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MnB Staff Roundtable Week 12: In the Valley of Happy

The last time Michigan played in Happy Valley, it didn't end well. Penn State's white-out will be in effect, but a noon game is not something they do well. Jake Rudock has become a destroyer of worlds in the last two weeks, and Michigan fans have to briefly pull for Ohio State Saturday afternoon. The stage is set, and the MnB crew arrives to predict the performance.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Hoosiers moved the ball on the ground more than through the air. What's up with the front seven after giving up over two hundred yards to Jordan Howard?

Shash: I got here first, so I'm going to state the obvious. Graham Glasgow.
He's clearly decided he can't bear living in his brother's shadow and likely intentionally made his brother's pec injury worse via some combination of fervent voodoo magic, Twitter, and Urban Meyer's blood.

Without Ryan Glasgow at the heart of that defense, they're going to struggle the next few weeks unless Durkin can make some adjustments. He will to stop the bleeding a little bit, but color me worried. When I was watching the game, my friend said "I haven't heard Matt Godin's name once" which basically summed up the day of M's interior line against the run as the game wore on. Depth is an issue right now.

Alex Kolodziej: After a dominant two months to open up, our defense is making opposing running backs look like Boobie Miles pre-ACL/career-ending injury. I'll state the obvious and note the lack of penetration, but it'll be back to (somewhat) normal versus a Nittany Lions team who would rather step on a pile of Legos than score, at least that's what it seems.

Kevin: Linebacker seems to be the big concern right now. Desmond Morgan is constantly out of position to make a tackle, and Joe Bolden vanishes for huge chunks of game time. The front line gets a good push but the guys behind them don't seem to be reading the defenses correctly on a lot of plays. More than once against Indiana I spotted Morgan trying to catch up to Jordan Howard because he broke the wrong way at the gap.

Drew: I didn't have an opportunity to post a Defensive Film Focus this week, so I'll summarize here what I would have said. Ryan Glasgow's injury and absence clearly is significant. I've said for weeks that, even though he didn't have the flashiest numbers, he's Michigan's best and most consistent lineman. We saw why last Saturday. Not only did Michigan miss Glasgow's constant disruption in the middle, it meant that Tom Strobel, who had been a reserve offensive guard much of the season, saw time as a reserve defensive tackle. Michigan's depth on the line is what made it great early in the season. Now that it's gone, Michigan's defensive front will wear down.

However, this doesn't mean Michigan will be gashed in each of its remaining games. Credit must be given to Indiana, who had the perfect offense to expose Michigan's vulnerabilities in Glasgow's absence. The Hoosiers' use of zone stretch kept the ball away from Michigan's defensive tackles and released offensive guards into the second level to pick off Michigan's linebackers, and Jordan Howard demonstrated that he's a nightmare to handle when healthy. Further, Indiana's tempo gassed Michigan's defense and locked Michigan into the personnel it had on the field when it couldn't get stops. By the fourth quarter, the Wolverines were on empty.

Here's the stat line from the two primary receivers: Chesson - 10 catches, 207 yards, 4 touchdowns; Darboh - 8 catches, 109 yards, go-ahead touchdown in second overtime. Is it time to remove the "work in progress" tag from these guys?

Shash: Probably not completely, but I'm the cynical one here. I'll say it: Right now, Indiana's secondary blows. They had something like 15 true freshmen on the field at once (round numbers) and while it's good to see a more talented, more experienced receiving corps do their job against an undermanned/young secondary, I don't think this was exactly the game that I'd point to for "WR improvement" - Chesson's been fast all season, Darboh's shown flashes of steady. On top of that, Indiana sold out to stop the run and stifled M's non-Rudock non-BEASTMODE De'Veon Smith running game, so there were TONS of opportunities.

If anything, I would say it's easier to remove the "work in progress" tag from Rudock than from the WR's, because HE FINALLY HIT DEEP BALLS. SO MANY DEEP BALLS.

Kolodziej: I'll entwine with Shash here. That's like running for 350 yards and six scores versus JV in high school and sending your highlight tapes to Saban and asking him if he can change the scheme for you. I love the ability to stretch the field now, but I sincerely wish it had been a factor in bigger moments. We'll get a fraction of how good this receiving corps is versus a duo of well-suited secondaries the next two weeks

Drew: One data point isn't enough to remove the "work in progress" tag. However, it was a pleasant sight to see, particularly from Jehu Chesson. Chesson always has been a burner, but it was his (in)ability to run precise routes and track the ball in the air that held him back. I think the coaches noticed that Chesson had improved in these areas a few weeks ago because there was a midseason shift in targets. Jake Butt and Darboh were Jake Rudock's two primary pass-catchers in the early weeks, but, suddenly, Chesson became the go-to guy. I don't think we had seen it on the field yet because Rudock had his own struggles, but, with Rudock on point against Rutgers and Indiana, I don't think it's a coincidence that Chesson broke out, too. I still want to see how this group can do vs. competent secondaries, and they'll have their chance vs. PSU and OSU.

