Game Preview: Penn State vs. Michigan
The Penn State Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-1 B1G) head to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines (2-4, 0-2 B1G) for both programs’ third Big Ten game of the season.
Penn State is coming off a tough loss at the hands of Northwestern two weeks ago, on homecoming weekend. Last year the homecoming game was against the No. 18 Wolverines. In one of the more memorable games in Nittany Lion history, Bill Belton punched in a touchdown in the fourth overtime to give Penn State a 43-40 vicotry.
Since then Michigan has gone 4-8, and they’re also coming off a difficult loss at the hands of Rutgers, 26-24. In that game, Michigan lost sophomore running back Derrick Green, who has accounted for 43% of the team’s rushing attack this season. With sophomore quarterback Shane Morris still nursing an ankle sprain, Devin Gardner will get the nod once again as the starter.
The Nittany Lions are looking to bounce back this week; and they are running into a great opportunity to get back on track against the struggling Wolverines. It’s the team’s first trip to the Big House since 2009, where the Nittany Lions pulled out a 35-10 over the Wolverines. This trip is also the first for first-year head coach James Franklin.
"We are excited about the opportunity," said Franklin. "This will be my first time going to Michigan. Looking forward to that and experiencing that and that's something we're keeping mental notes as a coaching staff because a lot of our coaches haven't been to a lot of these locations before."
Coach Franklin is not taking the Wolverines lightly, despite their recent turmoil. Franklin is very high on Michigan’s quarterback Devin Gardner and feels that he is fit to give the Nittany Lions’ defense problems.
When asked about Gardner, Franklin responded, "The fact that he's a veteran guy and has played a lot of games, I think that shows up." Franklin also added, "I think the fact that he's 6’4, 220 pounds and probably one of the more athletic guys; in terms of being able to pull the ball down, you know and take off. And that's challenging, because on defense, there's so many things that you're trying to stop, and now you have to deal with a quarterback, as well."
Michigan ranks eighth out of fourteen Big Ten teams in sacks, so Penn State’s sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg should have ample time to get the ball to playmakers like Geno Smith, Dasean Hamilton and senior running back Bill Belton.
Against Northwestern, Penn State failed to register a touchdown. Hackenberg has more interceptions than touchdowns on the year, but Michigan’s subpar defense should present him with plenty of opportunities to change that on Saturday. The Nittany Lions should also be able to get the run game back on track this week with Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton.
Last year, Belton carried the ball 27 times for 85 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown against Michigan in the fourth and final overtime. This is Belton’s first and last visit to the big house, so he looks to have a big game especially coming off a porous 8 carries for 25 yards against Northwestern.
The Nittany Lions are in dire need of a win, just as Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is, who is on the hot seat since getting off to a 2-4 start. With the No. 15 Ohio State Buckeyes coming to Happy Valley in two weeks, Penn State risks the chance of a potential three game losing streak if they don’t pull it out in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Kick-off between Penn State and Michigan is set for 7 p.m. Saturday night. ComRadio’s complete coverage begins at 5:30 with The ComRadio Football Pregame Show, hosted by Phil Constantino.
Photo Credit: (AP Photo/York Daily Record, Jason Plotkin, File)
Christopher Gamble is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.