Penn State comes in with a record of 7-3 but has yet to win a game against a ranked opponent. Michigan is hated in University Park so you can put your money on PSU coming out with something to prove. After beating the Wolverines in four overtimes in 2013, Michigan responded with a 18-13 victory last year. This one again, is a toss-up.
Rushing Offense against Penn State
Penn State features some of the best players in the Big Ten along their defensive line. One name people will recognize is Anthony Zettle. Zettle was a top recruit that came right out of Michigan’s back yard, hailing from Omegaw Heights High School. Moving from defensive end to defensive tackle, Zettle’s career has taken off.
Zettle and junior defensive tackle Austin Johnson have teamed up for 103 tackles, 22 of them for loss- making them one of the most productive lines in the Big Ten. Johnson is a 6-foot-4, 323 pound man that runs through opposing offensive lines. If Michigan’s offensive line continues to struggle, Johnson will set up camp all day in the backfield.
Michigan has had to turn to the passing game in recent weeks, due to a below average rushing attack. At this point in the season, it’s safe to say that they will still run a balanced attacked but who knows what part of the offense will be successful. The Wolverines will give carries to De’Veon Smith, Drake Johnson, and maybe Derrick Green or Ty Isaac in hopes that someone will breakthrough
Advantage: Penn State
The Nittany Lions are freakishly athletic up front and will live in the backfield if given the opportunity. With Michigan’s recent struggles, PSU has the advantage.
Passing Offense against Penn State
With the Wolverines doing so well the past two games passing, and the run game sputtering, can Michigan depend on Jake Rudock? Against stronger defenses earlier in the season, Rudock struggled with interceptions. Facing arguably the worst two pass defenses in the league the last two weeks, he’s looked brilliant. Penn State comes in tops among the conference in passing yards allowed, and 2nd in the nation.
Defensive end Carl Nassib has a lot to do with why opposing teams are having problems throwing the ball. Nassib leads the league with 15 sacks and shows no signs of slowing down. Penn State leads the Big Ten with 42 sacks. If the Wolverine offensive line cannot stop the pass rush, it could be a long afternoon for the boys in maize & blue. Pressure means turnovers and that’s something that they may not be able to overcome. Mason Cole will be tested often.
Starting senior safety Jordan Lucas will miss the remainder of the season due to a neck injury. This could make a difference in the Nittany Lion pass defense going forward.
Penn State leads the country in pass defense but has yet to face a trio of receivers like Butt, Chesson, and Darboh. It will be the battle to watch from kickoff.
Rushing Defense against Penn State
Penn State will watch plenty of tape on Indiana’s Jordan Howard, just to see how he was able to rip apart the Michigan defense for a 238 yard day. With freshman running back Saquon Barkley leading the rushing attack, and a mediocre offensive line, the Nittany Lions will shock the college football world if they duplicate that performance. Barkley’s scored seven touchdowns and has breakaway speed but also hasn’t faced a front line like the Wolverines. Penn State ranks 11th in the Big Ten in rushing yards.
Michigan learned just how valuable defensive lineman Ryan Glasgow was to their defensive scheme. The loss of Glasgow, and the tempo Indiana was running on offense was a recipe for disaster from the start.
Expect to see some new names getting playing time this week in Glasgow’s absence. Maurice Hurst will start, and Tom Strobel and Brady Pallante will spell him. The tempo will not be anywhere near that of Indiana’s, but do not be surprised if Penn State tries to hurry to the line and get some plays off quickly after watching last week’s game film.
The Wolverines are plugging and playing along the defensive line due to injuries but there are enough of the usual suspects still around to control the line of scrimmage.
Passing Defense against Penn State
Some NFL scouts consider Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg to be the top QB’s drafted if he leaves after this season. His skills are extraordinary and he can hurt a defense if he’s given time, but there lies the problem. Hackenberg’s been sacked 32 times through 10 games. With no time, he is just another quarterback with a good arm. He has protected the ball well, only throwing three interceptions but only has 13 touchdowns to show for the year.
Penn State doesn’t have any elite playmakers at the wide receiver position. This bodes well for Jourdan Lewis and the secondary. They should not have any problems staying with their men in coverage. If the defensive line can make any sort of push and get into the backfield, there should be a couple of coverage sacks considering how careful Hackenberg has been with the ball.
Lewis and Jabrill Peppers are having a superb years but could use some help in the turnover department. Hackenberg treats the ball like gold so it might be hard to create turnovers but still expect the typical sticky coverage.
Special Teams against Penn State
The special teams could very well decide the outcome of this game. If PSU can break a kick or punt return, that could spell big trouble for the Wolverines.
The Nittany Lions have given up two return touchdowns of their own this season and are more likely to give up a big play. They allow over 60 yards a game in return yards.
Michigan’s athletes are too good in this part of the game. If they don’t win this battle, they will not win this game.
Game prediction: Michigan 26 – Penn State 24
This could be labeled a trap game for the Wolverines and if they don’t come to play, it could end their chances at the Big Ten championship.
Photo Credit: Michigan Athletics/Derek Satterfield
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