Penn State Nittany Lions-Michigan Wolverines: The 2009 Edition
In order to change course, one must stand in the way of adversity and overcome it by leaps and bounds. This coming Saturday, both Penn State and Michigan have an opportunity to do so at the "Big House."
The Penn State Nittany Lions (6-1, 2-1) enter Ann Arbor slotted at No. 13 in the first release of the Bowl Championship Series rankings. The Michigan Wolverines (5-2, 1-2) are looking to avoid starting 1-3 within the Big Ten for the second consecutive season.
Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions are 1-10 in their last eleven meetings with the Wolverines. Also, Penn State has not won at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor since 1996.
It has been thirteen years since Penn State fans have had a reason to celebrate Penn State traveling up to Michigan.
The only difference now is that Lloyd Carr is no longer head coach of Michigan. Rich Rodriguez is in charge and Nittany Lions' fans can grasp onto the fact that Penn State is undefeated, albeit 1-0, against Rodriguez's Michigan squad.
Plenty of variables will decide this game.
Penn State's offense is anchored by senior quarterback Daryll Clark. Since Penn State's loss to Iowa—where Clark threw three interceptions—he has scored eight total touchdowns and threw just one interception.
Clark will have an opportunity to better his numbers and improve on his reputation when he looks downfield and sees the 80th-ranked pass defense in Michigan. They are allowing 232.9 passing yards per game. To their credit though, they have given up just six touchdowns through the air while tallying seven interceptions.
The key component of the Penn State "Spread HD" offense is the ground attack though. Penn State starting tailback Evan Royster is third in the Big Ten in rushing. In Penn State's last four wins, Royster has averaged 117.4 rushing yards. He just does not have a nose for the end zone, totaling four rushing touchdowns in seven games.
Through seven games a year ago Royster had rushed for nine touchdowns.
Royster is complemented by the speedster Stephfon Green. He has the kind of skill set that many running backs can only dream of having—great vision, world-class speed.
The key for the Penn State offense will be how well its offensive line can hold up against a Michigan defense that can apply adequate pressure on a quarterback. We have already seen Clark get rattled to the point where he is rushing his throws and tosses interceptions.
Michigan's defense has just 10 sacks on the season but do not let those numbers fool you. Defensive end Brandon Graham is hungry and ready to tear into Penn State offensive tackle Dennis Landolt.
Penn State's offensive line sprung a leak early in the season and it cost them versus Iowa but has since been reshuffled. They are 23rd nationally and second in the Big Ten in sacks allowed.
Defensively, Penn State is No. 1 in scoring defense, tied with Florida, and No. 5 in total defense nationally.
They are held down in the middle by senior defensive tackle Jared Odrick. Backing him up are linebackers Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee. Both Bowman and Lee have battled with injuries this season, but are still considered as top linebackers not only in the Big Ten but across the nation as well.
Penn State has eight interceptions on the year but if anyone lets them down, it will be its secondary, provided Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier has time to throw the ball.
The Nittany Lions have allowed just three passing touchdowns through seven outings.
For Michigan, it will all boil down to whether or not quarterback Forcier can keep the Wolverines in the ball game. Michigan is 25th nationally in total offense. They are one dimensional though.
Penn State's defense will key in on the ground attack, led by Forcier and running back Brandon Minor. They will put eight defenders in the box and dare Michigan to beat them passing. Michigan is ranked 85th in the nation in passing.
Forcier is completing 57.9 percent of his passes. He has just four interceptions while reaching pay dirt via the air nine times.
Carlos Brown's health is a major question mark for Michigan. Will he be the same Carlos Brown that we seen before his concussion that sidelined him against Iowa?
Wide receiver Martavious Odoms is the most productive receiver for Michigan. He has been up and down but coach Rodriguez will look for him to exploit the Penn State secondary.
Defensively, we have already seen defensive end Brandon Graham's name get mentioned for Michigan. He leads the defense with 12 tackles for a loss. Linebacker Obi Ezeh will have to have a larger role in the defense.
A lot was expected out of Ezeh this year but he has yet to produce. He has just one game of five solo tackles or more this season.
Junior cornerback Donovan Warren is the star for Michigan's secondary. He has three interceptions, one which was returned for six points.
Other than Warren though, the rest of the secondary is suspect but should match up well against an inexperienced group of Penn State wideouts.
Penn State has converted on 56.7 percent of third downs, which is third best in the nation. Michigan is allowing just a 34.51 percent conversion rate on third down.
The Wolverines are 88th nationally in turnover margin while Penn State sits at 67th.
Michigan has an overwhelming edge on special teams. They average 23.84 yards per kick return while Penn State ranks 119th (out of 120 schools) in the same category.
Penn State is also allowing an average of 22.66 yards per kick return as well.
Both of these schools are at a crossroads.
Michigan is looking to bounce back within the Big Ten and avoid losing their third out of their last four games. Michigan is definitely moving the chains with their rebuilding phase but a win over Penn State will earn them a considerable amount of respect.
Meanwhile, Penn State is digging for respectability as they sit on the outside looking in with the BCS rankings. The Nittany Lions can still salvage their season but they can not take this one for granted.
Also, Penn State wants to win its first game at Michigan since 1996.
The bottom line is that this game will come down to who makes the fewest mistakes. While that line may be overused, it works perfectly with the Penn State-Michigan series.
Penn State passer Clark can not get in a tizzy over the Michigan blitzing scheme.The offensive line must play like they have since the Illinois game.
The Wolverines must keep Penn State's offense off of the field and if they accomplish this, against the fifth best defense in America, they have a good shot at upsetting the Nittany Lions.
Finally, Penn State should squeak out a win in a hard-fought inter-conference battle between rivals as long as the scoreboard operator does not credit the Wolverines with :02 seconds.
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