Penn State Game Prediction

While nobody in Fort Schembechler will ever apologize for a 5-0 start, few outside it will concede that their record has been indicative of their play.

Look no further than Vegas opening the line in Saturday’s game with Michigan as a one point favorite in Happy Valley against a Penn State team with even more youth than Michigan, and depth issues due to their NCAA restrictions.

Michigan did themselves no favors with poor efforts in games against Akron and UConn, and while last week’s game against Minnesota was an improvement, there are still several issues to work on.

In the 2+ year stint of Brady Hoke, Michigan is a .500 team, going 6-6 in the 12 games away from Michigan stadium.

Penn State licks it’s wounds after its routing at the hands of a potent Indiana Offense which put up 44 on them last week.

All these things factor into many thinking this game will be much closer than it probably should be.

There are other factors that lead me to believe it won’t be that close, however. First, the changing up along the offensive line proved to be effective, in spite of still having great room for improvement. Chris Bryant looked good at times, lost at others, but undoubtedly is talented, and big, and has a nasty streak.

Secondly, moving Funchess to WR was a great move. With Jake Butt needing reps and AJ Williams having the injury bug, they had no choice but to keep him at TE.  But with Funchess out wide, putting bracket coverage on Gallon, and putting 8 in the box like teams have shown won’t work, without giving a 6’5, 235 pound super athlete in single coverage. It should prove to not only open things up for Gallon and the run game, but also should give Devin Gardner more time in the backfield.

On defense, Jake Ryan has been cleared to play, and expect him to take some snaps this week and next, utilize the bye week before MSU to get into total game shape, and be ready for the Spartans.

One comes back, and one leaves, with Soph NT Ondre Pipkins being out for the year with an ACL injury sustained in the Minnesota game. A loss of course, but I expect Quintin Washington to take more of the starter snaps, and Willie Henry to continue to get snaps.

Having experienced Happy Valley first hand for the 2006 UM game, it can be electric. But they also are very similar to Michigan Stadium. When things aren’t going as planned, a pin drop can be heard in spite of 100,000+ people being there.  Take care of the ball, keep the playbook simple, and pound the rock. On defense, we won’t like watching the bend but don’t break, but making a freshman quarterback beat you is just what makes Greg Mattison happy. Expecting him to nickel and dime you without making any mistakes is unlikely and I like Michigan’s chances to keep PSU in check for the most part.

Michigan, 34, PSU 23

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Battle for the Jug Prediction

As Michigan and Minnesota prepare to meet for the 100th time Saturday in Ann Arbor, questions still surround the Michigan program and the direction Team 134 is heading. After two less than stellar performances against a couple of the more putrid teams in college football, a bye week couldn’t have come at a better time.

The same Devin Gardner who showed absolute brilliance Under the lights against Notre Dame, sans an ill advised pick 6 while being pressured, has turned the ball over 7 times total the past two weeks. Part can be attributed to inexperience, part due to sub par performance in the interior of the offensive line, but most importantly, Devin has played like a player that feels like he has to do it all. There were times scattered throughout the game at UCONN, where Devin just looked scared. He was aiming the ball, instead of throwing it. He looked quite simply like a quarterback who felt like he had to make the perfect pass.

Up front it appears that there will be a shakeup , with Graham Glasgow sliding over from guard to center, and RS Sophomore Chris Bryant entering the lineup at guard. Many reports coming in fall camp had Bryant starting before an injury slowed him. Michigan will likely give up some of the stretch runs, and try to pound between the tackles a bit more. There is no doubt that it may take some time to get acclimated but it gives Michigan a much better chance to keep Devin out of the 3rd and long situations which have resulted many of his turnovers. There is non doubt that this offense has potential to be explosive, if it can gain positive yards on first and second down and reduce their turnovers significantly.

On the defensive side of the ball, there have been some bright spots, even with the offense putting them in sudden change situations time and time again. It’s a fast and aggressive team, and while they seem to play more of a bend but don’t break style, they tighten up when the field is tilted to their side. It’s got playmakers, albeit inexperienced ones, and needs reps. It will also greatly benefit when Jake Ryan returns at some point this month. I think at some point Mattison will take them back to basics, and try more to keep it simple. Some of the inexperience in the secondary have limited his ability to dial up blitzes from all over, and when teams play max protect and have 6-7 guys staying in to block, generating pass rush has been difficult when they rush 4. Some of that will change when Ryan returns.

At the end of the day, Michigan should do a better job of running the football this week after the change in the OL, and much of the pressure should be off the shoulders of Devin Gardner.

A long ways to go, but Michigan gets it done this week. Michigan 34, Minnesota, 20.

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Game Prediction: Connecticut

Embarrassing. It’s really the only way to describe last week’s game against Akron. Call it a letdown after UTL2, call it taking Akron lightly as they brought a 27 game road losing steak to town, call it whatever you want. But be thrilled you won the game and can use an ugly loss as a teaching moment for the two deep roster littered with youth. At the end of the day, crisis ( and arguably the worst loss in Michigan history) was averted and hopefully experieUConn Nightnce was gained. Because a game like UConn should play out the same way Akron should have.

When Randy Edsall left and Paul Pasqualoni took, the cupboard was bare, and back to back 5-7 seasons ensued after Edsall took UConn to the Fiesta Bowl.

