Editor’s note: Please welcome to the blog Derek Kornacki! Derek has signed on to help us out with game coverage and this is his first post, previewing this weekend’s matchup between Michigan and Penn State. You can follow Derek on twitter at @KornackiDerek. You may be familiar with his dad, Steve Kornacki, who covers Michigan football for MGoBlue.com. Welcome Derek! -Brad
In 2008, Rich Rodriguez took the helm as Michigan’s head football coach, to as many shaking heads side to side as there were up and down. He was strong in his conviction that Michigan would run the spread offense. So strong that he decided he had no use for a pro-style quarterback the quality of Ryan Mallet (who is still playing in the NFL). He took a traditional, ground and pound, beat ‘em up in the trenches style of play, and implemented his vision of college football modernity. His success was something to the tune of 15-22…
James Franklin has entered his 3rd year at Penn State with dwindling expectations. He’s had solid recruiting classes every year he’s been in charge, but it hasn’t panned out in the win-loss column as far as expectations go at a program as illustrious as Penn State. But to his credit, he knew enough to not throw the baby out with the bath water. That being said, these coming B1G match-ups are crucial not only to Franklin’s tenure, but crucial for a program that fills a 100+ stadium week in and week out, and still wears a simple navy blue and white uniform that now, as much as ever, reflects a time when a field general with the stature of “JO-PA” strode the sidelines with that unmistakable gate.
So if Franklin stuck with Christian Hackenberg, regardless of outcome, it says something about Franklin, that you can’t really say about Rich Rodriguez… He has a vision. He’s looking to the future, rather than the immediate.
Enter Joe Moorhead, Penn State’s first year OC, a practitioner of the spread offense. His success rate at Fordham (an FCS school) is impressive, but it’s no doubt a serious roll of the dice on Franklin’s part. That being said, Moorhead took an irrelevant FCS program who went 1-10 the year before he got there to the FCS playoffs in his last 3 years there leading up to his move to Penn State, more than doubling their points averaged per game.
Michigan’s new DC Don Brown, having coached with Moorhead at UConn, walked into Wednesday’s press conference with the intensity of a prize fighter. It was clear that Moorhead, once his colleague, was now his adversary. And with his thick, New England accent addressed the media as if we had pads and helmets on, saying, “we’re gonna be extremely multiple, we’re gonna stay on the aggressive side, and that’s how we’re gonna go!!” Unfazed by the prospect of facing another spread offense he stated clearly, “these spread teams, what they want you to do, they want you to line up in 1 or 2 looks, that’s what they want! And that’s exactly what I’m not gonna do!!”
Michigan’s defense is going to face a fairly balanced offense on Saturday; Saquon Barkley, who rushed for over 1,000 yards as a true freshman last year, will be looking to get his somewhat underwhelming numbers in his first 3 games back up to that level. As for QB play, Trace McSorley is currently 2nd in the B1G in passing. 58 for 90 with 2 INTs, a 64% completion rate, 4 TDs and an average of 276 YRDs per game. But as with most football games, what goes on in the trenches will decide the outcome. And with Michigan’s already outstanding play upfront, the potential additions of Mone and Charlton, could make for a long day for the new look Penn State offense (not to mention the addition of Lewis in the secondary).
Regardless of how these teams stack up, if the atmosphere around Michigan Stadium on Saturday seems like it’s special, it’s because it is. These are two of the great programs; built by great men and women, and that’s to be appreciated.