Ladies and gentlemen, preview Wednesday has returned to us after what seemed like the longest bye week in the history of the sport.
This last Monday's press conference has revealed that we will be rewarded with our patience by the return of some previously injured players.
Denard Robinson will be back and healthy, and Mike Martin, David Molk and Mike Shaw "should be good" according to coach Rich Rodriguez.
Fitzgerald Toussaint is still iffy. The trainers say he should be ready to go, but we probably won't see much of him still. It will depend on how the other RBs practice this week.
[UPDATE: Fitz has been ruled out for the Penn State game as of 9AM CST. No news on whether it's a more major health concern, precautionary, or otherwise.]
There's been talk of Devin Gardner (back) possibly applying for a medical redshirt. I know a lot of people were hoping that he would redshirt at the beginning of the season so we could have a redshirt junior Gardner once Denard and Tate Forcier graduate. If Gardner can get that medical redshirt in, that would be just swell.
This week we look ahead to traveling to Happy Valley to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions in a game that has been debated as a must-win for the Wolverines. I tend to lean toward the "must-win" side of the argument because, if nothing else, it would silence most of the 2009 = 2010 talk.
As far as the game being a "can-win" or a "should-win," let's take a look at the matchups.
Michigan Offense vs. Penn State Defense
Penn State's defense was supposed to be a really good unit this year, returning seven starters from a 2009 unit that was a top 25 defense. This year, due to injuries and other unforeseen circumstances, this unit has progressively gotten worse, allowing 33 points and 437 yards of offense at home against Illinois and allowing a terrible Minnesota team to put up 21 points and 433 yards of offense.
There really isn't a common denominator between those two games. In the Illinois game Illinois got 300 of their yards on the ground, while Minnesota did roughly the same through the air.
What does this mean for the Michigan offense? Michigan should really have no problems moving the ball against Penn State. Denard might not put up video game numbers, but if he's 100 percent he should be able to have a good day. This defensive unit is by no means as good as Michigan State's or Iowa's, but I sincerely doubt it's as bad as Indiana's as well.
This is really going to come down to turnovers. The last two games (Iowa and MSU) were decided by the turnover margin. If Michigan can keep from making those kinds of mistakes on offense, Michigan should be able to put points on the board.
Michigan Defense vs. Penn State Offense
Once again we're looking at a Penn State unit that's really underachieved so far this season. Evan Royster isn't living up to expectations, partly due to an offensive line that's been depleted by injury and can't so much as manage to get under a defender's pads.
Robert Bolden has been about what you would expect from a freshman QB, but he might not even be a go for this Saturday's matchup:
"Bolden came out of last week's game at Minnesota midway through the second quarter after being tackled hard by several Gophers. He was tested for concussion symptoms Sunday, [Joe] Paterno said, and 'still had some memory problems.' He is scheduled for further testing Wednesday.
"'If I had to make a guess, I’d guess he’s not gonna make it,' Paterno said. "But that does not mean that I know what I’m talking about.'"
Taking that into consideration, Michigan could be going up against Kevin Newsome, who is 10-of-22 for 134 yards in his career. Michigan has been able to create some takeaways against inexperienced QBs this season (think Notre Dame) and may be able to capitalize against Penn State here.
I'm not ready to say that Michigan's defense has improved, but the unit definitely looked better against Iowa and allowed under 400 yards of offense for just the third time this season, the other two times being against UConn (3-4) and Bowling Green (1-7).
Kenny Demens may be the answer for Michigan at MLB. He came on the field and made almost an immediate impact on the running game. I'll reserve further judgment until I get more information.
While the Michigan defense is in the bottom half of the league in points allowed (80th), the Penn State offense is even worse in points scored (99th) and falls in the bottom half of the league in passing offense and rushing offense. If Michigan can generate a few stops on defense, that might be all the team needs to seal the game.
Advantage: Maybe slightly Michigan
STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL!!
That is all.
Advantage: Penn State.
This should be a winnable game for the Wolverines, but as I cautioned in my previous article, don't pencil in a W just yet. Michigan needs to come out and own a game not against Bowling Green before fans can start writing certain teams off.
Penn State has more experience on its side of the ball, and Joe Paterno has forgotten more about football than I will ever know, but if I were forced to attempt to predict the future, I would say Michigan wins this one.
Three predictions that might make me look stupid Sunday
- Kenny Demens makes an impact on the running game again but is found to be less than useless in pass protection, just like every other Michigan defender.
- Michigan wins the turnover battle.
- Denard gets Denarded and goes off for 430 yards of offense by himself, causing me to refer to him as "Denard!" in my next article.