Michigan-Penn State: Five Key Elements in This Heavyweight Showdown

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Michigan-Penn State: Five Key Elements in This Heavyweight Showdown
(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Michigan has owned this rivalry for a long time, but Penn State has improved recently under Joe Paterno and they should be a top 25 team for years to come.

Last season was a struggle for the maize and blue after jumping out to a 17-14 halftime lead in Happy Valley and Rich Rodriguez and his staff will look to get the second Big 10 win of the season this weekend at home.

Here are five key components that could decide the outcome of the game:


1. Michigan Must Finish the Game Strong

Last season, the Wolverines played admirably against a much more talented Penn State squad on the road and held the advantage at the half.

However, the second half was a much different story and the Nittnay Lions pulled away for the 46-17 rout at home. They shut out Michigan in the second half and poured on the points in the blowout.

Michigan can't let that happen again this year and must play the full 60 minutes if they want to beat a very capable PSU team. It will be much easier playing at home in the Big House, but the defense can't take breaks because Evan Royster and Daryll Clark could make them pay for just one mistake.

Many of the defensive starters played only the first half against Delaware State, if that, and that kind of rest for the Wolverines could give them an advantage heading into the weekend.

I'm almost thinking that it will be better for Michigan, too, if they are down at the half. It'll give them more motivation to come out in the second half and take no prisoners.


2. Pressure against Tate Forcier/Daryll Clark

Both quarterbacks can make things happen with their feet.

Clark has a wealth of experience in big games but Forcier has proven this season that he is no slouch under the gun either.

Iowa has shown in two years that Clark has a tendency to crumble under pressure. Although Michigan doesn't have a defense nearly as good as Iowa's, if they can force Clark into some sacks and mistakes, it would be huge for Rodriguez's team. The defense has steadily improved all season with personnel changes and experience. A good game at this juncture in the season would definitely give a boost for the second half of the season.

It'll be interesting to see if Brandon Graham, Craig Roh, Stevie Brown, and others can get in the face of Clark like Iowa has been able to do. If not, it could be another long day for the Michigan secondary.

I expect Greg Robinson to blitz at the start of the game and try and get in the face of Clark.

On Michigan's side, if Forcier can show the ability to escape like he has all season and get the crowd into the game, Michigan could ride his momentum and Forcier to another victory.


3. Michigan's Success Running the Ball

Brandon Minor looked terrific last year against Penn State, rushing for 117 yards and the lone two touchdowns for the maize and blue.

Michigan will surely look to hand the ball off to him again on Saturday, and with a more balanced attack this season, the Wolverines could control the clock and eventually the game. Minor's ability to run downhill will become important as he wears down Penn State's defense.

Not only that, but they have options to hand the ball off, too. Michael Shaw, Denard Robinson, and others could all get looks and the fresh legs could help wear down the Penn State defense.

Penn State has the best run defense in the Big 10, but it could be a different story, especially with David Molk back on the line for Michigan.

If the Wolverines struggle moving the ball with the rushing attack, Forcier and the offense could sputter, like it did against Michigan State.


4. Turnover Ratio

I've said it before, but Michigan must win this battle. Robinson must hang on to the ball and Michigan must not throw game-ending interceptions like it did against Michigan State and Iowa.

More importantly, the defense needs to make a couple big plays and help assist the offense any way that it can. Pressure on Clark will be key.

Neither team is particularly good when it comes to turnovers as they both have turned the ball over more than they have forced turnovers.

As in so many conference games, the team that wins the turnover battle most likely will win this game.


5. Evan Royster/Time of Possession

Penn State's rushing attack is no slouch either as they have the second-best attack in the conference. Royster is a star and will look to continue his success this season.

If they are able to run the ball and methodically control the clock, the Michigan defense could wear down and Penn State could get up by a couple scores.

Playing at home should help the defense, but Royster is a superior talent.



Expect a shootout. This is the top two scoring teams in the Big 10 and the Wolverines have played very well at home this year. I think Michigan has the advantage at home and will learn from the defensive mistakes made last season. Royster and Clark can keep Penn State in the game, but the edge goes to Michigan.

Michigan 31, Penn State 27

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