I’m trying to dash this off early this week because I’m going to have some eye issues addressed tomorrow* and God knows when I’ll be able to see well enough to write again. (Yeah, I have faith in modern medical science, but I’m always the curmudgeonly cynic, ain’t I.) This post is the preview and prediction for the Michigan vs. Penn State game, but allow me some geezerly digressions as I express the same frustration I posted on Facebook on Monday, to wit:
Getting old ain’t easy but I still have the fortitude to surmount geriatric challenges as they present themselves. I just wish to hell that they didn’t present themselves so friggin’ frequently. Not yet ready for the scrap heap.
So, today, I go for my flu shot. Way back when, you would have asked me if I saw my doctor, but now you know better. Obviously, I went to the supermarket for the shot. Where else would you go? Oh, yeah, the mega-drug store. Same thing.
OK, so the CDC recommends high-dose vaccine for geezers like me. Last year, the I’m-from-the-government-and-I’m-here-to-help-you contingent from Medicare (sometimes known as CMS) wouldn’t pay for the high-dose immunization, so I paid $60. This year, I was prepared to pay $60, so they covered the whole thing. Government at its finest! The right hand has no idea what the left hand is doing, and if the left hand gets out of hand, the right hand will slap it silly.
Before I got the flu shot, I was at the gym, where I routinely go in hopes of proving to myself that I’m still alive.
But I digress. I always digress. Yet another sign of old age.
The formerly mighty but still favored Michigan Wolverines (2-4. 0-2 Big Ten) host the formerly mighty but long disrespected Penn State Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-1) at the insane asylum known as The Big House on Saturday night at 7 pm ET. In this battle of former titans, anything goes, especially my mind. Both teams are coming off heartbreaking losses. Michigan sucked against Rutgers last week, losing 26-24, while Penn State had a bye week after a malodorous 29-6 Homecoming loss to Northwestern. I know, right? Yep, always make sure to pick a cupcake for Homecoming.
Penn State seemed to have a little trouble generating offense against the swarming Wildcat defense. The Schadenfreude Squad who take comfort in the misfortunes of others (just in case you didn’t know what schadenfreude meant) will be quick to add that the mighty Wisconsin Badgers bowed to the ‘Cats, too, in spite of a 250-yard day for Melvin Gordon. Yeah, the once suspect NWU defense is starting to look pretty good against the pass, picking off three in that game against the Badgers. But just because Northwestern is better than we thought — or they woke up, which is sort of what it seems like — doesn’t mean that PSU will run the table from here on. Far from it.
So, What’s Up This Week?
But back to this week’s upcoming game, you’re looking at two teams that are probably as bad as they’re ever going to get, which is both good news and bad news.
For Michigan Man Brady Hoke (MMBH), all seems lost. It ain’t a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, so Hoke is free to do just about anything he wants at this point — except possibly putting concussed sophomore quarterback Shane Morris (who is from Western Pennsylvania, by the way) on the field.
In last week’s losing effort against Rutgers, MMBH showed some different offensive looks featuring once deposed senior quarterback Michigan Man Devin Gardner, who finished 13-22 for 178 yards and ran for two touchdowns. He was intercepted once. His performance was eclipsed by that of our old friend Gary “Turn” Nova, who had a 22-39, 404 yard day, with three touchdowns and none of his signature interceptions. Michigan’s star wide receiver Devin Funchess had five catches for 71 yards.
Michigan’s offense looked pretty anemic in the Rutgers game, converting on only four of 11 third-down opportunities. Their rushing production was 156 yards, 40 of which was gained by Gardner, and the balance split between sophomores Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith. Sadly, the talented Green was injured and will be out for the season, adding to the anemia. Ya don’t like to see it…
But the fact remains that in terms of total offense, even with Green’s contribution, the Wolverines rank dead last in the Big Ten.
The offensive line at Big Blue isn’t much better than the much maligned (by me) Penn State offensive line. With respect to pass protection, they’ve allowed an average of 2.17 sacks through six games versus Penn State’s abysmal 2.80 through five games. Michigan’s rushing offense ranks 55th nationally, and we don’t want to talk about where Penn State falls in that stat category. “Fall” is an appropriate word. Think way down.
Defensively, Michigan is horrible against the pass, which should afford Christian Hackenberg an opportunity to shine. Good old Michigan ranks 12th in the conference in pass defense, topping only Purdue and Indiana. By way of comparison, Northwestern ranks third and PSU ranks seventh. In fact, in most defensive categories, Michigan ranks in the bottom quartile in the Big Ten.
What Penn State needs to do is Be Prepared like good Boy Scouts and unlike their posture going into the Northwestern game. The offensive line isn’t going to get any better — let’s face it — so the rest of the season will be spent working around their inadequacies, perhaps simplifying blocking schemata to accommodate their lack of physical and mental talent. Eventually, enough beatings being piled on their young quarterback will take their toll. Already, we’re seeing Hack getting gunshy, making errant throws and committing the dreaded “mental errors”. (He is just a sophomore, you know. Bla bla bla.) Accordingly, the emphasis needs to be on protecting Hackenberg first. But that would require a lot more braininess and a lot less cuteness from the Nittany Lions’ offensive brain trust.
So look, hotshot, what do I need to do to convince you that this team is not capable of playing at the top tier Big Ten level? Even if you had spotted Northwestern those two first quarter touchdowns, they still would have won 15-6. Half that margin arose out of Hack’s pick-six interception. Boil that out of the equation and they’re still down 8-6. Get the picture? PSU players were at each others’ throats, heads were hanging on the sideline, the offense was completely out of sync, and let’s not even talk about special teams. What I’m saying is that defense alone isn’t going to win this game, even against Michigan’s anemic offense. The coaches and the players must get their act together!
