Game Preview: Penn State vs. Michigan

Story posted November 27, 2020 in CommRadio, Sports by Zach Donaldson

Penn State is 0-5 for the first time in program history, dating all the way back to 1887. Michigan had to claw its way past Rutgers and was a missed field goal in double overtime away from starting 1–4 for the first time since 1967.

In short, both of these teams have struggled mightily this year.

A pair of the two largest and most loyal fan bases in college football will be watching in fear, hoping that things don’t get any worse. The question remains: Which fanbase will things start to look up for?

Let’s dive in and take a look at some of this week’s key matchups and keys to the game for each team.

Penn State has a glaring question mark at the quarterback position.

Whether it’s Sean Clifford or Will Levis, whoever starts under center for the Nittany Lions must take care of the football if they want to win this game.

That starts up front with the offensive line for Penn State. The Nittany Lions are ranked last in the Big Ten, surrendering 20 sacks in five games.

This is a veteran group that fails to take the next step game after game. It's essential that Penn State’s offensive line provides push and a clean pocket in pass protection while opening up holes for the rushing attack to thrive.

The status of running back Devyn Ford is still uncertain. It’s going to be critical that Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes step up as well, as they’ll be carrying the load out of the backfield.

The offense has struggled overall, but has flashed some explosive potential with wide receivers Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington on the outside.

Dotson’s 527 yards this season rank fifteenth nationally and his six touchdowns are good enough for a tie for second in the Big Ten. Don’t expect that production to stop against a Michigan pass defense that’s letting up 247.3 passing yards per game and has only tallied one interception on the season.

Keandre Lambert-Smith was listed as a starter again on this week’s depth chart release, so look for his numbers to increase and his impact on the offense to start to heat up.

Levis has brought high energy and led the offense on admirable drives with his feet, but has failed to find true success in the passing game. Clifford, on the other hand, has had his fair share of success in the air this season. The junior gunslinger ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 1070 passing yards and third with 11 touchdowns on the season, despite being benched for about a game. Clifford has also excelled on the ground, as he has been one of the leading rushers for the Nittany Lions.

On the downside, Clifford is tied for the Big Ten lead with eight interceptions. He has also lost two fumbles, both that were returned for touchdowns. Levis has lost three fumbles this year as well.

In total, the Nittany Lions have committed 13 turnovers that have been the leading catalyst of Penn State’s colossal downfall this season.

Additionally, with how the defense has performed at times, it’s vital that the quarterback takes care of the football and doesn’t provide the Michigan offense any freebies. Head coach James Franklin has called turnovers “the story of the season” for the Nittany Lions and they could likely be the biggest factor in the outcome of the game.

Michigan is a team that has been its own separate set of chaos in the Big Ten.

However, last week its offense may have had a revival with Cade McNamara leading the troops. McNamara exploded in the Wolverines’ triple overtime victory over Rutgers, completing 27-36 passes for 260 yards and scoring five total touchdowns.

Michigan doesn’t force turnovers, as it is tied with Penn State for last in the Big Ten with only three gained all year. However, the Wolverines don't turn the ball over either, amongst the least in the Big Ten.

Michigan's offense is its strength, and the unit coming off of an explosive breakout performance. Accompanying McNamera in the backfield stands a dangerous duo in junior Hassan Haskins and sophomore Zach Charbonnet.

Haskins is coming off a contest where he rushed for 109 yards and one touchdown versus Rutgers and will be seeking to feast on a Penn State run defense that has struggled to tackle and play a complete game all season.

Charbonnet scampered through the Penn State defense for 81 yards and two touchdowns last year as a freshman, and this year coming off of some momentum, look for him to be confident alongside his counterpart.

This Wolverines offense is going to be tasked with carrying the defense which has had a lackluster season. Although, they will be up against a Penn State offense that has been a major disappointment this season in its own way.

Penn State has had deficits of 10, 15, 21, 21 and 17 points, respectively, heading into the locker room this season. The Nittany Lions have struggled to start off firing no matter the competition.

Going against a Wolverines offense that has the capability to put up points fast, Penn State is going to find itself in a hole that’s too big to climb out of before the clock hits zero.

Both teams have had underwhelming seasons, to put it lightly. But something has to give, and Penn State’s offense, and the defense for that matter, has shown no signs of trending upwards.

Prediction: Michigan 31, Penn State 17


Zach Donaldson is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email