Penn State Preview: Michigan

Purdue 2019 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel 

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 16 Michigan, 7:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 294-74.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 59 degrees and mostly sunny.

The line: Penn State –8.5.

Last week: Penn State outlasted Iowa 17-12 at Kinnick Stadium, while Michigan thumped Illinois 42-25.

All-time series: Michigan leads 14-8.

Last meeting (2018): Michigan earned a convincing 42-7 victory in Ann Arbor.

Throwback classic (2008): Penn State roared back from an early 10-point deficit to dismantle Michigan 46-17 on the Nittany Lions’ path to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance.

Overview: Penn State’s trajectory had them competing for a spot in the playoff next season, though they’re showing this year is also a reality. Sean Clifford’s acclimated to the offense immediately, distributing the ball efficiently through the air while also remaining a threat to run whenever needed. The defense has been as good as imaginable, with future NFL first-round draft pick Yetur Gross-Matos totaling 18 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks to lead the group.

Here’s what Michigan has going in its favor. The Wolverines essentially have to win this game, both in terms of the Big Ten race, and their season. They host No. 8 Notre Dame next weekend, and if they lose both contests, then it’ll feel like Harbaugh will never win the Big Ten or national championship at Michigan. Remember, this was supposed to be the year for the Wolverines, with Shea Patterson coming back to run a revamped offense, Ohio State welcoming a new coach, and Penn State moving on from Trace McSorley. So, Saturday means a lot more to Michigan. Not just for this season, though also for their future.

Penn State wins if: the White Out atmosphere is everything it promises to be. The crowd will undoubtedly be loud, disruptive, and influential in the outcome of the game. For all the talk about Xs and Os this week, what’ll be most interesting to see is how Patterson and the Wolverine offensive line handle what’ll be the toughest environment they’ll play in this year, and maybe in their collegiate careers.

Michigan wins if: Josh Gattis engineers the best offensive performance of his career. After working with James Franklin for a number of years, including at Penn State as the wide receivers coach, Gattis now serves as Michigan’s offensive coordinator. The Wolverines have produced big numbers, albeit against Rutgers and Illinois, though have looked fairly stagnant during other parts of the season (Wisconsin, Army). Penn State features perhaps the best front-seven and overall defense in the country, so Gattis needs to show something we haven’t seen yet this season: a big-time performance against a marquee opponent.

Keep an eye on: Noah Cain. While Penn State’s running back rotation has continued through thte first half of the season, Cain constantly stands out. He was in the game during the Nittany Lions’ season-defining drive last week against Iowa, capping off a scoring drive and giving Penn State enough cushion to hold off the Hawkeyes. Cain’s a true freshman, though has shown he can handle the spotlight.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State stands 6-0 for the fourth time since 2000.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 31, Michigan 21

Vince Lungaro: Penn State 24, Michigan 14

From The Archives: Penn State V. Michigan (2008)

Penn State v. Michigan (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Evan Royster finished with a game-high 174 rushing yards. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

The week leading up to the showdown against the Wolverines was typically jovial at University Park.

Fans camped outside Beaver Stadium starting on Monday, and hundreds of alumni helped dedicate the Alumni Walk at the Hintz Family Alumni Center on Friday. In between, all the usual wonderment enveloped Happy Valley during Homecoming of the 2008 season.

Then, the game started, and the good vibes changed.

Punctuating this point, John Black stated in the lead to that game’s edition of The Football Letter: “All the omens were ominous.”

Michigan had bested Penn State nine consecutive times in the previous decade. And on the first play of the game, A.Q. Shipley’s snap sailed over the head of quarterback Daryll Clark, resulting in a 16-yard loss after Clark fell on the ball.

The Wolverines then corralled a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Penn State scored 39 unanswered for a resounding 46-17 victory that halted all the built-up frustration. Clark ran for two scores and tossed a short touchdown to Jordan Norwood — “a 3-yard laser,” as Black described.

