Game Preview: Penn State vs. Michigan
Sports staff previews Penn State's Big Ten East showdown against Michigan this Saturday:
No. 14 Penn State (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) is heading to Ann Arbor, MI this week for a huge matchup against the No. 5 Michigan Wolverines (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten).
The Nittany Lions are coming off a win at home against No. 19 Iowa. Yetur Gross-Matos had a huge game with nine tackles, including four for a loss and two sacks. Penn State now has a total of 28 sacks on the year, the most in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions also picked off the talented Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley twice. One interception came inside Iowa’s five-yard line by Nick Scott, his second in the past two games.
On the offensive side, quarterback Trace McSorley went down with a knee injury causing Tommy Stevens to step in for a few drives. Stevens threw for 27 yards on four attempts and ran for 18 yards and a touchdown. McSorley returned in the second half though and proved his knee was just fine by rushing for a 51-yard touchdown. McSorley is now the top rushing quarterback in the Big Ten with 617 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns.
Michigan must be prepared to keep the Penn State return team in check. The Nittany Lions have excelled all year in their kick returns due in part to the explosiveness of KJ Hamler. He is top ten in the NCAA in combined kick return yards and is always a threat. Hamler is also the team's top receiving option with five touchdowns and has multiple games with over 90 yards receiving.
Michigan comes into this matchup on a seven-game winning streak after its first game was a loss to the third-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The biggest strengths of this Michigan team is its defense and running game. The Wolverines lead the country in both total defense and pass defense. They allow just 14.4 points per game to opponents this season despite being without their lethal pass rusher Rashan Gary the past three weeks. Head coach Jim Harbaugh is still uncertain on whether Gary will be able to suit up on Saturday.
The emergence of Ole Miss transfer quarterback Shea Patterson has led to a resurgence of the Michigan offense. He has gotten help from star running back Karan Higdon, who has had a 100-yard running effort in six of Michigan’s eight games.
In addition, he is eighth in the NCAA in rushing yards per game (118.7 ypg) and will be going against a Nittany Lion defense that has had a slight problem stopping the rush this year. Penn State has given up 1,291 yards on the ground in eight games making it the 71st worst team in the country for rush yards allowed.
On the other hand, Penn State has succeeded in running the ball this year. Miles Sanders is second in the Big Ten in rushing yards while trying to fill the shoes of Saquon Barkley and McSorley is an elite scrambler with two 100-plus rushing yard games.
Overall, it is a potent Penn State offense against an outstanding Michigan defense. It will be intriguing to see if the Nittany Lions can halt Michigan’s push towards the College Football Playoff and pick up a huge conference win on the road.
Joseph Muscente is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.