By Tony Gerdeman
If you're like me, you knew Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli was in for a world of hurt.
People talked about how much confidence Morelli gained against Minnesota the week before and that would undoubtedly help him against Michigan.
I'm laughing just thinking about it.
Thinking confidence you've gained against the Gophers will help you against the Wolverines is like building a footstool in shop class and thinking your next project should be a house.
However, Morelli must be given some credit. When he was given time to throw, he didn't look too entirely terrible. He did, however, look like a true freshman, even though he's a junior.
Throughout Michigan's 17-10 win over the Nittany Lions, the Wolverines never really lost control. Even when there was no score after the first quarter, it basically seemed like a matter of time until Michigan scored and, seemingly, put the game out of reach.
And, of course, the story was how Michigan would adjust without Mario Manningham on the field. That adjustment is still adjusting, and it is a definite area of concern for the Wolverines.
Fortunately for Michigan, they can bring him back slowly. Because of the ease of the upcoming schedule, Manningham won't even be needed. Lloyd Carr can save him until the Ohio State game if he wants, though I suspect they'd like him to have some work before November 18.
Unless something freakishly bizarre happens, Michigan and Ohio State will both be undefeated when they meet.
Superlatives and adjectives haven't yet been invented to convey the magnitocity of that event.
When Michigan Had the Ball
With Mario Manningham out, it almost seemed like offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and quarterback Chad Henne wanted to prove that they would still stretch the field.
And stretch it, they did.
Of course with this downfield attack, it didn't prove to be a very accurate day for Henne. He finished 15-30 for 196 yards and a touchdown.
Henne threw a pass at least fifteen yards downfield nine times against Penn State, but he only completed three of them. According to my (super-unofficial) notes from the Michigan State game, Henne threw four such passes, completing two of them, and had a third dropped.
Those two completions, of course, went to Manningham for touchdowns.
So it's obvious that there are currently some downfield struggles for the Wolverines.
Even though it probably shouldn't have been, it was a surprise to see Breaston running routes downfield--and catching them too. He still had his typical drop on the slant, though.
Breaston finished with five catches for 79 yards. It was the second-highest yardage total in his career, and the most since the second game of his career, when he caught six passes for 109 yards at Oregon in the infamous "Crowned Field Game".
As expected, Adrian Arrington led the receivers in yards. He caught five passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. Henne looked for Breaston and Arrington equally, both short and long, and he looked completely confident in doing it.
Still, the regression back to a low completion percentage may bring about the shorter passing game.
Although, I'm guessing all of the deep throwing had more to do with trying to get Michael Hart room to run than anything else.
Speaking of Hart, he did exactly what he does. He carried the ball 26 times for 112 yards and a touchdown. He moved the chains and got tough yards. Per usual. I'm actually running out of ways to repeat the same thing week after week when it comes to Hart.
The offensive line only allowed Henne to be sacked twice, though both left tackle Jake Long and right tackle Rueben Riley had some troubles with the smaller and faster Tim Shaw. Shaw's speed allowed him to get around the outside. On Shaw's lone sack of the day, he knocked the Wolverines out of field goal range, forcing Michigan to punt from the Penn State 35.
All in all, it was a typical Michigan offensive output, though it was different in that the style was more the way it's been the last few weeks, however, the outcome is more along the lines of the early season offense.
The Wolverines managed 312 yards of total offense. For comparison's sake, the Buckeyes managed 253 yards against Penn State. (Though it was raining.)
When Michigan Was on Defense
Well, when Michigan was on defense, they were knocking quarterbacks out of the game.
Defensive tackle Alan Branch planted Anthony Morelli on Penn State's first drive in the third quarter, ending the quarterback's night. Branch got to Morelli just a split second after Morelli released the pass, which resulted in a 24-yard catch by Derrick Williams on an over-matched Johnny Sears. Branch jumped on Morelli and landed on the quarterback like he was a beat-down couch.
They had to give Morelli tests to determine if he had a concussion. I'm no doctor, but I'm guessing you could give that test to Morelli on any random day and I bet he wouldn't always pass it.
In came redshirt freshman quarterback Daryll Clark. He was summarily knocked out on Penn State's second possession in the fourth quarter. That left Paul Cianciolo. And if you're not good enough to beat out the guy who isn't good enough to beat out Anthony Morelli, nothing more needs to be said about you.
Michigan had seven sacks, six of them were from the defensive line. Defensive ends LaMarr Woodley and Rondell Biggs had two a piece; backup end Tim Jamison also had one; defensive tackle Terrance Taylor had the sixth.
Woodley had 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. After taking a few weeks off, he showed up in Happy Valley and got after Morelli like Morelli had egged his house.