Penn State fans have a history borne of pride in defense that always emerges when the chips are down. “The Big D will save our ass!” “The defense must score points!” They tend to associate this defense with real Penn State defenses back in the Bruce Clark and Matt Millen days. This defense is not going to save our ass and score points. One non-gift interception all year says that. Oh, yeah, they’re pretty good at plugging up the middle against the run, but they’re still and always mediocre against the pass. This is college football in 2014, not 1979. The secondary has to show me something against the pass in order for me to recognize them as a solid defense and they really haven’t. Just sayin.’
It will certainly help if the attitudes are kept in check — right, William Earl Belton? Heads in the game, men! Belton, you ain’t so perfect yourself! If this doesn’t come up in a coaching session, then the coaches have their heads up their asses, too.
Here’s a side bet. Will the jerseys have names on them — or not? Are the nameless jerseys to be considered “throwback” equipment?
Regardless of whether Funchess is completely healthy or not, Devin Gardner presents special problems to the defense just because of his foot speed and his penchant for the run. In last year’s triple overtime Ineptitude Bowl, Gardner had 24 carries for 121 yards rushing, which turned out to be 36 more yards for himself than were gained by the entire Penn State rushing offense. As well, he had a pretty good day passing, with 15 completed out of 28 for 240 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Penn State is going to have to try to run on Michigan. It just won’t cut it to have Hackenberg throwing 45 passes and getting three picked off. Crappy offensive line or not, the offense must be more balanced to beat Michigan.
Special teams for Penn State need work. They don’t get kickoffs deep enough, the punting game sucks, the return game bites the big one, and now, the Fickeroo has had two field goals blocked. I wonder whether the workouts during the bye week will help much.
With all that having been said, I’m looking for a game similar to last year’s game, a game that will live in infamy, only with less scoring on both sides. Some of you will think that our wonderful defense can contain Gardner, but I cannot make that assumption. Some of you will think that Hackenberg will play the perfect game. Again, I am not comfortable making that assumption. I see a sloppy game, with perhaps three turnovers per side. Stupid penalties, poor clock management, and poor game preparation might well spell badness for Penn State.
The weather looks good — mid 50s and sunny on Saturday in Ann Arbor. This is the weather AA native K. John ordered for his pilgrimmage, and it should not affect either team’s already crappy play.
I already mentioned that MMBH and his boys have seemingly little to play for, although they might vie for Toilet Bowl eligibility. Somehow, a trip to Kohler, Wisconsin or even better, Detroit, doesn’t seem like much of an incentive to grind out a win. Michigan is in the midst of a distracting coaching controversy, with MMBH’s job probably out the window sooner than later. Meanwhile, James Franklin, whose job is secure for now, had to take special care to massage the fragile egos of his young team after the Northwestern loss. They’ll surely make it to the Toilet Bowl (at least), but week-to-week motivation is a difficult proposition, especially when they’re surrounded by 110,000 screaming maizeniacs.
This week’s distinguished alumnus is Dr. Gregory House, who earned his M.D. at University of Michigan Medical School. House was a fictional character, the starring role in an eponymously named Fox Network television show. He was born on June 11, 1959 or May 15, 1959, because apparently the continuity people didn’t catch the dual birth dates. His father was a Marine Corps aviator who was stationed in many different bases. Thus, it was natural that House developed a linguistic ability that included Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Hindi, and Mandarin, much to the chagrin of the not so subtly planted foreigners talking for-eeen in his presence who appeared at various times throughout the continuing saga of House.
House had an aneurysm in his leg that caused partial paralysis and much pain, which led him to become a druggie.
He was pretty much a pissant, curmudgeon, cynic, and misanthrope, but man, could he ever diagnose! He would usually get it wrong two or three times, though, before finally having one of his epiphanies, usually bringing back a patient from the brink of death, which would have been caused by one of his earlier treatments. This always happened just in the nick of time, four minutes before the end of the time slot.
House’s boss, the hospital administrator and sometimes love interest affectionately known as Cuddy, was also a Michigan alumna. She did her pre-med there.
I miss the crusty old fart. The series ended in 2011.
Official Turkey Poop Prediction, Already!
So, now, it’s time to pick one of these two former titans to win the game. Our Panel of Experts consensus pick is UM, with only two dissenters. Here, then, is my Official Turkey Poop Prediction for the 2014 edition of the Penn State vs. Michigan game. At the time of this writing, Michigan is favored by one measly point, with an over/under of 41. No respect from the gamblers, man! This suggests a final score of 21-20 with UM on the winning end. I don’t think either side’s offense is very good, and I feel the same about the defenses. Michigan’s defense is a complete mess, though. So I’ll give our boys a few more points than the gamblers want to. Still, I’m pretty confident that unless Michigan catches PSU sleeping in the first quarter like Northwestern did, it’ll be a close game. So, without further ado, Michigan 24, Penn State 23. Take the over.
Elsewhere around the Big Ten
Illinois will be smashed by pissed-off Wisconsin in Madison. Melvin will have a 300-yard day. Iowa should handle Indiana at home. Northwestern is still not getting any respect, as Minnesota is favored by four at home. I expect an upset there, as Northwestern’s magical romp continues. And, finally, Moo U. in a laugher over Purdue. Starters rested in the second half with 56 points already on the board for MSU. And that’s the whole Big Ten Schedule this Saturday. Everyone else is off.
I’ll be back soon if my eyes still work.
*Just in case fellow PSU bloggist and ophthalmologist Todd is reading this, I’m getting a retinal angiogram due to some spotty vision loss in my left eye, which has long had a crappy retina replete with lattice degeneration and one repaired tear. It’s kind of the ophthalmic equivalent of the Penn State offensive line.