One day to go before the marquee home game of the season, one played under the lights at night before a White Out student section in Beaver Stadium, and Penn State plans to start a redshirt sophomore from Scranton, PA. Or they don’t.
Maybe Joe is playing mind games, maybe they still don’t know. What is certain is that Penn State will have to improve certain aspects of its game to win against Michigan.
When Penn State Has The Ball
-Quarterback play. This one may seem obvious, but Penn State had four contenders at the position going into camp, and now three are questionable. Paul Jones is using his redshirt this season; starter Robert Bolden got knocked around against Minnesota and either still has, or is just off, a concussion. And Kevin Newsome had flu-like symptoms and some knee issues last week. That leaves Matt McGloin, a former walk-on, set to take the snaps under center on Saturday. Michigan’s secondary is one of the worst in the country, so that might help the relatively untested QB. But a night game in Beaver Stadium against Michigan is a tough time to make your first start.
-The offensive line. Injuries and personnel-scrambling on the front line have caused some serious setbacks for the offense as a whole. With either a first-time starter or a freshman quarterback behind them, this unit has got to keep the Michigan pass rush at bay. And when the ball gets in the hands of Evan Royster, Stephfon Green, or Silas Redd, the line absolutely must open holes for these guys to run.
-Evan Royster. Royster is 31 yards shy of the all-time Penn State rushing record. However, he has only one game over 70 yards this season (vs. Temple), and freshman RB Silas Redd is looking too good to not keep getting carries. Royster must get going early, keeping the defense honest so that McGloin has lanes in which to throw.
When Michigan Has The Ball
-Stop Denard Robinson. It’s that simple. Robinson accounts for an absurd percentage of the Michigan offense. If he can be contained, Penn State has a great chance of winning this game. He most likely won’t be stopped completely, but if he has another 200 yard passing, 200 yard rushing game, Penn State will be in trouble.
-Secondary strength. Nick Sukay is out, and Stephon Morris struggled last week. If Penn State’s defense can stop Robinson, it will force Robinson to pass. And this is where Penn State has the best chance at victory. A steady, consistent secondary can only increase those chances. Expect to see nickel coverages quite frequently, with extra second- and third-level defenders spying Robinson.
Special Teams And Intangibles
-Colin Wagner. Recently named a Lou Groza Award Finalist, Wagner has to be automatic if Penn State can’t find the end zone. This will likely be a high-scoring game, so every little bit helps.
-Returns. If only Derrick Williams were still eligible. Remember the ‘08 game against Illinois? Williams scored three touchdowns, including a 94 yard kick return. This is the type of game Chaz Powell, Justin Brown, or whoever Penn State puts deep needs to have.
-Turnovers and field position. Yes, it’s a cliche. But it works. Win the turnover battle, and you’ll win the game. Penn State has not forced many this year, but the defense has the ability to cause mayhem if they work together and with the skill many fans know they have.
The game is at 8:00 pm, and will be televised on ESPN.