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PS I LOVE U – Penn State Preview

October 12, 2013

Penn State Image    vs       Block M Michigan

2013 marks the 20th Anniversary of Penn State joining the Big Ten Conference and will be the 17th meeting between Michigan and the Nittany Lions.  Michigan holds a 10-6 advantage in the series which looked a lot more impressive prior to 2008 and three straight losses for Michigan.  Prior to that, Michigan’s dominance of Penn State was impressive, winning 9 in a row from 1997 – 2007 and 10 of 13 overall.  Even John Cooper wondered why JoePa couldn’t beat Michigan.  What has made the series even more fun is the way Michigan has beaten Penn State.  From crushing last minute wins and overtime victories to unexpected blowouts between highly ranked teams, to come from behind victories, Michigan has managed to ruin many a weekend in Happy Valley.

I’ll get to the preview in a moment, but in honor of the Nittany Lions 20th Anniversary in the Big Ten, I wanted to share my Top 5 games between Michigan and Penn State.

1993 – In the first matchup ever, a 3-2 Michigan squad welcomed an unbeaten a 7th ranked Penn State to the Big Ten with a late goal line stand and an 8 point victory in Happy Valley.   JoePa probably should’ve realized right then that this Michigan game was going to be a problem.

1999 – A Michigan team led by a guy named Tom Brady scored two 4th quarter touchdown to erase a 27-17 deficit and hand 6th ranked Penn State its 2nd loss of the season.   Don’t feel too bad Penn State – that Michigan team was 9 points from going unbeaten and playing for the national championship.

1998 – A top 10 ranked Penn State team came to Ann Arbor to avenge a 26 point loss in 1997, and was promptly shut out by a stingy Michigan defense in a 27-0 shellacking.   I distinctly remember being shocked myself by our domination.   This game was so embarrassing, Penn State has scrubbed the internet of all video evidence (they are good at that sort of thing apparently). 

2005 – An average Michigan team (3-3) went blow for blow with an undefeated Penn State team and looked like they were going to suffer their 4th loss after giving up a late touchdown.  Then this happened:

“Touchdown Manningham” is still one of my favorite calls.  Especially since it kept PSU from an unbeaten season and playing for the national title.

1997 – This game, hailed as part of “Judgment Day” on ABC pitted unbeaten and #4 ranked Michigan against unbeaten and #2 ranked Penn State.  The only problem is that Penn State never got the memo about this being a clash of titans.  Glen Steele sacked PSU QB on the first series and Michigan never looked back, throttling PSU 34-8.  This game vaulted Michigan into #1 in both the polls, a position they held until the coaches gave Tom Osborne a retirement present.

Ahh….good times.  Given what the last two years have brought to Happy Valley, last second losses and 20+ point losses look a lot better than what they’ve dealt with, including last week’s loss to Big Ten bottom feeder Indiana.  

Which brings us to Saturday’s game – the 17th meeting between these two schools.  Penn State comes in limping off of the aforementioned loss to Indiana.  With just a 3-2 record and the signature win coming over Syracuse by 6 points, Penn State is starting to feel some of the crunch of the scholarship limitations implemented by the NCAA.    Michigan on the other hand comes in at 5-0 with a solid 29 point win over Minnesota to counterbalance the lackluster wins over UConn and Akron earlier in the year.  

Matchups to Watch Out For

Devin Gardner vs. Hostile Road Environment

Outside of the Horseshoe in Columbus, there is probably no venue more difficult for an opposing quarterback in the Big Ten than Happy Valley.  Throw in a presumed “white out”, a late start, and this being the best home game for Penn State this year and you can expect a well lubricated and rowdy Penn State crowd.  Gardner has struggled on the road at times and still hasn’t seemed to have found his mojo since the 2nd half of the Notre Dame game.  A multiple turnover game by him is Penn State’s best chance to stay with Michigan and win this game.  As I noted in this week’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – Michigan doesn’t need Gardner to be spectacular to win most games, he just needs to be efficient and error free.  This is one of those games.  If he can get comfortable early, I like Michigan’s chances. 

Freshman QB vs. Greg Mattison

Penn State starts a true freshman – Christian Hackenberg – at quarterback.  Hackenberg has an excellent arm and hasn’t looked to bad for a freshman – but he is still a freshman.  Like Gardner, it will be interesting to see how he handles the big game environment.  I expect Mattison to continue his strategy of forcing a young QB to be successful over and over again on short plays in order to create points and it will be interesting to see if Hackenberg is up to the challenge.  That being said, as we’re almost halfway through the season and the defense seems to be finding its way, don’t be surprised if Mattison throws a wrinkle or two in that confuses the young QB and creates some turnovers or sacks.  

Allen Robinson vs. Michigan Secondary

If there is one elite player for Penn State at any position, its wide receiver Allen Robinson, who is on pace for a ridiculous 91 catches and 1500 yards receiving through the first 5 games.  Robinson has great speed and is Hackenberg’s favorite target by a long shot.  If Michigan gives up a big play, in all likelihood it will be to Robinson.  Michigan can’t let him get behind them or they’ll never catch him. 

Jake Ryan vs. The Bench

As of Friday afternoon it was announced that Jake Ryan will travel to State College and will dress for the game.  How much he will be used remains to be seen, but if Michigan is willing to use up one of the very limited travel spots on him, my guess is he’ll see the field – perhaps even a decent amount.  It will be interesting to see how much Michigan uses him, and when they do how they use him.  Michigan needs a game changer in the front 7 and Ryan is clearly that guy.  If he’s even close to 80% recovered from his torn ACL, he could be the difference maker that allows Michigan to go from a very good defense to championship caliber.   I’m looking forward to seeing what he adds. 

Three Useless Predictions

  1. Fitz Toussaint has a good game, but we walk away from this game talking about another back.  I think this is the week that Derrick Green finally gets going.  It won’t be a breakout performance, but it will remind folks why he was a 5 star coming out of high school in the first half. 
  2. Devin Gardner will revert to his old self in both a good and bad way this week.  The turnover streak gets started anew unfortunately, but I also think we’ll see Gardner with a little more swagger which results in some bigger runs and some “did you see that?” plays. 
  3. Jake Ryan sees more of the field than most expect, and ends up with at least 1 tackle for a loss. 

Game Prediction 

If you couldn’t tell from above, playing a late game against Penn State in Happy Valley always makes me nervous.  They have one of the best home field advantages in the country.  That being said, this team is not that good and will need a couple of big plays and big errors from Michigan to pull this out.  

I think Michigan’s run defense will slow down Penn State’s rushing attack forcing true frosh Hackenberg to throw the ball a lot.  Unless you’ve got Chad Henne throwing to Braylon Edwards, that rarely works out well for the team with the freshman quarterback.  The other thing we haven’t even mentioned is Michigan’s nightmare matchup – the Funchise Devin Funchess.  Last week we saw how tough he was at wide receiver, and though Penn State has tape on that now, I think Michigan keeps going to it until an opponent knows how to stop it. I don’t think Penn State is that opponent.  

So to recap – I’m predicting a big game from Gardner and Funchess, but with a couple of “oh no” moments from Gardner thrown in.  I also think our defense continues to slowly strangle opposing offenses.  If this were a home game, I think Michigan wins by 20 points easily.  It’s not though, which means a Michigan victory that may even look comfortable by the end, but will also look uncomfortable at times. 

Michigan 28

Penn State 17 

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