The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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188 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW 7 PENN STATE • OCT. 11 BY RYAN TICE Since Penn State's nine-win season in 2011, the Nittany Lions have replaced leg- endary head coach Joe Paterno and had to navigate unprecedented NCAA penalties — which included a four-year bowl ban, lost scholarships and players eligible to transfer without penalty. This fall, they'll play under their second head coach in the last three years after Bill O'Brien left to take over the NFL's Houston Texans. PSU won't field a full complement of 85 scholarships until 2016-17, but new coach James Franklin is an energetic leader and dynamic recruiter who is up to the challenge. The Nittany Lions still boast some high- level talent and momentum on the recruiting trail — where they have secured 10 four-star commitments as of mid-June — so don't expect them to miss many postseasons when the ban ends after 2015. Many programs would not have been able to withstand the crippling sanctions like PSU, but depth is a major concern in Happy Valley, and Franklin will be the first to admit it. The offense returns six starters, led by quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who is back after setting 11 school records and fin- ishing third in the Big Ten in passing (246.3 yards per game) as a true freshman. Top target Allen Robinson left early for the NFL, which means the top two receivers from 2013 are gone. Junior tight end Jesse James leads all returning players after he posted 25 catches for 333 yards and three scores. Redshirt sophomore receiver Geno Lewis, who also hauled in three touchdowns, and redshirt junior tight end Kyle Carter both caught 18 passes last year, while sopho- more tight end Adam Breneman also hauled in a trio of scores. Redshirt junior left tackle Donovan Smith is back, but he's the only returning starter up front after fifth-year senior guard Miles Dieffenbach tore his ACL this spring. No other offensive linemen have ever started a game, but there will be a loaded stable of rushers behind the inexperienced blockers. Fifth-year senior Zach Zwinak paced the squad with 989 yards and 12 scores last year, but senior Bill Belton — who compiled 803 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in 2013 — and redshirt sophomore Akeel Lynch are more than capable. The trio com- bined for 2,150 rushing yards and 20 scores last season. Players who accounted for 12 of last year's 13 interceptions return to the defense, but the pass defense must be better after finishing 73rd nationally (237.3 yards per game). The unit also finished 36th in the land against the run (144.0 yards per game), but must replace three of the top five tacklers. Fifth-year senior Mike Hull is next in Linebacker U's tradition of stellar defenders after he finished second on the squad with 78 tackles. Both defensive tackles must be replaced, but top sacker C.J. Olaniyan, a senior end, is back. Former Big Ten Freshman of the Year Deion Barnes, now a redshirt junior, should hold the edge on the other side, while classmate and tackle Anthony Zettel should build on last year's four sacks — which was second best on the team despite Zettel being a rotational player. Junior cornerback Jordan Lucas is per- haps the Nittany Lions' best defender after he ranked third with 65 stops, notched 4.5 tackles for loss, forced two fumbles and intercepted three passes while breaking up another 13. Cornerback/safety Adrian Amos is experienced and productive, while se- nior safety Ryan Keiser returns after posting three interceptions and defending a total of 11 passes. Junior cornerback Trevor Wil- liams also defended double-digit passes in 2013. There's more talent on PSU's roster than many might have expected — the Nittany Lions are a borderline top-25 team despite what they've been through. Without a post- season to look forward to, they'll try to make a statement each time out against their Big Ten brethren. It's downright scary to think of what Franklin, a Pennsylvania native, could accomplish once the sanctions end — and his Nittany Lions should still be competitive in year one. Notes According to Athlon, PSU boasts the seventh- best group of quarterbacks in the land, as well as the No. 9 coaching staff and the No. 22 backfield … Three players were ranked among the 15 best at their position in the land by Lindy's — Hack- enberg as the No. 8 quarterback, Lucas as the No. 12 cornerback and Hull as the No. 14 inside linebacker. ❑ Nittany Lions Will Continue Building, Fighting Under New Coach 2014 SCHEDULE Date Opponent 2013 Result Aug. 30 UCF L, 34-31 Sept. 6 Akron — Sept. 13 at Rutgers — Sept. 20 Massachusetts — Sept. 27 Northwestern — Oct. 11 at Michigan W, 43-40 4OT Oct. 25 Ohio State L, 63-14 Nov. 1 Maryland — Nov. 8 at Indiana L, 44-24 Nov. 15 Temple — Nov. 22 at Illinois W, 24-17 OT Nov. 29 Michigan State — QUICK FACTS All-Time Series: U-M leads 10-7 First Meeting: U-M 21, PSU 13 (Oct. 16, 1993, at Happy Valley) Last Meeting: PSU 43, U-M 40; 4OT (Oct. 12, 2013, at Happy Valley) Head Coach: James Franklin, first year at PSU and 24-15 overall (4th year) Off./Def. Systems: Multiple/Multiple 2013 in Review: 7-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten (3rd Leaders Division) Final 2013 Ranking: Unranked Returning Starters: 14 (6 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist) Last Bowl Appearance: 2011 (TicketCity, vs. Hous- ton, L 30-14) Big Ten Conference Championships (last): 3 (2008) RETURNING LEADERS Passing: Christian Hackenberg (2,955 yards, 20 TD, 10 INT) Rushing: Zach Zwinak (989 yards, 12 TD) Receiving: Jesse James (333 yards, 3 TD) Tackles: Mike Hull (78) Sacks: C.J. Olaniyan (5) Interceptions: Ryan Keiser and Jordan Lucas (3) PLAYERS TO WATCH Offense: Christian Hackenberg, So., QB — The five-star prep quar- terback backed up his ranking on the next level and finished just shy of 3,000 passing yards … Hacken- berg was 231-of-392 passing (58.9 percent) for 2,955 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a passer rating of 134.0 … He also rushed for four scores. Defense: C.J. Olaniyan, Sr., DE — After bringing career totals of 18 tackles and one sack into the season, he exploded for 50 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles and an intercep- tion … He led the Nittany Lions in forced fumbles, quarterback hur- ries (four) and sacks while he was just 0.5 tackles for loss behind the team leader. Fifth-year senior running back Zach Zwinak led the Nittany Lions in rushing last season, amassing 989 yards and 12 touchdowns. PHOTO COURTESY BLUEWHITEILLUSTRATED.COM 182-193.Opponents.indd 188 6/19/14 1:12 PM

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