#2 Nittany Lions Host #19 Michigan in Whited Out St. Joe
The biggest home game of the year has lost a little luster since Big Blue got beat by Big Moo, but it’s still going to be a spectacle to behold. College Football GameDay will be in Happy Valley all day in anticipation of the showdown starting at 7:30 pm, when our #2 Penn State Nittany Lions (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) hosts the #19 Michigan Wolverines (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten), in an officially declared White Out at St. Joe Memorial Stadium at Beaver. Penn State has had a bye week to rest up for Michigan, who most recently pulled out an overtime win over Indiana, 27-20, after the Hoosiers tied the game with a last second field goal in regulation time.
Why in the hell couldn’t this be the homecoming game for Penn State? Like, the weather is still potentially good in mid-October, but on Veteran’s Day, it’s pretty much guaranteed to suuuuuuuuuuuck, as will the game against Rutgers. Perhaps the homecoming committee or whoever the hell decides these things figured that the only way to fill the stadium for Rutgers was to suck in returning alumni. But I digress.
As y’all know (I get to say y’all because I’ve lived in the South for 40 years, even though I’m from Pittsburgh, where we say yinz — which is how it is typically spelled, but really pronounced closer to yunz) — wait! where was I? Oh yeah, as yunz know, the Nittany Lions got sucked up into the #2 vacuum created when Clemson was given the old heave-ho by Syracuse on Friday night. As far as the polls are concerned, ranking who comes after Alabama is pretty unscientific. Whoever was last ranked highest gets sucked up when someone previously above them is downgraded by a loss. I tell ya, these polls ain’t got no respect — in both the AP poll and the coaches poll, Alabama got all the first place votes. The rest are tacitly deemed to be pretenders.
OMG, OMG! Don’t Mention 1999!
Moreover, the #2 ranking has been rather ephemeral this year. With Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC) securely holding the top spot, Penn State will have the biggest target on its back as #2, the highest ranking held by the Lions since 1999. Remember 1999? I’m sure you’d rather forget it. The Golden Gophers were 5-3 when they ruined #2 Penn State’s homecoming and St. Joe’s 400th game with a 24-23 victory, which triggered a slide directly into: [cue cello and turn on reverb to emphasize stentorian intonation] THE DARK YEARS. I hope to hell that #2 doesn’t make these guys so cocky that they repeat that episode. Still, the target is right there on the back of those Nike jerseys and everyone will be shooting at it. Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Clemson all held #2 but only briefly before meeting their demise. Let us pray that #2 is not equally evanescent for the Nittany Lions. The next three games are — without the merest shadow of a doubt — the key to making that #2 ranking stick around for a while.
Of course, once the CFP starts ranking teams after Week 9, things can get shuffled around quite a bit, and the Vacuum Theory no longer applies. But I won’t count those chickens before they hatch.
Back to Michigan, Already, Willya?
The Wolverines damn near choked against Indiana (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten) last week. Michigan’s offense couldn’t come up with the points to put Indiana away, even when the defense gave them two interceptions. Senior second-string QB John O’Korn improved on his shitty performance against Moo U., but still was only 10-20 for 58 yards. It is pretty safe to say that Michigan won’t be bringing much of a passing game to town. However, junior RB Karan Higdon racked up 200 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, averaging 8 yards per carry, a career day for K-Hig. This, however, was against the Indiana defense. In contrast, he was only good for 65 yards against Moo U, an average of 5.4 ypc.
The Michigan offensive line is probably a little better than Penn State’s, but not by a helluva lot. According to Jim Harbaugh, “They aren’t where we want to be quite yet.”
So, you might conclude that Michigan is pretty poor in passing and not too bad at running. You’d be correct, Milord. The conference rankings reflect that as well. Michigan is ranked #4 in rushing offense and #11 in passing offense. Their third down production is the second worst in the conference (Maryland is the worst), but their fourth down production is tops — 5-5 for 100%. It is clear that Michigan makes its mark with defense and special teams, which we’ll address forthwith, while schtruggling on offense. Hey, I’m done with the offense (or lack of same).
The bright spot for Michigan is defense, where the Wolverines lead the conference in total defense, allowing an average of 223.8 yards per game. They’re second in rushing defense (85.8 ypg) and tops in passing defense (138 ypg). In scoring defense, they rank third, at 14.7 points per game. Finally, they’re second in sacks, averaging 3.3 per game.
Michigan has held opponents to 12.2 first downs per game and allowed only a 20.5% third down conversion rate, both good for #1 by far in both conference categories and #2 and #1, respectively, in all of the FBS.
Sophomore LB Devin Bush is Michigan’s leading tackler with an average of 8.2 per game. He has six sacks for 40 yards and he has broken up six passes. Senior defensive lineman Chase Winovich has seven sacks for 25 yards, and sophomore defensive back Kaleke Hudson adds another three for 18 yards. Sophomore cornerback Lavert Hill has six break-ups and two interceptions. Junior cornerback Tyree Kinnel intercepted Indiana on the final play of Michigan’s overtime win to seal the victory for Big Blue.