Rondell Biggs also showed up after a few weeks of little production. When Woodley and Biggs are motivated, Michigan's defense is an entirely different animal.
Alan Branch will always be relentless, so there are no concerns about him. He is the anti-Gabe Watson. Terrance Taylor is very similar. He's always active and he's a vocal guy. Taylor's sack was for a loss of twelve yards, so that tells you that he's not just an occupier, he is an attacker.
It was a fairly quiet day for the linebackers stats-wise, but they still played a very good game, save for a 43-yard screen pass that went for a touchdown to Tony Hunt with three minutes left in the game. Prescott Burgess led the team in tackles with five, David Harris was right behind him with four. Shawn Crable's only tackle was a sack.
And before you convince yourself that that doesn't seem very productive, let me remind you that Penn State rushed for a whopping -14 yards. I rushed for fourteen more yards on Michigan than Penn State did.
Of course, those numbers came about because of the 54 yards lost on sacks. Still, Tony Hunt was held to 33 yards on thirteen carries. The 33 yards were 105 yards under his Big Ten average this season.
When the maligned offensive line did give Morelli some time, he did have a little bit of success. In his limited duty, he completed 11 of his 18 passes for 133 yards.
With cornerback Morgan Trent still playing with a cast on his arm, the coaches gave Brandon Harrison and Johnny Sears some time.
Harrison is always active, though he did have a blitz where he ran right by the Penn State quarterback. Sears looks to be fairly lost out there and doesn't seem to be a defensive contributor this year.
Safeties Jamar Adams and Ryan Mundy had nine tackles between them and they weren't really tested downfield, though Adams did drop an easy interception late in the game.
The Wolverines gave up a 46-yard kickoff return to A.J. Wallace to open up the game. The Nittany Lions couldn't capitalize, though.
Breaston was again quiet in the return game. He had two punt returns for two yards and one kickoff return for twenty yards. For the season, Breaston is only averaging 19.1 yards per kick return, with a long of 29 yards. His punt returns aren't much different, as he's only averaging 10.4 yards per return with a long of 29 yards as well. Of course, I believe Ted Ginn was averaging about nine yards per punt return before his touchdown on Saturday.
The Wolverines employed both punters again this week, as Ross Ryan is their situational punter and Zoltan Mesko is their designated hitter. Neither of them were spectacular.
Garrett Rivas made another short field goal, this one from 23 yards. Rivas' last three field goal attempts have come from 22, 24, and 23 yards. He hasn't even attempted a field goal from more than 40 yards since the opener against Vanderbilt.
Rivas is also kicking off now and failed to notch a touchback on any of his four kicks Saturday night.
Right now, the special teams are semi-stagnant. They're not really doing much to elevate the team or make things easier on the offense or defense. Still, we know the potential that lies with Breaston and at any time Mesko can unleash a 60-yarder.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Michigan was always in control on Saturday night. Even when they were tied, or only up a score. The game never seemed in doubt. It was very similar to Ohio State's game with Penn State.
The secondary looked a little better, but that was bound to happen against the Penn State passing offense. However, when Morelli had time, he found open men. That doesn't mean he always hit them, but he usually threw the ball in their general direction.
Michigan is still leading the nation in rushing defense, as they are now giving up an average of 32.6 yards per game. The opponents are averaging four feet per rush.
It may be a while before you can convince me that anybody can run the ball on Michigan with any consistency or much success.
What about the offense?
I sense a little bit of trouble. Given Lloyd Carr's lack of information dispersal regarding anything relating to any injury, supposed or otherwise, to Mario Manningham, I can't assume he'll be back any time soon.
I also can't assume he won't be.
But right now it doesn't matter. The schedule is a piece of cake. Any worries about Iowa should be discarded because Drew Tate is a fraction of the quarterback he once was. Iowa has no shot and may actually be shut out on Saturday.
What we can assume, however, is that Manningham will be back by November 18.
And it will be the most confident Michigan team to come into Columbus since 1996.
The Road To The Big One
Sept. 2 Michigan 27 - Vanderbilt 7
Sept. 9 Michigan 41 - Central Michigan 17
Sept. 16 Michigan 47 - Notre Dame 21
Sept. 23 Michigan 27 - Wisconsin 13
Sept. 30 Michigan 28 - Minnesota 14
Oct. 7 Michigan 31 - Michigan State 13
Oct. 14 Michigan 17 - Penn State 10
Oct. 21 Iowa at Michigan
Oct. 28 Northwestern at Michigan
Nov. 4 Ball State at Michigan
Nov. 11 Michigan at Indiana
Nov. 18 Michigan at Ohio State