Penn State (2-1) travels to Michigan still looking for a signature win under third year coach James Franklin. Franklin has yet to put his stamp on the program, and this is a perfect opportunity for him to get the fan base on his side. The Nittany Lions only loss came against Pitt, and it was by a single field goal.
There has been little talk between the coaches or teams this week, but the opposing coaching staffs bump into one another frequently on the recruiting trail. Big name recruits will have their eyes on this matchup.
Rushing Offense against Penn State
Penn State has been Jekyll & Hyde when it comes to defending the running game this season. After allowing 150 yards to Kent State in the opener, Penn State then gave up 341 yards the following week to in-state rival, Pitt. Last week, PSU got their act together and held Temple to just 28 yards rushing. We can’t be sure which defense will show up Saturday when facing Michigan.
Junior safety Marcus Allen is anchoring the defense, leading the team with 21 tackles. Senior linebacker Brandon Bell is the man in the middle, contributing 17 tackles of his own. PSU suffered a big blow last week, losing their other senior linebacker, Nyeem Wartman-White, for a second-straight season to a knee injury. Wartman-White was fourth on the team in tackles with 14.
Freshman Chris Evans still leads the Michigan runningbacks with 159 yards on 21 carries. De’Veon Smith is next on the list with 158 yards. Jim Harbaugh is doing the most possible to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers with speed.
The jet sweep has been a staple in the Michigan playbook since game one. Handing the ball to Eddie McDoom, Jabrill Peppers and Jehu Chesson has gotten very good results when teams decide to load the box to stop the run. Michigan has the athletes to get to the outside and gash their opponents for large chunks of yards.
- Advantage: Michigan
Michigan will do its best to set the tone early by pounding the ball up the middle. If that doesn’t work, they’ll get the ball outside to their playmakers and make Penn State spread out their defense.
Passing Offense against Penn State
Penn State has tallied four interceptions thus far, allowing only three touchdowns through the air this season. Opponents are averaging just under 170 yards passing per game.
The defensive line has put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well. Sacking opposing signal callers ten times for -73 yards, the unit is led by DE Shareef Miller. Miller is a first year player but is being depended on to provide pressure in the backfield
Wilton Speight got off to a rough start last week but he was able to turn it around and make it a respectable outcome. Jake Butt deserves some of the credit, registering seven catches for 87 yards.
When Speight struggles, he has the best quarterback coach in the country. Combined with ample time in the pocket from an improving offensive line, he should be just fine.
- Advantage: Michigan
Michigan has too many athletes for Penn State worry about. The Nittany Lions have athletes of their own, but they have yet to face the speed that Michigan has. This will be a matchup to watch, but the Wolverines will prevail if Speight has time to throw.
Rushing Defense against Penn State
Saquon Barkley is a big name runningback in any matchup. Barkley is coming off a true freshman campaign where he ran for 1,076 yards. You can expect the same thing this season as he’s already close to 300 yards with six touchdowns in just three games. He’s the heart of this offense and if the Wolverines don’t wrap him up, he will run for days. Barkley has also been know to run some and could hurt them from the spread.
Michigan hasn’t matched their previous’s season rush defense just yet, but they have only allowed 140 yards per contest thus far. Opponents only have two touchdowns on the ground. They’ve spent plenty of time in the opponent’s backfield, registering 32 tackles for losses. Jabrill Peppers has been a madman, registering 9.5 tackles for losses himself.
- Advantage: Push
Last year Barkley was only able to gain 68 yards against the Wolverine front. This year, there’s a different defense. Barkley may go over 100 yards this time with a full year of experience under his belt.
Passing Offense against Penn State
RS sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley has taken over the Nittany Lion offense and currently leads the B1G in passing (828 yards, 4 td’s). He’s a better fit to be the triggerman Franklin wants to run his spread offense.
McSorley has plenty of targets to throw to in receivers Chris Goodwin, DaeSean Hamilton, Mike Gesicki and DeAndre Thompkins. All of these guys have big play ability and would love to showcase their talent on a televised matchup inside Michigan Stadium. Goodwin leads the group with 18 grabs for 220 yards and a touchdown.
Michigan’s defensive backfield has been average. Giving up several big plays last week to Colorado, the Wolverines need to go back to the drawing board and reset. The return of Jourdan Lewis is expected this week, and timing couldn’t be better.
The Wolverines haven’t looked great in pass coverage, but they haven’t looked awful either. The level of competition is only going to get better as the year goes on, and if they don’t fix this problem now, they could be in for a rude awakening. Safeties Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill will be counted on once again to prevent the deep ball.
- Advantage: Penn State
Penn State has five passing plays good for 40 yards or longer already this season. Michigan has yet to show they can stop a team with a solid group of receivers and a heady quarterback. Edge goes to Penn State until Michigan shows something different.
Prediction: Michigan 34 – Penn State 23
Penn State always plays Michigan tough and James Franklin would love to leave the state of Michigan with a win. Franklin’s Nittany Lions will play a full 48 minutes, giving their best effort, but it just won’t be enough. Penn State finally has the type of quarterback they want and a gang of wide outs looking to make a name for themselves on a national stage. Michigan will get their best effort.
What is your score prediction for the first game on the Big Ten slate? Let us know in the comment section below!
Photo Credit: Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Graduated intramural sports king at Eastern Michigan University. Content contributor at MGoFish.com
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