We're two days away from the Michigan Penn State Game, and dammit, we're excited here at Maize n Brew. In the interest of gaining as much inside information as possible, we tracked down Mike from Black Shoe Diaries at his bunker in northern Siberia and forced him to answer some questions. Well. Not really. Mike tracked me down and roused me from my two week slumber and forced me to talk about Michigan. He also had me sign all sorts of papers, including something in hindsight I'm certain was a power of attorney. I'll deal with that later...
On to the Questioning!!
Maize n Brew Dave: Injuries are going to play a big part in this game. Is Sean Lee actually going to play on Saturday? Who else is banged up for Penn State and who, if anyone, is out for the game?
Black Shoe Diaries: The word is that Sean Lee is going to play. Last week against Minnesota he saw the field for about 15 snaps before he felt a "twinge" in his knee and they shut him down. On Monday he said the knee is sore, but he's practicing this week so that's a good sign.
Stephfon Green is most likely out with an ankle injury. So there will be no repeat of last year's 80 yard screen pass. This probably means more carries for Evan Royster in the game. Penn State likes to limit him to about 15 touches, but now he'll probably get over 20. Durability has been an issue with him in the past, but he has held up pretty good this year.
My big concern is at right tackle where Penn State is basically down to the ham sandwich. DeOn'tae "Insert Random Punctuation and Capitalization Wherever You Want" Pannell and Nerraw McCormack are both trying to recover from ankle injuries. Last week Penn State had to start junior college transfer Ako Poti in their place. I'm sure Poti was just thrilled to see Evan Royster getting Brandon Graham fired up in the media this week.
MnB Dave: How good a feel do you have for this year's Nittany Lion Squad? We all knew there'd be turnover this year, but I've seen so many different things out of PSU (good and bad) that I really don't know how to gauge them. At 6-1, Penn State has only one marquee game on the resume and that was a loss at home. Minnesota and Temple are arguably your best wins (both at 4-2). Are you satisfied that you know what to expect game in, game out from this squad?
BSD: So far the season has pretty much gone like I expected. I knew there were going to be games where the offensive line didn't look so good. That's just part of replacing four starters. I was hoping they would use this soft schedule in the beginning of the year to come together, and for the most part they have done that. They're playing well now and Evan Royster has averaged 112 yards his last three games. He only managed 102 yards against Akron and Syracuse combined.
I did not expect the receivers and secondary to perform as well as they have. Derek Moye has been a pleasant surprise. He's fifth in the conference in receiving yardage and he has become Daryll Clark's favorite target. The secondary is leading the conference in pass defense and held Eric Decker to just one catch last week. D'Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris have played really well at cornerback which was the position I most worried about on this team before the season.
Penn State has used the soft schedule to play themselves into a good team, but unfortunately they weren't ready in time to play Iowa.
MnB Dave: I have to do this. Why do Penn State fans call one win a "streak"?
BSD: I agree with you. That's ridiculous. That's why I prefer to call it 761 days since Michigan last beat Penn State.
(more questioning after the jump....)
MnB Dave: As much as I fear Royster, Clark seems to consistently be the PSU player most responsible for Penn State's wins and losses. Whether this premise is right or wrong, give us a brief look at Clark's positives and negatives. Where does he excel and where does he come up short?
BSD: First and foremost, I love Clark's leadership. The team really responds to him and believes in him. It's completely evident in their play. He's tough. He'll lower his shoulder and fight for that extra yard, or he'll run down field and throw a block if the play comes back his way. Players love that in their quarterback. On top of that, he's just a good quarterback. His mechanics are sound and for the most part he makes the right decisions.
But he does have some flaws. He's a really emotional player. In big games he tends to come out a little too amped up and he'll overthrow some guys until he gets settled down. And sometimes he will have a mental breakdown if you can get him frustrated. Teams that can get pressure on him can force him into making some unadvised throws. Iowa did this very well as did USC and Ohio State last year. The manual for defensing Daryll Clark should say "GET TO THE QUARTERBACK" in big bold letters at the top.
MnB Dave: What game this season is most representative of this PSU team, good and bad? Why?
BSD: That's a tough question to answer because this team is so different than they were at the beginning of the season. They're playing much more like a unit than they did against Akron and Syracuse. But at the same time, their best games have come against Illinois and Minnesota...not exactly World beaters, so I'm a bit hesitant to get too excited. So I'll cop out and answer in cliche. You're only as good as your last game, which happens to be a 20-0 shutout over Minnesota.
MnB Dave: I'm gonna turn the tables on you, what part of the Michigan offense and defense do you think you can take advantage of?
BSD: On offense I think Penn State should be able to pass the ball against the Michigan secondary. Clark is good at spreading the ball around and finding the open man. If Evan Royster can get going in the running game, Penn State could get some big plays off of play action.
On defense, I think Penn State should be able to get to Tate Forcier and pressure him into making some quick decisions. They have a good pass rush, and the linebackers are always active in their blitzing. Penn State has even been mixing in some corner blitzes here and there which is new for a Tom Bradley defense. If they can fluster Forcier, I think the defense can come away with a few turnovers.
MnB Dave: Let's go the other way, what part of the Michigan offense and defense causes you consternation and heart palpitations?
BSD: I'm worried about the Michigan running game. I must admit I did not realize how good they were until I looked at the stats this week. The zone read options are going to test the linebackers and defensive ends. If Sean Lee is healthy, I'm not one bit worried about he and Navorro Bowman defending the edges. But our defensive ends are still pretty green and haven't seen a lot of zone read option offenses. They did a good job against Juice Williams and Illinois, but Michigan is more athletic with their running backs.
And on offense, like I said before, as long as the offensive line keeps Daryll Clark upright and gives him time to throw, they'll be fine. The offense is balanced enough that they can take advantage of whatever the defense is trying to do.
MnB Dave: I've made my prediction, now it's your turn. Make your prediction.
BSD: Well, I have to go with Penn State. On paper they have more talent, more depth, and more experience than Michigan. I feel good about this game, but then I felt good going into Ann Arbor in 2005 and 2007. Something about Maize and Blue makes Joe Paterno pucker up. I think this game will be close, but like I said, I have to go with the good guys. Penn State wins 27-24.
Special thanks to Mike at Black Shoe Diaries for putting this together and for his great answers. I hope his whole team comes down with swine flu prior to the game.