Penn State tries to bounce back at The Big House following its first loss of the season.
Penn State (4-1, 1-1) vs. Michigan (2-4, 0-2)
Kickoff: 7 p.m., Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
The Line: PSU +1.5
TV: ESPN2 Mark Jones (play-by-play), Rod Gilmore(analyst) Jessica Mandoza (sideline)
Weather: A chilly and dry evening with temperatures dropping into the upper-30s.
PENN STATE RECORD: 4-1, 1st Year
OVERALL RECORD: 29-16, 4th Year
VS. MICHIGAN: 0-0
MICHIGAN RECORD: 28-17, 4th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 75-67, 12th Year
VS. PENN STATE: 0-1
...NOW THE FUN PART
MICHIGAN OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE Even though they ran out of time in Piscataway, Michigan nearly pulled off a comeback after figuring out how to run the ball in the fourth quarter. Was the Wolverines late success on the ground a fluke, or have they figured out how to run the ball after five games? If it's the latter, Penn State could be in deep trouble on Saturday.
Unfortunately for Michigan's surging ground game, it was revealed earlier in the week that starting running back (and one time Penn State target) Derrick Green is out for the remainder of the season with a broken clavicle. However, Michigan has another back in De'Veon Smith who is more than capable of being a full-time starter. Simply put, Smith runs with purpose. He may actually be the toughest runner in the entire Big Ten outside of Ameer Abdullah. Smith runs the ball hard, and can easily shake off big hits to gain extra yardage. Smith is the type of back who will wear down a defense as the game progresses, and has the potential to become a dominant force with the extra carries coming his way.
Regardless of the health of Shane Morris, it appears that Devin Gardner is back as the starter at quarterback. Gardner had a pedestrian game in the air in his return to action against Rutgers, going 13 of 22 for 178 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He did contribute 40 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, so it will be crucial for Penn State to make sure to keep Gardner in the pocket. While Franklin is tight-lipped with injuries, it will be important for linebacker Nyeem Wartman to return to action following missing the Northwestern game with an arm injury. He should be back in the starting lineup according to the most recent depth chart.
Jordan Lucas will face his biggest test of the season when he faces off with Devin Funchess. The junior wide receiver will be a very high draft pick if he chooses to forgo his senior season, and is a major big-play threat. He has more than twice as many receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns than any other Michigan player. Jake Butt has returned to action following an offseason ACL injury, but has yet to become a major factor for the Wolverines aerial attack. We just might experience a much more explosive Butt on Saturday night.
MICHIGAN DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE Despite its struggles, Michigan has an excellent front seven- something that should worry every Penn State fan heading into this week's contest. While lacking a true superstar up front, the entire front seven is solid and make it difficult to move the ball. Once again, don't expect Penn State to gain much on the ground.
Michigan's best player on defense is linebacker Jake Ryan. While he doesn't immediately jump off the screen, he always finds his way to the ball and can make an offensive player think twice about heading his direction after a bone-jarring hit or two.
Michigan's secondary was playing fairly well until an utter meltdown against Rutgers. Gary Nova, the same quarterback who threw five interceptions against Penn State in week three, lit up the Wolverines for more than 400 yards passing, three touchdowns and no interceptions. If Hackenberg can manage time in the pocket, he's due for a big game. It's also a possibility he'll be running for his life all night, and we'll never know just what he could have done.
SPECIAL TEAMS: It seems as though having an inconsistent kicker has been one of the trademarks of the Michigan program for the past two decades or so. This year is not much different- well, kind of. Senior Matt Wile is only 5 of 9 for the season, but all of his misses have been beyond 40-yards. He's accurate, but does not have the biggest leg. Senior Will Hangerup is likely a shoe-in for All-B10 honors and a future NFL career. He is averaging 45.1 yards and will play a huge role in a game that seems destined to be determined by field position.
PENN STATE-16 MICHIGAN-13 I do not expect much scoring in this game. Following the loss to Northwestern, I jokingly told Bill this game would end at 3-0 after 17 overtimes. I may not be that far off.
Penn State's offense will likely struggle again, finding difficulty to open holes against Michigan's defense or give Hackenberg much time at all in the pocket. On the other hand, the Nittany Lion's defense should be able to return the favor. Last season Penn State held Michigan to 28 yards on 28 carries- a similar performance is likely on top with a much improved Penn State defense.
We should be in store for a defensive slugfest where both punters get a workout. Not much for the highlight reel, but a late drive capped by a big reception by Geno Lewis and a key interception by Adrian Amos make the difference.