clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Checking the Numbers: How Penn State's Defense Has Faired in 2010 and How Michigan Should Attack It

Statistics lie. It's just a fact. You can make numbers say whatever you want if you're tweaking the data properly. However, if you don't tweak anything and let the numbers speak for themselves you may be able to learn something. Case in point, the Nittnay Lion defense. Penn State has played seven games and six real opponents. Discarding PSU's demolition of FCS Youngstown State, you're left with some excellent data on how well Penn State has performed against FBS competition.

To blatantly steal from MGoBlog... Chart?






Total Yards






Kent State

























If you're looking for a way to break these numbers down even further, you can divide the opponents into three categories: 1) Baby Seals (Kent/Temple); 2) Mid-Range Opponents (Illinois Minnesota); and, 3) BCS top 15 opponents.

The results against the Baby Seals that Penn State has played are predictable. The Lions out muscled their opponents, forcing them to be one dimensional, with the caveat that Temple was already one dimensional and promptly becam no dimensional as soon as their starting tailback went out. Neither Kent nor Temple could do anything in the air and Penn State's defensive line pinned their ears back and tried to kill their opponents' quarterbacks. The result was 5 picks in two games and a pair of lopsided wins.

Moving next to Penn State's Category 3 opponents, you also see what you'd expect to see. Penn State's young, inexperienced, and injured defense was shredded by a veteran opponent. Both Iowa and Bama ran for over 120 yards on the Penn State defense and both were able to move the ball through the air efficiently. Ricky Stanzi and Greg McElroy completed the same number of passes for almost the exact same number of yards. the passing and rushing efficiency was pretty staggering. The thing here is that both Iowa and Bama ran out to big early leads, and simply ground Penn State under foot with a power, ball control game plan. As you're aware, this is not a Michigan offense.

So let's get to the important stuff.

Category 2 is where we get the most important data, relevant to Michigan's upcoming game. Minnesota and Illinois averaged 435 yards a game on the Penn State defense. Shockingly, Minnesota actually outgained Iowa's rush offense, and the Gophers outgained Penn State on the day 433 to 351! So why didn't Minnesota win? Well, look at the passing numbers. Adam Weber was barely over 50% on his completions and averaged barely 6 yards an attempt and 11.5 a completion. That's not going to get it done. But lest we think this is a good pass defense, PSU has given up completion percentages of 80% to Illinois, 73% to Iowa, and 66% to Bama in their three losses. Despite Minnesota's amazing ineptitude at throwing and catchign the ball, they still managed three touchdowns and almost 300 yards of passing offense.

Minnesota's changed their offense so many times that it's really impossible to know what in the hell they're running. It's been advertised as a pro-style offense, but there are a lot of elements of the spread in the system. Regardless, they're still Minnesota and will be under the horrid shadow of Tim Brewster for the next four years, regardless of when he was canned. But still, 433 yards? Damn.

Also existing in Category 2 is the best analogue to the Michigan offense, Illinois'. The Illini have a punishing ground game where both Nathan Scheelhaase and Mikel Leshoure are putting up impressive numbers. Leshoure is over 700 yards and Scheelhaase is over 400 on the season. Illinois offensive line isn't too shabby, as they've been opening holes for these two young men all season. Against Penn State they were certainly in top form, paving the way for 282 rushing yards on 54 carries for a 5.2 ypc average. The Illini liquified the Penn State defense inside the box. And as soon as the Lions brought up their safeties, Scheelhaase went over the top, completing 16 of 20 for 155 and 2 TDs.

Just for reference though, Scheelhaase has a 55% or less competition percentage against any other team whose defense has a pulse (MSU 55.6%, OSU 54%, NIU 50%, Mizzou 36%). So.... yeah, 805 against Penn State was easily a career high and his best performance of the year. the only other team where he came close to matching those numbers was against FCS Southern Illinois.

What it means is that Michigan should be able to move the ball similar to the way that Illinois and Minnesota were able to, though hopefully more efficiently than the Gophers. In terms of total offense Illinois is 88th, Minnesota is 59th, Iowa is 43rd, and Bama is 26th. To an extent the Alabama and Iowa numbers are skewed by the presence of Nick Sukay actually being on the field. Penn State lost their veteran safety to a torn pectoral muscle agaisnt Illinois, and both the Illini and Gophers exploited his replacement.

As Illinois, Alabama and Iowa have shown, however, the key will be moving the ball on the ground. Illinois is ranked 26th in rush offense, Alabama is 32nd and Iowa is 53rd. For reference, Minnesota is 76th. Michigan? Seventh. If Michigan is able to establish the run, and judging by the Illinois game they should, the numbers show that the Wolverines should be in business come Saturday night.