Saturday’s game will be the 13th meeting between Penn State and Michigan’s football teams; Michigan owns the series, with a 9-3 record. The visiting #10 Nittany Lions (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) are presently 3-point favorites over the unranked Wolverines (1-2, 0-0 Big Ten) on their home turf. The o/u is 48.5. This Turkey thinks that the bookies have missed the boat on this one.
Before we get to the prediction, let’s look at where we are and where they are. The Nittany Lions are essentially untested, though they gave us some clues last weekend. While there has been progress in some areas, Austin Scott’s two lost fumbles were a significant step backward, as was the vaunted defense giving up 24 points.
Meanwhile, Michigan exorcised their early season demons with a cathartic, 38-0 victory over inconsequential Notre Dame. While anyone at all could beat Notre Dame this year, the game gave us a glimpse of what Penn State will have to deal with: 1) Mike Hart, 2) a depleted, but still serviceable defense, and 3) Michigan homeboy officials.
The main danger for the Nittany Lions is shooting themselves in the foot. However, there is no reason to think that the game plan will not be conducive to a foot shooting. Paterno has always played it conservatively on the road, both offensively and defensively. We can look forward to a slow, methodical offensive start and if we should happen to get a lead at some point, a “play not to lose” mentality. This is a foot shot, as far as this Turkey is concerned.
Why? Appalachian State and Oregon came out shooting and exposed Michigan’s Achilles heel. Penn State predictably will come out with runs up the gut, which the Wolverine defense will be well equipped to handle. This strategy wasn’t successful against the first three opponents early in the game, so why would it work against our first legitimate opponent? Far be it from Joe to take a chance early in a game. As a result, Michigan will jump out to an early lead. Then, playing catch-up, Joe will open things up. Playing under the gun, the opportunity for screw-ups is greater, and the play becomes more predictable. Yet, we see this pattern year in and year out, ad nauseam.
Our inept offensive line will put its weaknesses on full display before the 108,000 fans in the Big House. Expect to see UM linebacker Shawn Crable playing in the Lions’ backfield. Michigan will want to deny Morelli the deep opportunities provided by his talented receivers, and the best way to handle the immobile Morelli is to put pressure on him. Five sacks might sound like a lot, but I believe they’ll happen.
Meanwhile, our defensive plan is predictable: try to shut down Mike Hart, daring freshman QB Ryan Mallett to throw. It won’t work. They might shut down Mike Hart in the first half, at the expense of a fatigued defense in the second half. After all, we’re sporting the #1 defense against the run, with an average of 17.67 yards per game—against three of the worst rushing offenses in the Division Formerly Known as I-A. (Buffalo actually ranks #88, as opposed to #1o5 and #119 for FIU and Notre Dame, respectively.) Meanwhile, loading up eight in the box to stop Hart will open up opportunities for talented receivers Adrian Arrington and Mario Manningham—no matter whether they are being thrown to by Mallett or Henne. Make no mistake: Mike Hart will soften any defense he runs against.
Our pass defense troubles me. It is ranked #47 against our first three opponents. Buffalo was able to move the ball down the field pretty easily with the pass. They wound up with nearly 400 yards. Buffalo. We keep playing that Jerry Sandusky soft zone, BBDB, prevent crap. Our corners play well off receivers. While the freshman Michigan quarterback might soften the impact of our suspect pass defense, I’m still worried.
In order to even keep this game close, the Nittany Lions need to take care of the ball. Goes without saying, I suppose, but I said it anyway. Furthermore, our defense needs to force some turnovers themselves. I’m sick and tired of counting on the defense to win games for us because our marginal offense can’t put enough points on the board itself, but it’s a fact of life for the new millennium Nittany Lions.
In order to win this game, the offense needs to be flawless and, furthermore, it needs to take some risks. Playing from a hole will be disastrous. The desperate times calls for desperate measures style of offense will fail against quality opposition. So, taking the lead early is essential.
Unfortunately, Paterno is pretty stubborn. I’ll challenge Joe to surprise my ass and prove me wrong. I just see the same old conservative game plan and our inept offensive line losing this game for us.
And so, we come to the Official Turkey Poop Prediction for this week. Remember, I challenged Paterno to prove me wrong. If he does rise to the challenge, I deserve to go down in flames for doubting him. If he sticks with the conservative game plan I expect, you’re looking at Michigan 27, Penn State 16.