Penn State v. Michigan (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Daryll Clark accounted for three touchdowns while leading Penn State to the comeback victory on Homecoming. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Evan Royster gashed Michigan for 174 rushing yards on only 18 carries. Penn State’s all-time leading rusher started the scoring for the Nittany Lions with a 44-yard touchdown run toward the end of the first quarter.

The Wolverines stumbled through one of their worst seasons, finishing 2008 with a 3-9 overall mark and 2-6 in the Big Ten.

Penn State’s season, meanwhile, continued on an upward trajectory. Well, at least, for the most part. The Nittany Lions suffered one of the program’s most painful losses in the last quarter-century two weeks later, a 24-23 setback at Iowa on a last-second field goal. Daniel Murray booted in a 31-yard field goal with one second left for the Hawkeyes, derailing Penn State’s national championship aspirations.

Penn State rebounded, defeating Indiana and Michigan by a combined score of 83-25 to finish the regular season 11-1. The Nittany Lions earned a Rose Bowl berth, dropping a 38-24 decision to USC in Pasadena.

Back to the comeback against the Wolverines.

That week’s edition of The Football Letter featured a front-cover photo of a Beaver Stadium, flyover by two Navy F-18 Hornet jets, a good example of how this member-benefit publication showcases the entire day—and surrounding pageantry—of fall Saturdays.

When those game days happen in Happy Valley, there’s even more of an opportunity to connect alumni and friends to the program through Steve Manuel’s photos and John’s firsthand account.

You can view the game’s photo gallery on our Flickr page, and also browse galleries over the years by visiting our “albums” tab.

From the Alumni Blue Band’s performance to Black describing how “a colorful autumn sunset glow settled over Bald Eagle Ridge,” fans got the complete picture of not just how Penn State beat Michigan, but also what it was like to be in University Park on game day.”

Taken from The Football Letter’s intro that bookended the lead recalling the ominous omens:

“From the nation’s largest Homecoming Parade, to the soccer and volleyball victories to the White Out student section in Beaver Stadium dancing and singing to music of Celebration, it was a wonderful 89th Homecoming.”

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Two Navy F-18 Hornet jets flew over Beaver Stadium prior to kickoff against Michigan. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Penn State Preview: Iowa

Each week throughout the 2019 season, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays. 

Game details: No. 10/9 Penn State @ No 17/18 Iowa, 7:30 p.m., broadcast on ABC

Venue: Kinnick Stadium 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): Kick-off temperature of 49 degrees, mostly clear skies. 

The line: Penn State – 3.5 

Last week: Penn State won its Homecoming matchup against Purdue, 35-7. Iowa lost a defensive struggle at Michigan, 10-3. 

All-time series: Penn State leads 16-12. Penn State has won five consecutive meetings. 

Last meeting (2018): Penn State held off Iowa in a cold, sloppy afternoon game in which Trace McSorley gutted out an injury he suffered in the second quarter. A timely interception at the goal line by Nick Scott, and a late fourth-quarter stand helped the Nittany Lions hold of the Hawkeyes, 30-24.

Throwback classic (2007): Having suffered five-straight losses in the series, Penn State won comfortably 27-7 on Oct. 6, 2007. The win marked just the second time in seven meetings that Joe Paterno had gotten the better of Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes went on to win the next three meetings. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Overview: Two of the best defenses in the Big Ten will go head to head at Kinnick. Penn State is the fourth-ranked total defense in the country, while Iowa is fifth-best. This game will probably come down to which offense can make the most big plays. The Hawkeyes were dreadful against Michigan, while Penn State has scored 94 points combined in its first two Big Ten games. That being said, Iowa’s defense will be a much more difficult test for Sean Clifford and the Nittany Lions’ offense than the Maryland and Purdue defenses were. 

Penn State wins if: The Nittany Lions defense can bottle up the Hawkeyes run game. Penn State’s front seven has feasted through five games, leading the nation in sacks and tackles-for-loss, albeit all against unranked teams. Iowa is going to want to win this game by running the football and controlling the clock. If the Nittany Lions bottle up the Hawkeyes rushing attack and get after Nate Stanley, who was flustered by a blitz-heavy scheme from the Wolverines a week ago, they can walk out of Kinnick victorious. 