Hackenberg is a solid QB -- what can Michigan use from the last several weeks to shut him down and prepare for Ohio State?

Shash: They need to get a ton of pressure from the edge and overwhelm PSU's mostly mediocre O-line. They've improved significantly from their first couple games, but they're still vulnerable to stunts. Stunts stunts stunts. Let's just run stunts, even though I don't even know what a stunt is. Let's run them all day. Put pressure on Hackenberg and make him get the yips.

Kolodziej: Take a page out of Temple's playbook and just dial up continuous pressure. Outside of DeSean Hamilton I don't fear many of the Penn State athletes, so I think Durkin has a bit more leeway with sending blitzes off the edge and go one-on-one on the outside. If that doesn't work, just have our defense trash talk Hackenberg in their best Mel Kiper voice and assure him that he'll be the No. 1 drafted quarterback whether they win or lose.

Kevin: It's probably fair to say Hackenberg hasn't faced as good of corners as Jourdan Lewis and Jeremy Clark or dealt with safeties like Peppers and Wilson. They've gotten good at pass breakups this season, so I'll be watching for disruptions to take the place of sacks or QB pressure (come back, Glasgow!). Against Minnesota this defense limited rushing yards, and against Indiana they limited the passing yards. But there were pass breakups in both games, so I hope Durkin hangs his head on that to swing the game in Michigan's favor.

Drew: Penn State is 121st in adjusted sack rate. There are 128 FBS teams. Not great, Bob.

So it's simple in theory: Michigan must pressure Christian Hackenberg. The hits that he has taken in the past two seasons have mentally scarred him in a very similar fashion to what happened to Devin Gardner after 2013, but Hackenberg was projected by many to be a future first-round quarterback for a reason. If he has time to sit in the pocket and survey the field, he can make the throws, even against an excellent Michigan secondary. However, Penn State doesn't have the receivers that, say, Michigan State had, and Michigan should be able to stunt its way into Hackenberg's lap most of the afternoon. Get in his face, and Michigan shuts him down.

Does Penn State have any other strengths that could give Michigan some trouble in by far the most hostile stadium they'll play in this year?

Shash: Utah was a pretty raucous environment, too, but my biggest concern is Saquon Barkley. PSU's dynamic freshman is averaging over 6 YPC and can hurdle, McGuffie style. If Michigan can't adjust to interior runs, then they're in trouble and Hackenberg will have the time he needs to pick them apart.

Kolodziej: I mentioned this in an earlier piece but facing a porous IU defense and reeling in historic numbers won't translate well versus a better secondary in Penn State. I think the defense can regroup and keep everything in front of them, but it's important to put 6s on the scoreboard instead of 3s. Deep balls and random shots down deep--and if Rudock can capitalize--will be my ‘make or break.'

Kevin: Penn State always recruits well at the wide receiver position, but Allen Robinson has moved to the NFL. Do they have any big playmakers to pick up the load if Hackenberg struggles? None who can match Michigan's speed. I think they're counting solely on environmental intimidation to throw Michigan off their game plan. The Nittany Lions pride themselves on their fan base but a noon game in Happy Valley is probably a curse for any chance at hanging with Michigan.

Drew: The most important matchup of the game is Michigan's offensive line vs. Penn State's defensive line. Michigan's offensive line has had its problems blocking the run, but its pass protection has been very good (23rd in adjusted sack rate). But now it'll face the most destructive defensive line it has faced this season. The Nittany Lions' pass rush has the best adjusted sack rate in the nation, and defensive Bob Shoop will bring an array of blitzes. If Michigan can keep Jake Rudock upright, its offense will be alright. If not, it could get ugly.

And at last a noon game again for Michigan, so what'll you be watching the rest of the day?

