Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 137 of 163

136 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY RYAN TICE Penn State head coach James Franklin probably never imagined his homecoming going so poorly last year. After going 24-15 in three years at the helm of Vanderbilt, the Pennsylvania native jumped at the chance to lead the Nittany Lions after Bill O'Brien left to take over the Houston Texans. In year one under Franklin, PSU won seven games for the second straight year, but needed a 31-30 overtime win over Bos- ton College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl to get there. The team stumbled to a 2-6 mark in league play — their worst Big Ten record since 2004 — after putting up 10 conference victories in two years under O'Brien. However, the biggest stunner was quar- terback Christian Hackenberg's sophomore slump. After debuting with 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns against 10 interceptions in a pro-style offense and being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, he regressed to 12 scores and 15 picks. It wasn't all his fault, though — the program was hampered by limited scholarships from their NCAA sanc- tions and a lackluster offensive line — and scouts are still drooling over the natural gifts of the 6-4, 236-pounder. Hackenberg, who served as the first soph- omore team captain in program history, is projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by ESPN's Todd McShay. Penn State's top two receivers from last year return to help the air attack. Redshirt sophomore DaeSean Hamilton led the way with 82 catches, which gained 899 yards, while redshirt junior Geno Lewis posted 751 yards on 55 receptions. However, the duo combined for just four touchdowns. Starting tight end Jesse James, who fin- ished third on the squad in receptions last year, and running back Bill Belton, who finished fourth in catches and led the team with seven touchdowns, both depart but have replacements ready to step in. Three tight ends that combined for num- bers similar to James return, while redshirt junior Akeel Lynch is ready to become the top running back. The 6-0, 220-pounder has been a part of the backfield committee the last two years, totaling 1,036 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, and he led the squad with 678 rushing yards last season. Up front, starting left tackle Donovan Smith leaves particularly big shoes to fill. Highly touted junior college transfer Paris Palmer is expected to take over for the sec- ond-round pick, and the Nittany Lions hope the rest of the line improves with last year's experience. The defense ranked among the nation's top 10 in nearly every major statistic last year (second in total defense, third in rush- ing, seventh in scoring and ninth in passing), and is in a situation similar to the offense. Only four starters need to be replaced, but they were some of the unit's top players. The starting defensive ends graduated af- ter they combined for 87 tackles, 18 tack- les for loss and nine sacks. Two extremely productive tackles return to the interior in Anthony Zettel, who led the team with eight sacks, 17 tackles for loss and three intercep- tions, and 325-pounder Austin Johnson, who logged 49 tackles (six for loss). The Big Ten's leading tackler and line- backer mainstay Mike Hull is out of eligibil- ity, so PSU will turn to junior returning start- ers Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman, last year's second-leading tackler, in the middle. Ball-hawking safety Adrian Amos is an- other big loss. Senior Jordan Lucas led the team with nine passes broken up last year and has 26 passes defended over the last two years at cornerback, but is expected to play free safety. Sophomore safety Marcus Allen could be a star in the making. Special teams could be an adventure with a new kicker, while sophomore Daniel Pasquariello must improve on last year's 37.3-yard punting average. Penn State is in better shape than when Franklin took the job because the NCAA softened some of its sanctions last Septem- ber. That allowed the team to go bowling, and they will have a full allotment of schol- arships again this fall. The playing field is level now, and the foundation has been laid under Franklin. Things are looking up once again in Happy Valley. Notes Junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg was sacked a Big Ten-worst 44 times last year … However, the team entered last year with just one first-team offensive lineman with starting experience; six big men boast such credentials entering this year … Only two of last year's losses were by more than a touchdown. ❑ Nittany Lions Poised For Bounce-Back Campaign GAME 11 • PENN STATE • NOV. 21 2015 SCHEDULE Date Opponent 2014 Result Sept. 5 at Temple W, 30-13 Sept. 12 Buffalo — Sept. 19 Rutgers W, 13-10 Sept. 26 San Diego State — Oct. 3 Army — Oct. 10 Indiana W, 13-7 Oct. 17 at Ohio State L, 31-24 (OT) Oct. 24 vs. Maryland* L, 20-19 Oct. 31 Illinois L, 16-14 Nov. 7 at Northwestern L, 29-6 Nov. 21 Michigan L, 18-13 Nov. 28 at Michigan State L, 34-10 * at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore QUICK FACTS All-Time Series: U-M leads 11-7 First Meeting: U-M 21, PSU 13 (Oct. 16, 1993, at Happy Valley) Last Meeting: U-M 18, PSU 13 (Oct. 11, 2014, at Ann Arbor) Head Coach: James Franklin, 7-6 at PSU (2nd year) and 31-21 overall (5th year) Off./Def. Systems: Multiple/Multiple 2014 In Review: 7-6 overall, 2-6 Big Ten (6th East) Final 2014 Ranking: Unranked Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist) Last Bowl Appearance: 2014 (New Era Pinstripe, vs. Boston College, W 31-30 OT) Big Ten Conference Championships (last): 3 (2008) RETURNING LEADERS Passing: Christian Hackenberg (2,977 yards, 12 TD, 15 INT) Rushing: Akeel Lynch (678 yards, 4 TD) Receiving: DaeSean Hamilton (899 yards, 2 TD) Tackles: Nyeem Wartman-White (75) Sacks: Anthony Zettel (8) Interceptions: Anthony Zettel (3) PLAYERS TO WATCH Offense: DaeSean Hamilton, R-So., WR — Debuted by lead- ing the Big Ten in receptions … Named second-team All-Big Ten by the media … Broke the program's freshman receiving records with 82 receptions and 899 receiving yards. Defense: Anthony Zettel, Sr., DT — Moved from defensive end and earned unanimous first-team All-Big Ten laurels … Was the only Football Bowl Subdivision player ranked among national leaders in sacks (tied for 51st, 0.62) and inter- ceptions (t-111th, 0.2) per game … Has compiled 27 tackles for loss, 16 sacks and four interceptions during his career. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg went from 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his freshman year to 12 scores and 15 picks last season. PHOTO COURTESY PENN STATE

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