The Mirror's Neil Rudel and Cory Giger debate what the Lions' strategy should be Saturday.
Rudel: Bet on a traditional approach
The popular theory going around this week is Penn State ought to go to Michigan, throw caution to the wind and chuck the football all over the Big House, 40 times if necessary.
Mirror photo by Jason Sipes
Will Anthony Morelli throw 35-40 times Saturday? Cory Giger and Neil Rudel present opposing viewpoints.
It’s shared and being perpetuated by my colleague across this page, Cory Giger.
There are reasons to believe that theory is worth a shot, particularly since Penn State has an able-armed quarterback in Anthony Morelli, particularly since Appalachian State and Oregon did it successfully to the Wolverines and particularly since a more conservative plan has contributed to eight straight losses to Michigan, an unprecedented stretch of frustration in the Paterno era.
Not to mention the perturbing question on whether the Lions’ heretofore starting tailback, Austin Scott, can hold the ball.
And there is evidence the Lions may be planning an aerial assault: They’ve used four-receiver sets more often this year; they left Morelli in the Buffalo game last week, with a three-touchdown lead, deep into the fourth quarter, and Morelli is averaging 29 attempts per game.
On the other hand, history tells us when Penn State throws 40-plus times, it loses — almost without exception. Of the 14 times a PSU quarterback has attempted 40 passes, the Lions are 2-12, with both wins coming in comebacks at Michigan State.
There are a couple problems with committing to a wide-open passing game.
It puts the quarterback at further risk, and if you recall last year’s game, Morelli was fortunate just to walk away afterward. And that’s with a left tackle, Levi Brown, who’s now in the NFL.
Michigan clearly doesn’t have that kind of a defensive front this year.
Penn State’s defense should be the best on the field Saturday — another reason Joe Paterno will want to establish some ball control, throw dinks and dumps, limit turnovers and keep his defense fresh. He’s always thought a BYUish passing game doesn’t take enough out of an opposing defense.
Especially if Chad Henne doesn’t play because of injury, Penn State may think it can win the game 20-10. It may not want to take excess chances — dropping back 40 times, risking sacks, throwing over the middle at will — that accompany a wide-open passing game.
When you decide to trade a Studebaker, you don’t do for a Ferrari.
Paterno has made his career — for better or worse but certainly mostly for the better — doing it his way.
Tempting as the idea may be, and as fun as it might be to watch, it’s difficult to imagine he’ll deviate the course much Saturday.
Rudel, who can be reached at email@example.com, will chat PSU at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
Penn State has the weapons to beat Michigan easily if the coaching staff opens up the playbook and lets Anthony Morelli fire away.
If Morelli goes, say, 25-of-40 for 292 yards, the Nittany Lions could win somewhere in the neighborhood of 34-14.
Penn State is the better team, period. Joe Paterno needs to get out of his players' way and let them prove it.
The only way the Lions lose will be if Paterno blows it with the game plan.
If Paterno doesn't realize this is 2007 and not 1986, doesn't realize winning big games today means you have to trust your quarterback, and doesn't realize he has a lot of talent on offense, then the Lions will leave the Big House with a ninth straight loss to Michigan.
Since I think Paterno is too set in his ways to realize those things, I picked the Wolverines, 23-20. What a shame that would be because this Michigan defense is ripe for the picking.
The Lions don't have to chunk it 30-40 yards downfield. All Morelli needs to do is connect with Jordan Norwood or Derrick Williams or Deon Butler for 6-8 yards at a time.
Michigan can't stop that. The Wolverines' defense is awful, particularly on the line, and is vulnerable over the middle.
Tight end Andrew Quarless should be a huge factor, catching at least six passes for 70-plus yards.
Four of the first 47 picks in this year's NFL draft were Wolverine defenders, and coach Lloyd Carr has yet to find capable replacements. His defense allowed 387 yards against Appalachian State (227 passing) and 624 against Oregon (293 passing).
Since Michigan's D-line is so bad, there's a school of thought PSU can run the ball. However, the Lions' offensive line is shaky at run blocking, Austin Scott can't hang onto the ball and Rodney Kinlaw has virtually no experience in huge games.
Morelli isn't a great quarterback, but he has shown improved pocket presence and footwork this season while completing 63.2 percent of his passes. Michigan's awesome pass rush knocked him out of last year's game, but that shouldn't happen again.
If Morelli is in the shotgun and throwing a bunch of quick routes, the line should be able to hold out long enough.
I find it fascinating my counterpoint partner, Mr. Rudel, is arguing Penn State should run the ball but he also picked the Lions to lose. He's saying Paterno will stick to what he knows, yet the prediction suggests what Paterno knows doesn't win these types of games.
In Penn State's last five road games against ranked teams -- and the 2005 loss at Michigan, which wasn't ranked -- the Lions have scored a total of six points in the first half. They lost all six games.
That kind of conservative approach doesn't work anymore in big games. And it won't work Saturday.
Turn 'em loose, Joe, and you'll finally solve Michigan.
Cory Giger is at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org>