Penn State vs Michigan Preview
ComRadio's own Alissa Devine, Brian Mclaughlin, Zach Seyko and Erin Dolan break down this week's matchup between the Nittany Lions and the Michigan Wolverines. Coverage begins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. on ComRadio.
As the Penn State Nittany Lions (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) roll into next Saturday after their redemption against the Temple Owls, the Blue and White look forward to their first conference matchup of the 2016 season. They face Jim Harbaugh’s fourth-ranked Michigan Wolverines (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) on the road.
Penn State faces another opportunity for redemption against an even more formidable opponent than Temple. Over the past two years, Michigan has cemented themselves as Penn State’s Achilles heel with two consecutive season victories in both the Big House and Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions faced an 18-13 defeat in 2014 and a devastating loss of 28-16 in 2015. What will 2016 hold for Penn State against a tough conference opponent?
The Lions and the Wolverines both headed major offensive victories in week three of their seasons. Michigan routed the Colorado Buffaloes to a 45-28 victory, with an initial slow start against the opposition before finishing with a flourish of an adaptable defense and an offensive momentum swing at the hands of running back, De’Veon Smith.
While Michigan led an impressive second-half comeback, Penn State managed to avoid two consecutive losses and another upset at the hands of Temple with their 34-27 victory. Every week seems to be the same level of output for the Blue and White with Saquon Barkley and Chris Godwin providing complementary threats at their respective positions. Meanwhile, Trace McSorley still tries to avoid blatant turnover mistakes and the defense struggles to solidify their tackles.
The Wolverines are ranked fourth in the AP Poll and a 19-point favorite over the Nittany Lions for a reason. Compared to James Franklin’s overall scheme, the Wolverines have balance on both sides of the ball. Their offense is averaging 53 points per game, while their defense leads the nation on third downs with a 10.5 percent conversion rate for opposing offenses.
To add insult to injury, Penn State not only needs to prepare for the dynamics of Michigan’s entire game plan, they also face the challenge and mystery of triple-threat Jabril Peppers. Although listed as a linebacker, the electric junior also finds himself involved at corner, punt returner and occasionally on the offensive side of the ball. Last week he returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown, while also achieving nine tackles with three-and-a-half for a loss and one sack. If Peppers maintains this level of play, he certainly cements himself into the Heisman conversation.
Although the Nittany Lions face an uphill battle with Harbaugh, Peppers and wide receiver Amara Darboh at the forefront, they too have bright spots to utilize. If McSorley and his offensive line can focus on avoiding the detrimental fumbles and interceptions, the Blue and White can test a dangerous Wolverine’s defense. McSorley must create a cohesive unit with Godwin and unsung tight end Mike Gesicki, while also feeding Barkley the ball at optimal times for him to exploit the holes and pound down field. The Nittany Lions will find it difficult to win without putting a significant amount of points on the board.
While Penn State’s offense at least has a clear plan to follow and execute, Penn State’s defensive coordinator, Brent Pry, has a huge question mark looming before him after Brandon Bell, Jason Cabinda and Nyeem Wartman-White all suffered injuries the past few games. Brandon Smith, a walk-on and the replacement for linebacker Wartman-White after his season ending injury against Temple, will be a player to watch as well as the statuses of Bell and Cabinda. The Lions produced in the face of adversity, allowing Temple only 38 rushing yards, but the question looms: can Pry’s defense contain a significantly better Michigan offense? Penn State’s upset factor lies in their ability to hold Michigan to field goals.
The Penn State Nittany Lions are scheduled to kickoff conference play against the Michigan Wolverines at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Big House.
Madeleine Balestrier is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.