Michigan Football: Michigan at Penn State — A First Look
Good Luck Picking the Winner
A First Look at the Michigan/Penn State Game
It is not yet Halloween, but the road Big Ten opener for Michigan could be wild, exciting, boring, well played, or plagued with bad play and turnovers. Both teams are probably better than the mainstream casual observer gives credit. But both teams have been up and down, and as such remain unpredictable. Michigan barely escaped UConn and Akron, and Penn State lost to Central Florida, a decent team, and got cranked on the road at Indiana.
Playing on the road in the Big Ten may be tough because there is some degree of parity that gives the home team an advantage. Penn State just kinda had things go bad last week. Indiana’s offense will smoke a team if it can take advantage of match-ups.
Some of the self-informed are upset about Hoke’s road record and have concluded that he cannot prepare a team for road games. There is very little difference in the Sunday through Thursday preparation, home or away. Crowd noise may be accounted for, but football is football. Teams travel and have a walk-through to try and become familiar with the new environment. Michigan has only a few squad members who have played in Happy Valley.The self-informed have also made the conclusion that Penn State stinks. This is a very faulty finding. Penn State still has enough force on both lines to hang in a game against good teams. Penn State has two of the best skilled players in the Big Ten in freshman Christian Hackenberg and senior wide receiver Allen Robinson from Orchard Lake St. Mary.
Yes, Hackenberg is a freshman but his elbow position and release are super. If he has time and can read the defense, Hackenberg can hurt any team. His offensive line is good enough to produce some running yardage. And so, Penn State has enjoyed a balanced and productive offense so far this year. The key is to get him off balance and guessing, which means rush the passer, a Michigan weakness.
Robinson is among the elite in the Big Ten Conference, perhaps the best at his position. If Michigan employs the same schemes as previously, look out he will cause big damage. Michigan may go into the game thinking the strategy is to give him yards but not points. Robinson is big, and like Funchess is a match-up problem, anywhere, including the end zone.
Penn State will try the damaged Michigan middle and if successful will continue without restrain. But sooner or later the play action pass will come into play. If Hackenberg has no pressure, then Michigan is in deep trouble. Against Minnesota practically no pressure was applied until near game’s end. Jake Ryan may be used for a select few plays when Michigan will obviously bring the hammer.
Further compounding Coach Mattison’s potential problems is the concern of Penn State running the power play through the C gap. Michigan’s defensive ends have been turned and rolled out of the play all too frequently.
Collectively, all of the above means that Penn State’s offense has a good chance of controlling the game clock like Minnesota did last weekend. And that is not good.
Penn State is a somewhat strange place to play. The stadium has been added on to several times and as such the term hodge-podge fits Beaver Stadium. It is indeed an unfriendly place and players must resist the temptation to get a little shook. The students bouncing on the aluminum seats is a bit scary, so is the noise this produces.Coach Bill O’Brien won several coach of the year awards last year, and deservedly so. He has put some rather blind faith in Penn State and could have easily slipped out of town. The players are absorbing the call to loyalty. He is one of the best offensive minds around. Like Michigan, Penn State has some talent but things do not always go the intended way.
What will Michigan do on offense? Most prognosticators suspect the Wolverines may choose one if by land. But even with the slight improvement against Minnesota in the run game, the land route may not be the best course. Penn State has been vulnerable against teams that can pass protect and spot the ball.
Turning to the broken record department, Michigan’s success is firmly in the hands of one Devin Gardner. That is the way it will be from now until the last whistle. Penn State is a place where teams can lose poise and become unhinged. Even if Michigan has played poorly for extended streaks, the team has yet to become unhinged.
Make no mistake, Saturday at Penn State is a real challenge, and a Michigan win will need smart, mistake-free football combined with actual results from both sides of the ball. It would be difficult to state which side of the ball may present more difficulty. Maybe things will go right and the answer is neither.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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