Iowa wins if: It can limit Penn State’s big-play ability. The Nittany Lions offense thrives on chunk plays. Getting the ball down field and in space to the likes of KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson, and others is what makes this offense tick. As good as the Hawkeyes defense has been, they’ve only registered seven team sacks this season. Led by defensive end AJ Epensa, Iowa is going to have to get after Clifford and limit the time he has to find his big weapons. 

Count On: A close game. The history of this matchup will tell you, these two teams usually play a close game, especially when they play at Kinnick Stadium. Penn State isn’t going to blowout Iowa the way it did Maryland and Purdue. It’s going to be another tight contest with a handful of key plays deciding the outcome of the game. 

Keep an eye on: Noah Cain. The freshman had a breakout performance against Purdue a week ago with 105 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Penn State is going to continue its running back committee approach, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they lean on the physical running style of Cain a little bit more this week. 

Trivia tidbit: As consistent of winners as Penn State and Iowa have been over the years, both programs only have one Heisman trophy winners to their names. John Cappelletti is Penn State’s lone winner, securing the award in 1973. Nile Kinnick, the namesake of Iowa’s stadium, won the Heisman in 1939. 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 31,  Iowa 21

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 27, Iowa 17

From The Archives: Penn State V. Iowa (2007)

When Penn State hosted Iowa in Week 6 of the 2007 season, it was looking to stop two separate losing streaks.

The Nittany Lions were coming off of two-straight losses to open up their Big Ten campaign. Penn State had also not beaten the Hawkeyes in its last five tries, including an ugly 6-4 home loss in the previous meeting between the two teams in 2004. 

The 2007 matchup proved to be a near-perfect streak-stopper for coach Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions. 

“With the vociferous support of 108,951 fans — the largest crowd to watch a football game that Saturday — the struggling Lions were resuscitated with a 27-7 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten opener in Happy Valley,” John Black noted in The Football Letter

Paterno noted that his quarterback Anthony Morelli, still under heavy outside criticism for his turnover-plagued performance against Michigan two weeks prior, threw the ball with more confidence against the Hawkeyes. 

Morelli connected with Derrick Williams on a 24-yard touchdown to put Penn State up 10-0 at the 1:08 mark of the second quarter. 

After a three-and-out by Iowa, Morelli led the Lions down the field in quick fashion and set up a 53-yard field goal from Kevin Kelly as time expired in the first half. 

An 81-yard touchdown drive that ended with a Rodney Kinlaw score in the third quarter chewed up over five minutes on the game clock and extended the Nittany Lion lead to 20-0. 

The two teams traded fourth-quarter touchdowns and Penn State sealed a comfortable 27-7 win that seemed to rejuvenate the team a bit.

The Nittany Lions went on two win their next two contests and five of their final seven overall, including the 24-17 success over Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl. 

The win over the Hawkeyes also marked just the second time that Paterno had defeated Kirk Ferentz in a head-to-head meeting at the time. 

It also proved to be Penn State’s last win in the series until 2011, when a run of three-successive Hawkeye wins was halted by a 13-3 victory by the Nittany Lions.

Central Iowa Chapter Eager to Welcome Penn Staters To Its Neck Of The Woods

What the Central Iowa Chapter of the Alumni Association might lack in numbers, it makes up for in Penn State pride. 

Herb Meier a 1973 Penn State graduate, has been with the chapter since its beginning.  

Meier came out to Iowa for work, having taken a job with the IRS. He held the role as the chapter’s treasurer for a number of years before finally taking over the presidency. 

Based in Des Moines, the chapter covers all of Central Iowa, making it a bit difficult to get all Penn Staters living in that area together often for events. 

That hasn’t stopped the chapter’s activity levels, though. Meier said the chapter has about 25 paid members, all of whom are extremely dedicated. 