After back to back home losses by double digits to open the season to FCS Towson State and future B1G member Maryland, the Huskies will try to flip the script and improve upon their rushing game which stands at next to last in all of college football so far this season. Whether UConn being behind in games has forced them to abandon the run early is the issue or not, Michigan should load the box and pressure the Huskies. Greg Mattison has played very differently than his usual self in the first 3 games, and while some of it has been dictated by the offenses they have gone against, Michigan needs to bring more heat when the opponent attempts to max protect. Even if you have 6-7 back, given enough time, receivers will get open.

Will there be a shakeup on the interior of the offensive line? It remains to be seen, but more productivity is needed out of them. Granted it’s a young interior, but there is talent that needs to perform. Something that wasn’t lost on many last week.

Devin Gardner needs to limit his mistakes and be more of a game manager. Yes he can thread a needle much better than his predecessor but he also needs more experience reading the opposing defenses.

Michigan said all the right things after the Akron game, and we have been hearing all week the focus that wasn’t there in preparation last week is now there.

Proof will be in the pudding, but Michigan gets back on track, and is ready.

Michigan 42  UConn 17

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Akron Game Prediction

Nobody entering the Big House this Saturday will expect the electricity we witnessed in UTL2.  Akron enters on a 27 game road losing streak, and in spite of them squeaking by James Madison at home last weekend, this game should get ugly early. I had initially written a breakdown of what to expect when Michigan had the ball and vice versa, and  I could go into position by position breakdowns but frankly they just don’t matter this week (and next, quite). Michigan will score plenty, Akron will not.

The key this week is getting out healthy, and healing those with "boo-boos" from ND along with getting key backups meaningful snaps. There is a ton of quality underclassmen on this team, and many will be called upon in the B1G season. The next two games will afford the experience needed to make a run. 

Michigan Wolverines 53 Akron Fighting Sweatervests 12

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Notre Dame Game Prediction

Electricity will fill the air Saturday in Ann Arbor, perhaps for the last time in the storied rivalry that is Michigan Vs ND. Some hundred plus years ago, Michigan taught the little leprechauns the brutal game of intercollegiate football, and hope to do so again Under the Lights in only the second night game in the 86 year history of the Big House. If the first time was any indication, we’re in for a treat at Stadium and Main. It’s the kind of setting that would just seem perfect for Keith Jackson.

With Michigan’s main three rivals all struggling to a certain extent with MAC schools in week one, The Wolverines handled CMU by half a hundred. While we shouldn’t read too much into that, it’s hard to ignore the success Michigan had, in spite of the numerous teaching moments. The secondary without its starting safeties ( one to injury, one to suspension) was human for much of the game in spite of the front seven generating a good amount of pressure. Some of that should be cleaned up this week, and both safeties return at least in part, assuming Courtney Avery hasn’t suffered any setbacks in his recovery from minor knee surgery.

The linebacking corp showed signs of excellence, even without potential all American Jake Ryan, and for the most part tackled very well.

By and large, the front 4 played well, generating pressure, albeit against a young, less talented offensive line, and a team which lost a starting QB and 1500 yard rusher in the first quarter to significant injuries.

On the offensive side of the ball, the line played very well. Holes were enormous on several occasions, and Devin Gardner had little pressure. Even the second team OL played very well, showing how the past couple of years in recruiting that group is paying great dividends.

Devin Gardner had success, in spite of a couple of ill advised throws, and continued to show how dangerous he is running the football when the play breaks down or simply isn’t there.

Brian Kelly brings his Fighting Irish in after a 28-6 victory over Temple. While the score is much closer than one might have thought, ND did put up over 500 yards of offense. They have explosive offensive weapons, as only one of their 4 scoring drives was over 3 plays. That being said, Michigan will be able to put more pressure on Tommy Rees, who has shown the propensity to turn the ball over under pressure (see 2011 UTL1).

On defense, you can definitely see that the Irish miss Manti Te’o in the middle, and from the film I watched of the second half of the Temple game Louis Nix was gassed. He looked physically exhausted. Carrying 357 pounds will do that to you. Expect Michigan to pound the leather on the ground. Even if they aren’t as successful as they would like early. If you wear out Nix in the second half, by constant double teams, he will be sucking on an oxygen mask. Temple showed that ND is susceptible on the edges and I expect to see the stretch running plays as well. Even if it’s not a normal thing for Al Borges to show, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some hurry up offense.  In the passing game, ND has a couple of good corners, but has inexperience up the middle, both in LB and Safety spots. I expect the TE’s to play a huge role in this game, especially Devin Funchess. He’s a mismatch that they can exploit.

If one thing Tommy Rees is good at, it’s pre-snap reads. He’s very good at getting the Irish into the right play. DC Greg Mattison will do his best to disguise what he’s doing, and he’s got the team speed to do it. If I were Brian Kelly, I’d try to run some hurry up offense as well. Michigan has so much depth on the defensive line, that he could neutralize that by running some no huddle.

At the end of the day, similar to last year, turnovers will reign supreme. If Devin Gardner can protect the football, Michigan should score a decent amount of points. I also don’t think Notre Dame will be able to sustain long drives on Michigan, and if the safeties keep the ball in front of them, ND more often than not will stall. 

Michigan 27, Notre Dame 17.

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