Penn State at Michigan 10-24-09

October 24, 2009

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(13) Penn State (6-1) at Michigan (5-2)


Saturday, October 24th, 3:30 p.m. (et)

GAME NOTES: One of the more intriguing matchups in the Big Ten this weekend takes center stage at the Big House in Ann Arbor, as the 13th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions come calling on the Michigan Wolverines.

Joe Paterno has his Lions off to a 6-1 start, and their 2-1 record in conference play has them a half game back of Ohio State and Michigan State for second place. PSU has won three straight since suffering its lone loss of the season, 21-10 at home to Iowa in the conference opener on September 26th. Since that point, Penn State has beaten up on the likes of Illinois (35-17), Eastern Illinois (52-3) and Minnesota (20-0).

Last week’s whitewashing of the Golden Gophers marked the Lions’ first shutout since whipping Temple 31-0 in 2007, and it was the 40th shutout the team has recorded under Paterno.

This game is the first of two straight Penn State will play on the road, and the team closes out the regular season with three of its final five away from home.

Despite a pair of losses here in 2009, the mood in Ann Arbor is much better than it was last year when Michigan suffered through its worst season in recent memory. Coach Rich Rodriguez seems to have his team playing with confidence, and while the overall talent level might not be on par with the top teams in the conference right now, the future looks bright.

The Wolverines opened the campaign with four consecutive victories, but heartbreaking losses to Michigan State (26-20 in OT) and Iowa (30-28) brought the team back down to Earth. Fortunately, there’s nothing like hosting an obviously inferior opponent and that’s exactly what was on tap for the Maize and Blue last weekend as FCS foe Delaware State came to town. Michigan scored early and often en route to a resounding 63-6 victory, giving the squad some momentum as it stares down the barrel of a remaining schedule that not only includes Penn State, but also Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Michigan owns a 10-4 series advantage over Penn State, but it was the Nittany Lions who prevailed in the most recent meeting, ripping the Wolverines in Happy Valley last season, 46-17.

The Penn State offense prides itself on putting forth a balance attack, boasting two of the better performers at their respective positions in the Big Ten in QB Daryll Clark and RB Evan Royster. Clark is the only signal-caller in the conference ranked in the top four of the three major statistical categories — pass efficiency (second, 144.3 rating), passing yardage (third, 236.3 ypg), total offense (253.3 ypg). Clark’s 13 TD passes are second in the league. As for Royster, he averages 5.8 ypc in amassing 641 yards and four TDs this season. Penn State is 9-0 when Royster rushes for at least 100 yards.

Last week against Minnesota, Clark threw for 287 yards and a TD, while Royster rushed for 137 yards on 23 carries. WR Derek Moye had a terrific game as well, hauling in a career-high six balls for 120 yards and a score. The Lions finished with 464 total yards, picked up 21 first downs and they did not commit a single turnover. The offensive line did a tremendous job of opening holes in the run game, and posted its third straight game without allowing a sack.

Paterno like the sustained drives his offense had in the win but stopped short of heaping praise on the unit, “We did move the ball well, I think that was obvious, but we didn’t do a particularly good job in the red zone. We came away with a couple of field goals, and then we missed another one. I think the penalties hurt us, I think a couple of dropped passes hurt us. I don’t think we played a really sharp game offensively. We played hard and made plays when we had to make them.”

Moye leads the PSU receiving corps this season with 27 grabs for 472 yards and four TDs, and three others have at least 21 catches and five combined scores. Paterno was complimentary of Moye and the progress he has seen from him. “He was a heck of a high school player and he played well last year. We had high hopes for him and he’s done well. Once in a while he gets a little careless and takes his eye off the football and wants to run with it, but each week he gets better, he blocks well. He’s a big man. He’s a good, tough kid and he’s got the making of a real good one.”

Penn State allowed Minnesota just seven first downs, 37 rushing yards and 138 total yards in what was another dominant defensive performance. The PSU defense has not allowed a first-half TD this season, and only five TDs overall. The Nittany Lions have held five of their first seven opponents to seven points or less, the first time that has happened since the 1973 team did the same to six of its initial seven foes.

The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten and are ranked in the top-15 nationally in every major defensive statistical category, including scoring defense (8.7 ppg), rushing defense (75.4 ypg), passing defense (163.4 ypg) and total defense (238.9 ypg). They have a logged a league-best 59 TFLs, which includes 21 sacks.

Josh Hull has been all over the field thus far for the PSU defense, making 69 tackles, which is 35 more than his closest teammate. Hull is tied with A.J. Wallace for the team lead in INTs with two. Up front, Jared Odrick and Jack Crawford have combined for 17.5 TFLs, 9.5 of which have been sacks.

Michigan uses a bruising rushing attack to generate 235 ypg, and the team has scored 21 TDs to date via the run. As for the pass, it accounts for 191.6 ypg and 11 scores.

The Wolverines blasted visiting Delaware State last weekend, 63-6, setting a new school record by churning out 727 yards of total offense (461 rushing, 266 passing). Michigan scored on seven of its first eight possessions in jumping out to a 49-3 halftime advantage, and it tallied 442 yards in the first half alone. Vincent Smith led the UM rushing attack with 166 yards and a TD, while Michael Cox finished with 82 yards and two scores. In all, five different players ran for a TD. Michigan QBs, four in all, completed 15-of-18 passes with two scores.

Rodriguez was happy his team was able to dictate the tempo against DSU, “It really went the way we wanted it to as far as getting the first units a couple reps and getting a nice lead out there. Then we were able to get some of those young guys to play.”

And he stated the following when asked about resuming Big Ten play this week against Penn State, “It’s wide open. Obviously, we stubbed our toe twice. We’re behind it so we got to try and catch up. All we’re going to do is try and get better, not just weekly but every day. If we do that, we will be okay.”

The team’s starter under center is freshman Tate Forcier, and the youngster has been solid for the most part, hitting 57.9 percent of his passes for an average of 146.7 ypg with nine TDs and four INTs. Carlos Brown, Brandon Minor and Denard Robinson are the team’s primary ball carriers, combining for 883 yards and 12 TDs. Martavious Odoms leads all UM pass catchers with 19 grabs for 238 yards and a TD.

Michigan is yielding 21.9 points and 363.3 total yards per game, figures that don’t exactly raise the concern level for most of the better teams in the Big Ten, of which Penn State is certainly one. Despite allowing an average of 233 passing ypg, only six TDs have come by way of the air. Foes have found little success on third down, converting a mere 35 percent of the time. The Wolverines have just 10 sacks and 11 turnovers to their credit through seven games, demonstrating a glaring lack of big-play ability. Still, with guys like Obi Ezeh (55 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, two PBUs, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery), Donovan Warren (35 tackles, seven PBUs, three INTs) and Brandon Graham (30 tackles, 12 TFLs, five sacks) lining up on this side of the ball, there is the potential for the UM defense to come up with enough stops to keep the team in most games.

The Wolverines held Delaware State to 216 total yards, of which only 65 came on the ground. The Hornets earned just 11 first downs, converting a mere 1- of-15 third down tries. Michigan did not come up with a turnover in the lopsided affair, and JB Fitzgerald led the team with five tackles, while Graham added a pair of sacks.

Penn State is the better team, but Michigan is a tough out at home. Expect a physical game, and for the Nittany Lions to prevail on the strength of some timely plays on offense and another outstanding defensive performance.

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