Michigan has reason to be optimistic in Happy Valley

Ariel Bond/Daily
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Daily Sports Writer
Published October 28, 2010

Nobody knows exactly how Saturday’s game between Michigan and Penn State will shake out, but Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez thinks he knows one thing.

If the matchup came down to him against legendary 83-year-old coach Joe Paterno, well, Rodriguez would have good odds.

“Well, Joe and I aren’t going against each other,” Rodriguez joked Monday. “I might be able to take him if it’s just me and him. But there’s no question — we have such respect, I do, because of what he’s done for the profession.”

Jokes aside, Rodriguez spent much of this past week praising Paterno and his longevity. Paterno has coached the Nittany Lions since 1966, and he holds the FBS record for wins as a head coach.

“What he and (former Florida State coach) Bobby Bowden have done, I don’t think that’ll ever be matched,” Rodriguez said. “Not because somebody’s not smart enough or good enough to do that … but to do it for that long at the same school with that much success, it’s extremely rare.”

But Rodriguez’s respect will take a backseat on Saturday in State College. Rodriguez knows this matchup is critical, particularly since Michigan (1-2 Big Ten, 5-2 overall) is coming off a bye week after two Big Ten losses that knocked the Wolverines out of the Top 25.

Rodriguez said his players haven’t treated Saturday’s game any differently from the first seven of the season.

“We’re going to try as hard as we can every time we play a game — every time,” he said. “It’s not like, 'OK, boy this is an important game, you’re really going to coach harder or play harder this week.' Are you kidding me? They’re keeping score."

A few things will be working in Michigan’s favor heading into Saturday’s game.

The first is Penn State’s quarterback situation. True freshman Rob Bolden, who had started every game this season for the Nittany Lions (1-2 Big Ten, 4-3 overall), left last week’s game with a concussion.

Paterno said he would “go with Mac” on his radio show Thursday night, meaning after a week of uncertainty, he would start former walk-on Matt McGloin on Saturday.

“I don’t think they’ll change much what they do in regards to who the quarterback is,” Rodriguez said. “I think their offense will stay pretty much the same.”

Still, a new quarterback in his first career start might be just what the Michigan defense needs. The Wolverines rank 104th out of 120 FBS teams in yards allowed per game (441.0 average).

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Michigan sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson has struggled in the past two games, battling both shoulder and knee injuries. But two weeks off could help a rejuvenated Robinson have a big game against the Nittany Lions.

Penn State has had an interesting approach to the question plaguing Michigan’s opponents this season — How do you prepare for Robinson?

“They let him wear a wig with some dreads on it,” Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti said Wednesday during the weekly Big Ten a teleconference.

It remains to be seen whether the visual will help the Nittany Lions against Robinson, who leads the nation in rushing, with 1,096 yards on the season, and is second in total offense (345 yards) yards per game.

Along with Robinson, Michigan expects a few other banged-up players, like center David Molk and defensive lineman Mike Martin, to return healthier Saturday after the bye.

There’s one more waiting period left, though. Saturday’s game is an 8 p.m. kickoff, the latest start Michigan has had all season. Rodriguez isn’t concerned since he and his coaching staff have experience preparing players for a night game.

“We’ll keep ‘em pretty busy,” he said. “You don’t want to just lay around all day in your room. We’ll have a walk through and usually the position coaches will take their guys and go for a walk."

He insisted they wouldn't be going "anywhere in public."

“It’s not like we’re going down there and tailgating. We’re not going to do that. I’ve been there before a few times. They’ll tailgate with the best of ‘em.”