The group hosts Penn State football watch parties, and also looks to attend sporting events when other Penn State teams are in the area.

Back in August, members of the group made the trip to Ames, Iowa, to watch the women’s volleyball team take on the Iowa State Cyclones for the Cyclone Invitational —  a 3-0 win for the Nittany Lions.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

“It was a real treat for us, because we don’t get to see them too often,” Meier said laughing.

Other events include an annual ice cream social, a summer picnic, and a winter party that’s held at the local botanical center.  

Meier and other chapter members also participate in volunteer activities a few times each year. 

“We’ve gone to a local wildlife sanctuary, it’s called the Neal Smith Wildlife Reserve,” Meier said. “We’ve gone down there and done some work packaging meals and they send them all across the country and all across the world to help feed people.” 

This weekend, Meier and the rest of the Central Iowa Chapter will host the Friday Night Mixer at the Backpocket Brewery and Tap Room ahead of the Penn State football game at Iowa 

Meier is excited for the chapter to connect with Penn Staters traveling into the state for the game. 

“It’s pretty special. We get to make a lot of connections and meet some other people from different chapters,” Meier said. “It’s good to connect with the Alumni Association and the representatives there. We email back and forth with them, but it’s always nice to see and talk with them face to face. We get to see the Blue Band, the Nittany Lion and the cheerleaders. It’s great. It’s special for us.”

It’s also a good opportunity to raise some funds to keep the chapter running and to support the chapter’s scholarship fund. 

“We’ve been really trying to grow (our scholarship fund),” Meier said. “It’s difficult because we don’t have a large base, but this will really help with that.” 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Most Penn State fans probably don’t see Penn State vs. Iowa as too big of a rivalry, but because they live in “enemy territory,” members of the Central Iowa Chapter do see matchups between the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes as a bit of a rivalry. 

“The 2017 game, you talk about a wild game (Penn State won on a last-second touchdown),” Meier said. 

“They’ve had some pretty good games over the years. I know people back east don’t consider it a rivalry, but us out here, we kind of see it somewhat as a rivalry. We’ve had some really good games and they’ve beat us in an upset a couple of times. To us, it’s a special game.”

To learn more about the Central Iowa Chapter, visit their website, email them psuiowa@gmail.com, or follow them on Facebook

The Central Iowa Chapter is one of nearly 300 Penn State Alumni Association affiliate groups worldwide. Visit alumni.psu.edu/groups to connect with Penn Staters in your area.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Purdue/Iowa

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

I expected Penn State’s defense to be good this season, I’m not sure I expected them to be THIS good. 

Purdue — albeit without its best player in Rondale Moore and senior quarterback Elijah Sindelar — couldn’t get anything going in Saturday’s 35-7 win for Penn State. Backup quarterback Jack Plummer was under duress all day long, with the Nittany Lions collecting 10 sacks. The Boilermakers mustered a measly 104 yards of total offense. 

In Penn State’s first two conference games, the defense has given up just seven points. The highest total it’s surrendered this season was in the Week 2 win over Buffalo (13 points). 

With the meat of the Big Ten schedule ahead of it, Penn State knows it has one of the elite defenses in the conference to count on.

Looking Back

Star of The Game: DE Shaka Toney

I was going to start off this section by saying Shaka Toney was basically unblockable against the Boilermakers. But there’s no “basically” about it. He was unblockable. Toney was in the backfield repeatedly, using speed and quickness to burn Purdue’s offensive line. He tallied three sacks and helped the Nittany Lions record their most sacks in a conference game since 2007. He and Yetur Gross-Matos give Penn State a terrific tandem of starting pass rushers. 

Moment of Magic: Dotson sprints 72 yards to the end zone

With the Nittany Lions on top 14-0, wideout Jahan Dotson blew the game wide open on Penn State’s third possession of the game. He corralled a pass from over the middle, juked one Purdue defender before speeding ahead down the left hand side of the field. A key block by KJ Hamler at the 10-yard-line cleared the path to the end zone and Dotson scored his third touchdown of the season to put the home side up three scores. 

