Why Michigan-Penn State Could Be Closer Than Most Think

Jason BarczyCorrespondent IOctober 17, 2008

Michigan (2-4, 1-1) at No. 3 Penn State (7-0, 3-0)

Kickoff: Saturday, 4:31 pm EDT at Beaver Stadium

Line: Penn State -23


All right, let's get this over with. This game has all the potential in the world to be one of two things.

One would be the worst loss in Michigan history—the more likely outcome—or two, the biggest upset in Penn State history and the most hilarious win in Michigan history.

I happen to think neither will happen and that the game will be a lot closer than most think.

Why do I think that, you ask? Well, my initial thoughts have been wrong each and every time this season thus far, and after thinking most of the week that Penn State would kill Michigan, I figured on going in a different direction.

That, and it seems after reading Penn State message boards and newspapers the Nittany Lions are actually kind of worried about this game.

They seem to think that there has been no drop-off in performance in Ann Arbor and that the Wolverines are still the mighty opponent they're used to losing to.

Oh sure, there are some Nittany Lions fans out there who think Saturday's game will be the beatdown they've been waiting for, but they seem to be in the minority.

With the level of paranoia floating around Happy Valley after nine straight losses to the Wolverines, they might be ripe for the taking.

Remember 2005? Penn State's only loss that season was to Michigan. But the Wolverines had a different talent base then.

Let's break down this year's matchups.


Michigan Pass Offense vs. Penn State Pass Defense

There's still a lot of uncertainty about Steven Threet's "bruised" elbow and whether or not he'll start on Saturday.

Rich Rodriguez said earlier this week that Threet will not play even if the elbow is 80 percent, so it looks like Michigan fans are stuck with Nick Sheridan this week.

I think by this time we all know what the "Human White Flag" is capable of, and going up against the 21st-ranked pass defense does not bode well for Sheridan.

Penn State has given up just four passing touchdowns this season and has 11 interceptions on the season. The Nittany Lions might feast on the 102nd-ranked pass offense of Michigan.

Martavious Odoms should be back this week, so maybe that'll help. Greg Matthews is still capable of catching the deep ball, and Kevin Koger needs to produce a lot this week.

Aaron Maybin has been a force to reckon with this season for Penn State. The sophomore defensive end has nine sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.

It's tough to read who Penn State's best player in the secondary is. They all have at least one interception and five players with four or more pass breakups.

Maybe "Human White Flag" can avoid throwing to Toney Clemons and having balls bounce off his fingertips into Penn State defenders' hands.

I doubt it though.

Penn State's secondary might rack up 14 points themselves off Sheridan passes and contribute to another seven or 10 points for Penn State's offense.

Advantage: Penn State


Michigan Run Offense vs. Penn State Run Defense

All right, I know this will sound absurd, but if Michigan can find a glimmer of success on the ground, this game will be a lot closer than most think it will be.

Sam McGuffie has been without a doubt Michigan's best player on offense this year, and I happen to think he's poised for a huge game.

I'm talking about one of those games where he breaks out for 200 yards of total offense running and catching.

Sure, I know it seems improbable, especially going against the 11th-ranked run defense in the country, but I just have a hunch.

Michigan has the 76th-ranked rushing game and Penn State is giving up just 89.9 yards a game this season.

Advantage: Penn State (by the numbers)


Penn State Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense

Daryll Clark has been a huge surprise this season as the quarterback for Penn State.

He has a 160 passing efficiency rating and has thrown just two interceptions compared to 10 touchdowns. He's completing 64 percent of his passes.

Michigan, on the other hand, is getting torched by MAC quarterbacks. The safeties are the worst I've ever seen, and Donovan Warren has yet to truly have a breakout game like I've expected him to.

Morgan Trent has reverted back to form and can almost be compared to Markus Curry at this point in his career.

Derrick Williams has been all the rage in Happy Valley, but the man to really watch out for is Jordan Norwood, who averages 75.4 yards per game and 18 yards per catch.

If Penn State is going to cover that ginormous spread they have, they will do it through the air.

Advantage: Penn State


Penn State Run Offense vs. Michigan Run Defense

The Nittany Lions are nearly the equivalent of Illinois as far as rushing offenses go, and we all know how that turned out for Michigan.

I think that's what a lot of people are expecting all over again: a repeat of the Illinois disaster in which the Illini put up 191 yards on the ground.

Penn State is averaging 235 yards and has the 12th-ranked rushing attack, while Michigan's supposed strength is their rushing defense (ranked 21st).

But Daryll Clark is no Juice Williams and doesn't take off regularly like Juice does. With Brandon Graham's return, maybe the defensive line can contain Clark and keep him from rolling the pocket.

Terrance Taylor hasn't had a huge day quite yet this season, and Michigan's DTs are known to have huge days against Penn State.

I can remember Alan Branch having a big game in which he knocked out a PSU quarterback, and Gabe Watson had his fair share of success against the Nittany Lions.

Taylor needs one of those days, and he needs it now.

Advantage: Even


Special Teams

I briefly mentioned Derrick Williams when talking about the passing game of Penn State, but he's been more noticed on kick and punt returns this season.

Williams has three returns for touchdowns and is averaging 33 yards on kickoffs.

With Michigan barely getting a chance to kick off this season, that threat could be null and void. Punting, on the other hand, is where Williams might be dangerous

But then comes in the Galactic Emperor himself, Zoltan Mesko. I fully expect Mesko's punts to take Williams right out of the game with a couple 60-plus yard punts.

Advantage: Michigan


Final Thoughts

Penn State is superior in every aspect according to the numbers, and all logic points to a Nittany Lion blowout.

But for some reason they have allowed Michigan to get into their heads.

This is the unknown factor and what might keep the Wolverines in the game: the psyche factor.

Nine straight wins for Michigan in the series have haunted Penn State fans and its players.

The Nittany Lions will still win the game, but their heads are going to prevent them from covering such a huge spread against one of their arch-nemeses.

Prediction: Penn State 24, Michigan 21


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