Friday, October 23, 2009

Penn State Preview

Ed. note: Light posting today. This will probably be it, as I drove back to Michigan yesterday to see family and friends who will be in town for the game.

After Michigan's quasi-bye week against Delaware State, they welcome in Penn State, a team that hasn't won in the Big House since 1996 and has endured such atrocities as the one above in recent meetings. (Personal aside: At the time of this game, I was pretty good friends with Alan Branch. He's particularly more soft spoken and gentle than this picture might suggest. He also likes Wu-Tang.)

Let's take a look at some numbers. Mmmmm numbers:

Penn State
14th nationally
163.43 YPG
37th nationally
245.71 YPG
6th nationally
75.43 YPG
25th nationally
187 YPG
2nd nationally
8.71 PPG
42nd nationally
29.57 PPG
80th nationally
232.86 YPG
86th nationally
191.57 YPG
58st nationally
130.43 YPG
8th nationally
235.00 YPG
46th nationally
21.86 PPG
9th nationally
37.29 PPG

So that, uh, doesn't look great. But then again, Penn State has been uniformly ripped for their cupcake scheduling. Delaware State jokes taken in stride, Penn State has played Akron, Syracuse, Temple, and Eastern Illinois. Their conerence slate has been similarly frosting-covered: Illinois and Minnesota (with the exception of the one good team they've played, Iowa, who they lost to in spectacular fashion).

So we shall forget the teams not named Iowa, and look at how Penn State fared against them. Darryl Clark had an exceptionally bad day, throwing three INTs and completing only 12 of his 32 passes. The running game didn't do much better: 109 yards on 33 carries (3.3 YPC). Michigan, by contrast, saw Forcier have his worst day of his career (8/19 with 1 INT) but had a good rushing attack against what was known as a stout, aggressive run defense (195 yards on 45 carries; 4.3 YPC and three TDs). The value you put into shared-opponent comparisons like this one aside, those numbers say something. And given Penn State's weak schedule to date, those national rankings are painfully inflated.

Defensively, Michigan crushed the Iowa run game (2.4 YPC) while Penn State allowed them to put up some decent numbers (4.4 YPC). Passing is a different story, however, as Stanzi had a pretty good day through the air, despite his pick-6--though his numbers are inflated due to MOEAKI!!! With any luck, our shifting secondary will have gotten their act together and won't let up these huge plays against a Penn State team that will be looking to attack the suspect safeties.

So what does it all mean? Well, it means that Penn State is no where near as good as those numbers above say they are. And while Michigan has had a few cupcakes themselves, punctuated by their state spike following the Delaware State game, they haven't benefitted quite as much.

So what does all that mean? It means that these teams are really, pretty evenly matched (I hope), despite Penn State's seemingly huge advantage in sheer statistics. Playing at the Big House is a big difference maker and is a big reason why the line on the game tomorrow is Michigan +4.5 and not, like, +8.

In terms of personnel, Forcier is apparently healthy, Molk is back, and Carlos Brown is healthy and practiced all week. Brandon Minor, however, may not be 100%; a big blow as he was unstoppable against Penn State last year. Apparently, the staff has been giving him limited time all week as he still nurses an ankle injury. I expect him to get limited carries at worst; there's no way Minor sits out the entire game. Expect most carries to be by Brown and Minor, with some Michael Shaw mixed in here and there. And Forcier, now healthy, can hopefully return to the form we saw him in early in the season. His backups are having trouble.

Prediction: Frankly, I don't feel like I know enough about Penn State to have any idea how this game is going to play out. Against their cupcakes and weak Big Ten competition, they've looked dominant. Against Iowa, they looked like a second-tier Big Ten team. This game is going to hinge, like the Iowa game, largely on turnovers. If Michigan doesn't cough the ball up like it's 2008 and Tate has even a moderately effective day, I think Michigan walks away with this one without too much heart ache. But if the passing game has trouble getting going, Minor is injured, 5 turnovers, and the run game struggles against Penn State's linebackers, Michigan is going to get crushed. Unfortunately, I can see either one happening. And since I have no idea which one it's going to be, and I'm a homer and an eternal optimist and the game is at the Big House, I'm going to nudge the victory Michigan's way. Michigan 28-24.


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