Elsewhere on the D-line, fifth-year senior Maurice Hurst and sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary are monsters.
And while the Wolverines trail the Nittany Lions by a considerable margin, it bears mention that senior linebacker Noah Furbush leads the team in fumble recoveries, with two. Why does it bear mention? Because I like the name Furbush.
Break, But Don’t Bend?
If an opponent can get the ball into Michigan’s red zone, they have a good chance of success, because Michigan ranks only 9th in the Big Ten in red zone defense. Call it the “Break But Don’t Bend” defense. Tough yards between the 20s, but once inside that stripe, you’re in like Flynn.
Sophomore place kicker Quinn Nordin is tied for tops in the Big Ten in field goals with an 87.5% success rate and a long kick of 55 yards. He also leads the conference in scoring, averaging 9.8 points per game. Michigan scores an average of 27.2 ppg, so this guy is responsible for a little better than one-third of the Wolverines’ point production.
Michigan tops the conference in kickoff coverage, just edging out Penn State. But in punting, the Wolverines have been awful, ranking 13th with an average of 36 yards, with a couple of blocks, to boot (no pun intended). Kickoffs good, punts bad. Looks bad, feels good…
They’ve been known to block field goals, so…
This ‘n’ That
(I hate writing “this ‘n’ that”). Michigan was penalized 16 times against the Hoosiers. Oy vey! That set a school record. The crowd noise at the Beave should cause several more for the ‘rines, don’t you think?
Where Are We Going with This?
Yes, friends, this is the start of [blow fanfare] THE TEST. The next three games will surely test the mettle of these Nittany Lions. All three teams have pretty decent defenses, and Ohio State adds offense to the mix. These games will require a complete team effort and decent coaching. One at a time, boys. Don’t be looking past this one to tOSU.
All Too Obvious Keys to the Game
- Defense – Keep the pressure on John O’Korn and make as Michigan one-dimensional as they are. Then, put the clamps on Karan Higdon.
- Takeaways – Keep ’em coming and take care of the ball. John O’Korn threw three interceptions against Moo U., so let’s snag a few.
- Offensive Line – They’re facing the big boys now, and they better come together if Saquon Barkley is going to have any kind of day, and Trace McSorley isn’t going to be running for his life on each offensive play. Pass protection and run blocking, run blocking and pass protection. If Michigan’s defenders are in the PSU backfield continually, this could be a lonnnnnng day for Penn State.
- Field Goal Kicking – Are they warming up Blake Gillikin? If not, then Tyler Davis better sure as hell get his head together and clean up his act.
- Field Position – with Michigan’s crappy punting game, good field position is an attainable advantage. Use it or lose it.
Now, we’re getting into iffy season for weather in Happy Valley. However, fear not! The AccuWeather schmucks are predicting a nice, mostly sunny and warm 70°F day, which will probably drop to about 60° by kickoff time. The weather will benefit both teams equally, but the whited-out St. Joe Memorial Stadium at Beaver crowd will most assuredly benefit [turn on the damn reverb again] YOUR NIT-TANNNNNNY LI-ONNNNNNNNNNNS!!!!
Da Bottom Lyin’
Yeah, well, not actually lyin’ — just bullshitting, as usual. This is a big game — the biggest of the season thus far. How will that #2 target on their backs affect the Nittany Lions? How much will it spur the Wolverines to exceed themselves, particularly offensively? If you ain’t asking these questions, I sure as hell am.
Penn State opened as a 12-point favorite over Michigan, with an over/under of 42. The spread should narrow, as I think there will be a money imbalance at 12. No science there, just a feel for it. If it were to still be 12 at game time, I might be tempted to take Michigan and the points. Just because we usually play this game, the opening betting line suggests a Penn State 27-15 victory, but I think it will be closer than that.
Looking seriously at this game, I was worried about it at one time, and I’m still a little edgy about it because I don’t know how well these guys will handle #2, and I have some serious issues with the offensive line and field goal kicking. I think the O-line will be the crucial factor in this game. They’ll have to improve a lot, though. This is a real defense, for a change.
Official Turkey Poop Prediction
I’m thinking of a number… Well, before Indiana came along with a last-second field goal, the most points Michigan had allowed an opponent to score was 17. In anticipation of all the sacks and the 60-yard rushing game plus at least one pick, I’ve got to say that I hope Mr. Davis can kick that one FG that could make the difference and not botch any PATs, because the Wolverines are going to score enough to make this a worrisome game. Surely, this prolific, juggernautical, quick-strike, offensive lineless Penn State offense can score as many points as Indiana. Lee Corso puts on the lion head: Penn State 20, Michigan 15 (which could be five field goals). Take the under.
I’ll be back sometime after the game with my witticisms, cries of elation or anguish, and other assorted bullshit.