Penn State vs. Michigan Preview

Story posted October 11, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Kris Rogers

Coming off their first loss to the Indiana Hoosiers in school history, the Penn State Nittany Lions (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) are back home to face the Michigan Wolverines (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) in their annual Homecoming Game.

Michigan has the edge in the overall series with a record of 10-6, but Penn State has won the last three, including a 41-31 victory in 2010 when Rich Rodriguez was still coaching the Wolverines.

Seeing how Penn State rebounds from that loss will greatly determine its success against Michigan. Although they are undefeated, teams such as Akron (1-5) and UConn (0-4) have been able to keep the Wolverine offense in check and keep them in close games deep into the fourth quarter.

The two quarterbacks have very different play styles. Penn State signal caller and true freshman Christian Hackenberg (1,367 yds, 59.9% comp, 8 TD, 4 INT) is a traditional pocket passer where junior QB Devin Gardner (1,036 yds, 60.2% comp, 8 TD, 8 INT) looks to make more plays with his feet, similar to former Michigan QB and current Jacksonville Jaguar Denard Robinson.

Speaking of scrambling, both the Lions and Wolverines have talented run games, averaging 171.6 and 178 yards per game respectively. Penn State’s committee of backs consisting of Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch have a combined 11 touchdowns, with Zwinak accounting for eight of those.

For Michigan, Fitzgerald Toussaint will be getting the majority of the carries, but Gardner is the second leading rusher in terms of carries (56) yards (318) and rushing touchdowns (6) so he is definitely a threat to take off downfield.

Last week, Allen Robinson proved he is Penn State's most viable receiving option with 12 catches for 173 yards and two scores. The junior wideout has 38 catches on the year; no other PSU receiver has half that (Brandon Felder is second with 16). For the Wolverines, senior wideout Jeremy Gallon is Garnder's number one choice, catching 24 passes for 367 yards and 4 trips to the end zone.

If Penn State wants to get on the board, its defense will be key; having been heavily criticized from top to bottom following the losses to Indiana and UCF. The Lions gave up 78 points between those two games, and risk adding to that total against a Michigan offense that ranks 28th among all FBS schools in terms of points scored, averaging 38.8 per game. The Wolverines also have the ability to run a fast-paced, no huddle offense just like the one that gave Penn State fits last week.

Penn State will likely be looking to sack Gardner and force turnovers to control the time of possession. The Lions have seven takeaways on the season through five games. However, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan will be looking to prevent that. Lewan, who is regarded by some as a top-ten recruit for the 2014 NFL draft, is one of Michigan's captains for the 2013 season.

The kicking game was rough for the Lions against Indiana with two botched snaps, but it has been relatively steady this season.

Starting safety Ryan Keiser is still questionable for Saturday's game with a hand injury, but head coach Bill O'Brien said he, “feels good about him” at his weekly press conference.

A win for the Nittany Lions would put them at 4-2 on the season and give them their first win in Big Ten play.

Michigan is playing to continue their undefeated season and hold onto their lead in the Legends Division, and an opportunity to play in the Big Ten Championship.

Kris Rogers is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email klr5374@psu.edu.