Bob Wojnowski, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview the UM-Penn State and MSU-Maryland games. The Detroit News, The Detroit News
Going to start things off by allowing myself a chance to ask a question in the mailbag: "Hey, Angelique, isn’t it great there are no more regular-season night games?"
That’s a great, great question, Angelique, and yes, it is. The Wisconsin night game atmosphere was outstanding at Michigan Stadium, the great weather, the all-day tailgating, but once is more than enough. Over the years, night games have grown on me, but not enough that it would seem a great idea to have more than one at Michigan Stadium.
Well then, now that the self-absorbed portion of the mailbag has concluded, let’s get to it as Michigan prepares to face Penn State in a lovely-timed 3:45 p.m. kickoff Saturday.
►Question. What’s more likely Saturday … Shea over 300 passing or Higgy hitting the 1k mark? — @RyanTHendrix
►Answer. Ryan, I’m going with Karan Higdon hitting the 1,000-yard mark, which he maybe would have reached by now had he not missed a game. Higdon has 831 yards and is 169 from the magic mark. He’s had five straight 100-yard rushing games and is eighth nationally, averaging 118.7 yards a game. Penn State is ninth in the Big Ten against the run, yielding an average 161.4 yards.
Penn State has a solid defensive line and leads the Big Ten in sacks averaging 3.5, though. The Nittany Lions will try to get pressure on Shea Patterson, but he has done a decent job of getting out of trouble most of the time. He has had four 200-yard passing games and one just under at 196 yards. He threw for a season-best 282 against Maryland and threw for 212 against Michigan State in the Wolverines’ last game. He’s certainly capable of hitting 300 yards passing, but games haven’t been play-called for that kind of output from Patterson.
►Q. Any news on Gary’s return and Black? — @Leroys_bar
►Q. So do we know when Gary will return to the defense? I miss him kicking butt with the rest of them! — @Firebear9497
►A. Gregory and Barry, so there’s been nothing definitive on Gary’s status, but his teammates came out this week saying he’s working incredibly hard in rehab to get back on the field this season. I did ask defensive coordinator Don Brown on Wednesday how close Gary is to returning, and he was vague but seemed positive. “We’ll see,” Brown said. “I’m feeling good about him. We’ll see where he’s at. I’m not the doctor. I’m just a guy coaching. I think he’s very, very close.” He did practice Michigan State week but ultimately didn’t feel he be effective because of the shoulder injury.
Meanwhile, receiver Tarik Black was in uniform at Michigan State and did go through pre-game warmups. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked this week on the Detroit radio show “Jamie and Stoney” if he thinks Black will make more of a contribution against Penn State. “I would assume that,” Harbaugh said. “He’s practicing and doing well. Trying to get him back going again for sure. He’s doing a really good job.”
►Q.Hey there! Have you heard any news on Nordin and his troubles lately? Asking for a friend. — @Scottcaulk
►A. That was such a nice greeting, so back at you with the hey there! I asked Harbaugh about Quinn Nordin after the Michigan State game and did not get a direct answer, and he was asked something similar recently, and he started discussing punter Will Hart. I’m going to assume this is designed deflection. Kickers are people, too — my standard line — but some need to be handled wisely. You can’t overstate the obvious, like, “Hey, you’ve been missing kicks! Stop missing them!” That’s just not going to cut it. That would be like telling a golfer with the putting yips to stop missing gimmes. And I'm not suggesting Nordin has the yips, not at all. But he has missed three of his last six attempts, from 41, 54 and a 36-yarder in the Michigan State game.
In the mailbag last week I was asked three players who need to be good to go this final stretch of the regular season, and Nordin is critical. He has a great leg. He just needs to regain his confidence, and that's something special-teams coordinator Chris Partridge will have to very carefully orchestrate.
►Q. I got one for mom. Who will be the starting QB Game 1 next season? — @rocker_261
►A. Jared, this is not my mom’s mailbag. When she gets her own mailbag, I’ll let her answer questions. But this is my mailbag. MINE, MINE, MINE! OK, now that that’s settled, my feeling is that Shea Patterson will move on to the next stage of his career, and the starter will be … Dylan McCaffrey. (I can't believe you asked me to ask my mom. I'm hurt. Wounded.)
►Q. Patterson seemed reluctant to pull the trigger a few times during the MSU game. Is this a coaching issue (i.e. instructed to avoid turnovers at all costs) or a player issue? —@Denverwolverine
►A. Denver, he said a few weeks ago he’s still learning, even things like getting rid of the ball, which sounds simple, but we both remember times he didn’t and took big sacks. There were a few times I thought he hung onto the ball a bit too long against MSU and maybe he didn’t see an open receiver. It seemed like once he and Donovan Peoples-Jones connected, a different guy emerged. And maybe that’s all it takes — just hit that one play and your confidence takes over.
►Q. With Rutgers looming, any concern Michigan is caught looking ahead? — @Brendon923_
►A. Brendon, this made me laugh when you sent it. But in all seriousness, this isn’t what you were asking, but I’m going to make it sort of what you were asking. Of the two games sandwiched between Penn State and Ohio State, Indiana has all the makings of a trap game. No, I don’t think Michigan loses to the Hoosiers, but they’re going to give the Wolverines a good game for, say, two and a half quarters. Michigan has embraced the whole game-by-game mentality and also talk about it in a way that doesn’t make roll your eyes — they actually seem to really be focused and not looking ahead. But — and this is a big but — Indiana is the final home game before traveling to face Ohio State, so if ever there was a trap game, a game that might not have the Wolverines' full attention with a trip to Columbus just ahead, that would be it.
►Q. Does Harbaugh go for 2 while up late? Feels like a game where it could get ugly. Do you agree that this could get ugly for PSU? — @jimwinkle23
►Q. Is it just me or does it seem like Penn State thinks we’re rivals? — @JIM2WIN2015
►A. Finishing with a couple of Penn State questions, since, after all, the Nittany Lions are facing Michigan on Saturday. I guess I’ve never looked at Michigan and Penn State being rivals from either team’s perspective. It always feels like a big game in State College — the one campus bookstore always has a couple game-focused T-shirts for sale — and it does in Ann Arbor, too. But rivals? I don’t think so. As far as this one getting out of hand, at least from the Michigan defensive players’ perspective, they certainly seem to have major payback on their minds for last year’s 42-13 debacle, especially the way Penn State tried to score at the end. So, yes, if given the opportunity, I’m thinking Harbaugh will try to make it painful and generate a what’s-your-deal moment from James Franklin.