Shash: Yay! I get the easy one again! Michigan State-Ohio State at 3:30, and it pains me to root for the Bucks, but we have no choice. Ideally, this game ends in either a tie or a cheating scandal that gets both programs the ole SMU treatment. And tears. Lots of tears. Later in the day, it'd sure be nice if BC pulled some magic out and beat Notre Dame, but I don't think Steve Addazio knows how to tie his own shoes, much less pull a top-5 upset. And finally, Baylor-Oklahoma is going to be defense-optional in the way that PG-13 movies require parental guidance. I realize this is a lame metaphor, but that's how shitty the defense is going to be. Samaje Perine is going to go bonkers this game. If Michigan pulls one out against Penn State, I'm going to watch this game and giggle a lot.

Kolodziej: Bucky and Sparty. Christmas colors clash just in time to inch into December. Perhaps flip to the Fighting Kesslers versus Oregon between Dunkin Donuts runs but aside from that, it'll be non-stop action in the Kolodziej household.

Kevin: Well before Utah lost to RichRod's Arizona team, they would've had the chance to clinch their division and still sneak into the playoff picture. The Pac-12 is boned now, though, with Stanford's loss to Oregon. The Ducks host USC which is always fun. Later, Baylor takes their horrid defense to the other horrid defensive team in Stillwater to play Oklahoma State

Drew: If Michigan wins, Ohio State-Michigan State. If Michigan loses, the new Hunger Games.

Extra point! Follow me here: Michigan remembering how to win on the road this year got me thinking about some of the great road wins they've had. List one of the best you've seen, and a gold star for the first person to remember who Michigan beat on the road to preserve their shot at a B1G title sixteen years ago.

Shash: I'll take your gold star. Tom Brady and Michigan went into Happy Valley and Anthony Thomas ran the top-ten (don't remember exactly the number) Nittany Lions into the ground with a gutty performance in Jerry Sandusky's final home game. I remember this game because this was his last game and the announcers wouldn't shut up about it. I watched this with a handheld TV with terrible reception and I just remember Brady's pick six and losing my mind because Michigan always beat Penn State and this isn't what was supposed to happen. They had this long stretch where they were like 16-1 or something.. But then he put together a fourth quarter for the ages and Michigan survived. I'm headed to Happy Valley this weekend for this one, and it's going to be a blast. But when I was a kid

Best road game I've seen, though? It's sad that I've got to go back nearly a decade. Hopefully Harbaugh can fix that, but it's really hard to win on the road in football, eh? I'll say Michigan-Notre Dame in ‘06. After losing in Ann Arbor the year before, Michigan blew the doors off the #2 Irish and won by a lot. Then they went back to Ann Arbor the next year and won 38-0, which was pretty neat.

Kevin: Excellent work, Shash! Now, a follow-up: Can you also name who Michigan played two seasons prior to that game and won to keep the conference title chance going?

Kolodziej: Ah, Michigan-Minnesota back in 2003. Down 24-0 midway through the 3rd, Navarre led the troops back to a 38-35 win. I was 10 years old at that time and I remember being at my brother's high school game at that time. His team was coming into the locker room after a loss and I had tugged on his jersey telling him "we won! we won! we came back and won!" and he pushed me to the ground and I started crying. I think I still have a scar from the flurry of rocks that scraped my elbow.

Kevin: And remember that game was moved to a Friday night to accommodate the Twins being in the MLB Playoffs. Damn you, Minnesota Metrodome! I was sick that week and in and out of sleep during the broadcast courtesy of the medication I took not knowing it caused drowsiness.

In honor of it almost being Ohio State week, I choose the 2000 version of The Game. This was the year where Michigan fans couldn't decide whether Tom Brady or Drew Henson was the guy they wanted to see under center. Henson came in to relieve Brady at one point and got Michigan a double-digit lead. Ohio State furiously came back to be within five, but Michigan held them off and scored late to put them away. Henson may have never finished his playing career but he had moments of brilliance, and winning in Columbus is no easy feat.

Drew: I've been watching Michigan football since only 2007, so, if we're limited to what we've seen live, my selection is rather limited. There are two choices that come to mind: 2007 Michigan State and 2010 Notre Dame. And, as much as I love "Shoelaces flapping in the wind," I think I'd lead towards the former. Trailing by 10 in the fourth quarter. Mike Hart picking up Ryan Mallett's fumble on the hop and advancing it for a first down. Chad Henne playing on one leg. Henne throwing one of the most gorgeous passes I've seen to Greg Mathews to cut it the deficit to three points. Mario Manningham soaring for the game-winning touchdown on 3rd & Long. Henne tripping on his way to the tunnel as he slaps the uprights. It was all just too good.