October 20th, 2017
Wolverines, Penn State has much to prove
on Saturday; maybe Michigan State, too
By KEITH GAVE
Oh, they’re gleeful in Happy Valley, and they have every right to be the way Penn State has played for more than a year now. But we’re talking college football, which means there is always a legion of detractors out there. This week, they’re screaming, “Prove it!” as the Michigan Wolverines visit the valley with upset on their minds.
And in an over-hyped battle of two teams that are, arguably, over-rated, Jim Harbaugh and No. 19 Michigan have every bit as much to prove as the No. 2 Nittany Lions.
Merely consider that the Wolverines haven’t beaten a ranked team on the road since 2006, losing 14 consecutive games. In the decade prior to that, when Michigan truly was a dominant college football program, it won 15 games against ranked teams away from the Big House.
You want to be considered among the great programs, you must at least occasionally beat the other great teams on their own turf. Michigan is not there yet – by a long shot.
A year ago at the Big House, Michigan pummeled Penn State, 49-10. Turns out, that result was an outlier for both programs. Might have had something to do with the fact that Penn State lined up without its top three linebackers to start the game. Its No. 4 linebacker was ejected for targeting early in the game, and the fifth guy on the depth chart also got hurt. Michigan’s offense rolled up all those points against a team using linebackers 6-8 on its depth chart.
And since then? The teams have taken divergent paths. Penn State didn’t lose again until the Rose Bowl game, and after six straight victories to open the season has run up a 15-1 record. The Wolverines, meantime, are a rather pedestrian 11-4.
Both teams come into this game similarly flawed. Michigan boasts the top defense in the land, but its enigmatic offense has been wildly inconsistent. If the Wolverines can’t pound the ball on the ground and are forced to put the ball up with mistake-prone John O’Korn under center, they’re going to be in trouble.
That’s because Penn State, which also has trouble moving the ball because of an underwhelming offensive line, boasts the highest-scoring defense in college football.
Harbaugh is taking a lot of heat because he’s 1-4 so far in rivalry games with Ohio State and Michigan State. But he’s 2-0 against Penn State. If he can make it 3-0 – a tall task – he can quiet his own growing legion of detractors.
No. 19 Michigan (5-1, 2-1 in Big Ten) vs. No. 2 Penn State (6-0, 3-0)
7:30 p.m., Saturday
Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pennsylvania
TV: Radio: ABC; WQON-FM (100.3)
Line: Michigan plus-9.5
Prediction: Penn State 19, Michigan 16
No. 18 Michigan State (5-1, 3-0) vs. Indiana (3-3, 0-3)
3:30 p.m., Saturday
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Line: Michigan State minus-6.5
Michigan State might have something to prove, too, if running back LJ Scott is benched after his seventh arrest, count ’em, seven) for driving on a suspended license – in the past two years!
Will he suit up and play Saturday for the homecoming game against Indiana? Or will coach Mark Dantonio play the “let the legal system run its course” card and allow Scott to play rather than discipline him with a suspension? Mum was the word out of East Lansing this afternoon.
This is a critical decision for the Spartans. This is an Indiana club that won’t roll over easily, a defensive team that took Michigan into overtime last week before the Wolverines could put the Hoosiers away.
If Michigan State can’t find a way to run the ball, it could be a long afternoon, and moving it on the ground will be a lot easier with Scott in the game. With 194 yards on 25 carries in a win at Minnesota last week, Scott finally had the kind of game people expected of him this season.
If he plays, the Spartans should win and easily cover the spread. (And if he does, they should just go ahead and pull out of the Big Ten and join the SEC, an infraction like this might mean a half-game suspension. Or, in the case of the big Florida programs, a one-series suspension.)
Should Scott not have the privilege of playing in this game, the game is a pick’em, and State fans shouldn’t be surprised if the Hoosiers leave with an upset.
Prediction: Michigan State 20, Indiana 16