Penn State wide receiver Deon Butler has heard the buzz around campus. It’s been eight years since the Nittany Lions have beaten the Wolverines, and every Penn State student is ready to see a win.
Problem is, Michigan just boosted its confidence with a home victory over a hapless Notre Dame team and is hungry to help fans forget the horrid start to the season. The Wolverines have their eyes set on redemption with a Big Ten championship. Penn State is their first test.
Michigan run offense vs. Penn State run defense
One team’s biggest strength versus the other team’s backbone. For Michigan, everything on offense starts with senior running back Mike Hart and his offensive line. Michigan’s rush offense ranks 24th in the country, averaging 226 yards per game. And with freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett likely making his second career start, the Wolverines will lean heavily upon Hart, just as they did last week when 61-of-77 plays were runs.
It won’t be easy against the Nittany Lions, though. They boast the nation’s best run defense, allowing just 17.7 yards per game. Although that statistic has come against the likes of Florida International, Notre Dame and Buffalo, Penn State’s defense was highly regarded before the season.
Michigan pass offense vs. Penn State pass defense
Although Michigan coach Lloyd Carr dropped hints of a possible Chad Henne return this week, it will probably be Mallett at the helm of the Michigan offense again. The freshman threw three touchdowns last week, but he attempted just 15 passes. The coaching staff seems reluctant to put too much on Mallett’s plate, and Hart indicated that the passing part of the playbook has been toned down for the Texarkana, Ark., native.
The Penn State secondary is one of the best in the nation. Junior Justin King is on the Thorpe Award watch list and leads a pass defense that shuts down opposing quarterbacks so effectively the Nittany Lions can send extra men into the box to help stop the run.
Edge: Penn State
Penn State run offense vs. Michigan run defense
Penn State coach Joe Paterno benched starting running back Austin Scott last week after he fumbled twice. Tomorrow, Paterno is expected to go with a tandem of Scott and senior Rodney Kinlaw, but neither will make any Nittany Lion fans forget Tony Hunt.
The Wolverines showed some fight on defense against Notre Dame, but that might have been more because of Notre Dame’s ineptitude than anything else. Brandon Graham played well in his first start, though, and his ability to play inside or outside enables defensive tackles Terrence Taylor and Will Johnson to get some occasional rest.
Michigan passing defense vs. Penn State passing offense
The Wolverines looked a lot more comfortable last Saturday against the more traditional Notre Dame offense. And luckily for Michigan, Penn State coach Joe Paterno likes to call a conservative game when he comes to the Big House. The Nittany Lions use a heavy dose of the ground attack, but if Paterno wants to air it out, Penn State has plenty of weapons. Quarterback Anthony Morelli has developed into a reliable starter, and he has skilled wide receivers to throw to in juniors Derek Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. Meanwhile, the Michigan secondary has settled down with freshman Donovan Warren starting opposite Morgan Trent.
Edge: Penn State
Paterno praised Michigan’s special teams during his Tuesday press conference. He even went as far as to label Wolverine punter Zoltan Mesko one of the best punters in the nation. Mesko will need to be on top of his game because the Nittany Lions send Williams back to field punts, and he’s already taken one back for a touchdown this year. To make matters worse, Michigan may be without place kicker Bryan Wright, who handled the kickoffs before leaving during the Notre Dame game. Carr won’t say if Wright will suit up against Penn State.
Edge: Penn State
There are too many storylines for this game to list all the motivation for each team. Michigan wants a shot at redeeming its season with a Big Ten championship. Penn State hasn’t beaten the Wolverines in eight years. And the Nittany Lions still remember the sting from the last second Michigan win in 2005. Don’t forget the personal rivalry between Michigan quarterback Chad Henne and Morelli, either. In the end, the Wolverines are coming off a momentum-building win against Notre Dame and should be more than ready for the Nittany Lions.
Prediction: Penn State 20, Michigan 17