Looking Ahead

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Hawkeyes offensive falters

Facing a Michigan team that got gashed on the ground just a few weeks ago by Wisconsin, Iowa’s offense produced just one rushing yard on 30 carries in Saturday’s 10-3 loss in Ann Arbor. That’s the fewest yards the Hawkeyes have managed on the ground since 2011. Up next? A date with Penn State’s dominant front seven. 

Stanley’s turnovers

Quarterback Nate Stanley returned for his senior season in Iowa City with a lot of expectations, with some even regarding him as an NFL prospect. Stanley was efficient, if unspectacular through Iowa’s first four games, but fell flat against the Wolverines. He threw for 260 yards, but was also picked off three times and sacked eight times. He has to be better against Penn State for Iowa to have a chance at the upset.

Primetime at Kinnick

Penn State doesn’t have the best track record in primetime games at Kinnick Stadium, but then again neither do a lot of top-ranked teams. I’m not even going to get into the 2008 heartbreaking loss for a then-undefeated Penn State squad. It’s still too soon. 

In recent years, the Hawkeyes have managed to pull off some incredible upsets at home, including wins over Ohio State in 2017 and Michigan in 2016. The Nittany Lions, thanks to a gutsy last-second connection from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson, won at the death under the lights of Kinnick in 2017.

Penn State Preview: Purdue

Penn State v.Pitt (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

 

Game details: No. 12/11 Penn State vs. Purdue, noon kickoff, broadcast on ESPN.

 

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 293-74.

 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 60 degrees with plenty of sunshine.

 

The line: Penn State – 28.5

 

Last week: Penn State dominated Maryland 59-0, while Purdue dropped a home contest to Minnesota 38-31.

 

All-time series: Penn State leads 14-3-1.

 

Last meeting (2016): Penn State blasted Purdue 62-24 in West Lafayette, overcoming a sluggish first half to earn the convincing win. This game is also noteworthy since it came right after the Nittany Lions’ upset of No. 2 Ohio State, setting up Penn State’s run to a Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl.

 

Throwback classic (2004): The White Out is now widely regarded as one of the best environments in college football, and perhaps all of sports. But back in 2004, it was a novelty, with the student section wearing all white for the first time during a 20-13 loss to undefeated ninth-ranked Purdue (the first stadium-wide White Out came years later).

 

Overview: Win Saturday, and Penn State sets itself up for a highly compelling four-game stretch against Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota — the Golden Gophers have started the season 4-0. More immediate, the Boilermakers enter this weekend with a disappointing 1-3 mark, and head coach Jeff Brohm announced earlier in the week that star wide receiver Rondale Moore will be out after suffering an injury last weekend. Without him, it’s difficult to see Purdue scoring 30-plus points, a mark that Penn State should surpass; the Nittany Lions are averaging 50 per game so far this year. Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar will also sit out after being injured on the same play as Moore, so the Boilermakers need a whole lot to go right for them to pull off an upset on Homecoming weekend in Happy Valley.

 

Penn State wins if: the defense continues to create mayhem. Penn State’s given up only 30 points through four games, and with the offense having the potential to 40-plus seemingly every week, even a workmanlike performance Saturday should be enough to keep Penn State unbeaten.

 

Purdue wins if: the Boilermakers can make Sean Clifford uncomfortable. For as much as success as Clifford (and the offense) has had this year, he did look rattled, at times, when Pitt pressured him last month. Purdue clearly can’t win a shootout, so the Boilers’ best chance is to grind out the clock and limit Clifford’s opportunities when the Nittany Lions have the ball.

 

Keep an eye on: Penn State’s third down success. Last week, the Nittany Lions converted its first seven third down opportunities and finished 9-of-13.

 

Trivia tidbit: Thirteen Nittany Lions caught at least one reception last week against Maryland, the second time Penn State receivers have hit that mark (Idaho).

 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 45, Purdue 14 

 

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 41, Purdue 10