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No.14 Penn State at No.5 Michigan: Game Preview

Penn State takes the role of underdog as they try to spoil the Wolverines playoff hopes and move back into the top 10.

Michigan v Penn State Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Penn State will look to play spoiler by pulling off the upset in Ann Arbor while shattering Michigan’s playoff hopes.

(#14)Penn State (6-2, 3-2) vs. (#5)Michigan (7-1, 4-1)

Kickoff: 3:45 p.m., Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI

The Betting Line: Penn State +11.5

TV: ESPN- Kirk Herbstreit (play-by-play), Chris Fowler (analyst), Maria Taylor (sideline)

Weather: Cool but dry, with temps in the mid-to-low 40s during the game.


James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 42-19, 5th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 66-34, 8th Year


Jim Harbaugh:

MICHIGAN RECORD: 35-12, 4th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 137-58-1, 15th Year




Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson received an enormous amount of buzz after transferring to Michigan to lead the offense, and now we’ll finally see him take on the Nittany Lions. Patterson hasn’t been putting up prolific numbers during his time in Ann Arbor, but has been very efficient- exactly what is needed when you have one of the nation’s best defenses.

Patterson is completing 67.2 percent of his passes on the season, with 12 touchdowns to three interceptions. He won’t take many designed runs, but has the mobility to elude pressure and pick up the occasional first down with his legs as needed. It should be noted that he managed an 81-yard run against Wisconsin, so that RPO is always in Harbaugh’s back pocket if needed.

Karan Higdon is one of the better Michigan running backs in years, and has the all-around ability to run between the tackles and get a big gain outside. It will be crucial for the Penn Sate defense to wrap up and not allow him to break tackles, which has been an issue throughout the season. Higdon has posted 100-plus rushing yards in the past six games he’s played, and is coming off a 144-yard effort at Michigan State. They do not use Higdon out of the backfield often, as he has four receptions on the year and has yet to catch multiple passes in a game this season.

Sophomore Donovan Peoples-Jones is easily Michigan’s biggest playmaker on offense. He leads the team with receiving touchdowns by a wide margin with six, and is second in receptions (22) and receiving yards (326). His productivity has dropped off recently though, posting just eight receptions in the last five games. Sophomore Nico Collins has been getting more looks from Patterson as of late, as he can create mismatches with his 6-foot-4, 215 pound frame.

Speaking of using size to create mismatches, Michigan’s passing game relies heavily on the involvement of the tight ends. Senior Zach Gentry leads the team in both receptions and receiving yards, and is a load to cover at 6-8, 262 lbs. Surprisingly enough, Gentry has just one touchdown on the season.

As far as Penn State’s defense, keep an eye out for Yetur Gross-Matos. He has been an absolute terror the past two weeks. The sophomore defensive end leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss, and was named Defensive Player of the week after totaling nine tackles, four TFLs and two sacks against Iowa. If more attention is being paid to Gross-Matos moving forward, it will free up Shareef Miller to make an even bigger impact.


Penn State faced its best defense of the season so far against the Hawkeyes last Saturday. Now they up the ante by going against an even better defense in week 10. The Wolverines are loaded with talent throughout, and form one of the very best defenses in the nation.

Linebacker Devin Bush, the heart and soul of the defense, suffered an injury two weeks ago at Michigan State but is expected to play on Saturday. He makes plays from sideline-to-sideline, and also knows how to get in the backfield to blow up a play. As long as he sees the field, you’ll be hearing his name plenty. Chase Winovich is one of the best defensive linemen in college football, and will give the offensive line fits. He leads the team with 10 TFLs and also has three sacks. Rashan Gary isn’t too far off at the other end position, but is not likely to play while he works to return from a shoulder injury. Outside linebacker Josh Uche has been effective coming off the edge, leading the team with five sacks.

Michigan has been dominant on defense throughout the season, without many specific weaknesses to attack. They are first in the nation in pass efficiency defense, passing yards allowed and total defense, yielding just 122.9 yards through the air and 220 total yards per contest. The rushing defense isn’t that far off, allowing just 97.1 yards per game. The Wolverines obviously aren’t giving up many points either (14.4 per game) since they aren’t allowing teams to move the ball much. They have really picked up steam the past two games, allowing just 20 points combined to Wisconsin and Michigan State. They are also coming off a bye week, giving defensive coordinator Don Brown two weeks to plan against the Penn State offense.

The one negative for Michigan’s defense is that they allow teams to score once they make it in the red zone, allowing teams to put points on the board 93.3 percent of the time.

Penn State’s offense will not be able to afford many mistakes against a defense of Michigan’s caliber. A dropped pass or untimely penalty could easily be the difference in pulling off an upset or going home in defeat. Points will be at a premium, so converting third downs will be crucial, and the offense will likely need to pull off a few big plays to outscore the Wolverines.

Trace McSorley briefly left the Iowa game last week with a leg injury, but returned for the entirety of the second half. Even if he’s banged up, it’s going to take an awful lot to keep McSorley off the field. True freshman receiver Jahan Dotson has become more involved with the offense, and caught a key fourth down pass to set up Penn State’s first score against Iowa. Keep an eye out for another true freshman, tight end Pat Freiermuth, who has caught a touchdown pass in four of the past five games.


Michigan kicker Quinn Nordin, who you may have heard of, has connected on 11 of 15 field goals on the season with a long of 50 yards. He is three of six for field goals of 40 yards or more. The Wolverines have one of the nation’s finest punters in Will Hart, who is averaging nearly 50 yards per attempt. Hart often has punts of more than 60 yards, providing the defense with a huge boost by regularly flipping the field when the offense stalls out deep in its own territory.

The Wolverines have a dangerous set of return men in Ambry Thomas and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Thomas is averaging 24.9 yards per kickoff return, and had a 99-yard score against Notre Dame. Peoples-Jones averages 8.8 yards per punt return, and also had a return touchdown of his own by going 60 yards for a score against Nebraska.

Penn State kicker Jake Pinegar seemed to have turned a corner last week against Iowa. Coming into the game, his long for the season was 39 yards. Against the Hawkeyes, Pinegar was perfect as he nailed three field goals of 40 or more yards in wet conditions. He has now connected on his last six field goal attempts.

The Nittany Lions may need a big special teams play or two to pull off an upset. Fortunately, DeAndre Thompkins and KJ Hamler can both deliver in the return game.


Michigan-24, Penn State-20

If Penn State’s offense is to put it together for a complete performance, this is the week to do it. I believe they are capable of putting up enough to outpace Michigan, but it’s hard to believe they will be able to move the ball consistently and avoid costly errors to put up enough against a loaded Wolverines defense.

If the Nittany Lions can create a few big plays on offense, get some quality returns from Hamler and Thompkins, and create at least two turnovers, they can definitely pull off the upset. There’s just too many “ifs” and not enough evidence from the last few games to give me enough confidence. I believe they will play Michigan very tough, but in the end just won’t be able to come away with the victory.

Trace McSorley will give it his all in his final go-round with Michigan, running for 80 yards and a touchdown, and tossing for another by connecting with Pat Freiermuth. On defense, Yetur Gross-Matos continues his hot streak with a sack and three TFLs, while Shareef Miller gets a sack and forced fumble. John Reid also picks up where he left off with a big interception in the first quarter to give the Nittany Lions some early momentum.