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Why has PSU succeeded where Michigan has failed?

Coming into this season, I got countless e-mails asking me why Michigan was expected to struggle this year, whereas Penn State was considered one of the preseason favorites for the Big Ten title. I discussed this a bit back in the summer, but now that the Wolverines and Nitanny Lions are facing off this week, it's certainly relevant to bring up again. So why, with similar changes in offensive philosophy, are Michigan and Penn State having such radically different success?

Steven Threet is not a world-beater in terms of talent, but on the other hand, neither is Daryll Clark. Clark, however, is a run-pass threat far more suited to a spread-option attack than is Threet. In fact, Rich Rodriguez recruited Clark out of prep school when he was still at West Virginia. Speaking of prep school, Clark is a 4th-year junior, with an additional year of high school under his belt in order to qualify for college. Threet is but a second-year freshman, who required no such additional schooling (he was class valedictorian from Adrian). Regardless of recruiting rankings, Clark has far more experience than Threet.

In terms of the players they replace, Chad Henne is Michigan's career passing leader in several categories. Threet would have to be lights-out to even be just one step down. Clark, on the other hand, steps in for underachiever Anthony Morelli, who was never sniffed by the NFL. He can certainly be considered a substantial step up.

Where Penn State's coaching situation is the embodiment of continuity, Michigan's staff has just one coach, Fred Jackson, who was with the team last year. Penn State can change its formations and some of its plays, but the terminology and teacher are consistent for every member of the team. At Michigan, on the other hand, nearly everything was different. The Wolverines didn't even use shotgun sets last year, except in some 3rd down situations and the Citrus Bowl. Vocabulary, practice routines, and the offensive philosophy itself are completely different. Penn State even ran a version of its offense three years ago, so several of the more experienced players have even run it in their time at Beaver Stadium.

Talent and Experience
This category may be the greatest difference between Michigan and Penn State this year. Whereas the Wolverines came in having to replace 4 starters along the offensive line (including two with remaining eligibility), Penn State had only one player to replace. PSU's wide receivers are in their fourth consecutive year as starters in the same unit. Though some of the role players in the receiving corps has changed, this is year four of the Butler, Norwood, and Williams show. At the running back position, Penn State has Evan Royster, the team's oft-deployed backup from a year ago.

Michigan lost its top two receivers from a year ago, both of whom had eligibility left. They also lost the team's all-time leading rusher, who carried the team on his back. Without Mike Hart last year, the Wolverines' run game was something resembling pathetic. There was no reason for intense optimism coming into this year, as true freshman Sam McGuffie is the starter, and oft-injured Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are the only players with any experience who return.
The Takeaway
This is not meant to be an excuse for Michigan's season thus far, but rather an explanation of why Penn State is having so much more success than Michigan. Coming into the year, I think anyone who really paid attention could have seen it coming, and now we understand why the Nittany Lions are succeeding where Michigan has failed.

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“Why has PSU succeeded where Michigan has failed?”

  1. Anonymous Mike @ ZN Says:

    Not bad. Morelli was taken by the AZ Cardinals, but cut. Not that I'm proud of that. Just saying. Also, could it be that Penn State has much more talent stacked up, than Michigan does, more because Lloyd Carr didn't recruit as well after the 2004 Henne/Hart class? I mean, Penn State didn't lose just one starter. Both starting defensive tackles were kicked off the team, Sean Lee went down, the quarterback and two running backs graduated, and its supposed best corner left early. So, really, it's mainly due to Penn State's recruiting the last three seasons, compared to Michigan's. The Wolverine SHOULD have better talent bursting from every position. But I guess when you replace a coach in the manner UM did, you suffer no matter what.

  2. Blogger bouje Says:

    uh... offensive line comparison?? really??? How did you miss this?

    We have 1/2 returning starters on offense (depending on if you count matthews) and you are wondering why we are struggling offensively (here's some more info from Brian at Mgoblog) We were like 70th in offense last year with all NFL talent... we lost everyone WTF DID YOU THINK WOULD HAPPEN?

  3. Blogger Tim Says:

    How is bringing up every single offensive position in terms of experience "missing this" in terms of... talking about offensive experience?