like Clark is this season.
  • Penn State will be visiting Michigan Stadium for the first time since press box renovations were done over the off season. Word from Ann Arbor is that it is much louder on the playing surface now, and sound is something that Penn State has not had to deal with all season.
  • Penn State has scored first, led at halftime and after the third quarter in all seven of their games so far this season. The defense has not allowed a first half touchdown this season.

POINTS OF VIEW: A look at what some of our fellow Penn State and Michigan bloggers are saying…

The 22,000+ is fired up about this week and also is looking forward to Ohio State Hate Week, which starts in (count ’em) nine days here on Against the Spread

Maize and Brew, a pretty good Michigan blog, has a very nice look at coach Joe Paterno; for a Michigan fan.

Zombie Nation; comprehensive, as always

AROUND THE BIG TEN: At noon, the Hoosiers travel to Northwestern to face the Wildcats, Ohio State looks to rebound from last week’s disastrous loss when they host Minnesota and Purdue looks to effectively end Illinois’ season by beating them in West Lafayette. The conference winds down play with a big game in East Lansing as Michigan State hosts seventh-ranked Iowa at 7:00pm; Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has never won at Michigan State. Wisconsin is idle this week.

AROUND THE NATION: Only one game of national interest pits ranked teams against one another this week, but quite a few ranked teams should get stern tests from unranked opponents. The biggest game kicking off at noon will be played in Charlottesville as 11th-ranked Georgia Tech will take on Virginia, who is undefeated so far in the ACC despite losing their season opener to FCS William & Mary. At 3:30, 12th-ranked Oregon will visit Seattle to play Washington, who has already upset USC earlier this season on the same field. Penn State fans should watch both of these games keenly as both the Yellow Jackets and Ducks sit above the Nittany Lions in the polls. The day’s premiere game kicks at 7:30 when TCU and BYU square off in Provo, Utah. This match-up of non-BCS conference schools pits the 10th and 16th-ranked teams against one another and the loser will be eliminated from the conversation when it comes to the BCS.


CURRENT PREDICTION: Before we made our pre-season prediction, we didn’t think that the Wolverines would be as good as they were in the first two weeks of the season. After an impressive win over Notre Dame, everyone was on the Michigan train buzzing about freshman quarterback Tate Forcier and his ability to run the offense. Since that game, he has gone just 45/87 (51.7%) for 608 yards, 4 touchdowns, three interceptions and one concussion, and his team has gone just 3-2 and sits in the lower half of the Big Ten. So where’s the beef, what was all the hub-ub about? I’m not going to go as far as saying same-new Michigan because they are better than last year, but how much remains to be seen. My problems with national media and overexcitement will be detailed in a post further down the line, we don’t have time for it right now.

My biggest fear for this game is that Michigan and head coach Rich Rodriguez decide to let loose and play the style of ball that he employed at West Virginia by utilizing backup quarterback Denard Robinson. When in the game, Robinson has showed explosive flashes and can make plays with his feet more so than his arm (see the horrible interception late in the Iowa game). With a big game, on national TV, with every other Big Ten team watching, in the same stadium in which you have owned Penn State for years now, it seems like it’s the perfect storm for Michigan to use the Nittany Lions as an example; to set a tone for years to come. The only question is can Michigan’s offensive front be as physical as Penn State’s defense. Last year in Happy Valley the answer was a resound no. I’ve never been in any stadium that was as frenzied as Beaver Stadium was last year in the middle of that game. Penn State was in the backfield on every play and the score went from 17-7 Michigan to a Penn State blowout in what seemed to be 10 minutes. So far this year, nether unit has seen one like the other, and whichever one adjusts quickest and makes the proper adjustments will control this game. Like I said above, Michigan is better, but they’re not the whole way back just yet.

That point is what makes me lean towards Penn State in this one; I truly think that they have an advantage when it comes to coaching and overall skill and that will be the difference in this game. Penn State wins this game by the same score we predicted in August, 27-13.

We’ll be back on Monday with a review of the action, in a post that will kick off a busy week at AtS; we’re Phillies fans too.


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