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No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 16 Michigan: Game Preview

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An unbeaten Penn State squad welcomes Michigan for a White Out under the lights. What else could you possibly ask for?

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Chris Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State seeks back-to-back victories against ranked opponents as they prepare for battle with Michigan under the lights of a Beaver Stadium Whiteout.

(#7) Penn State (6-0, 3-0) vs. (#16) Michigan (5-1, 2-1)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State -9

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

Weather: A pleasant and sunny day with highs in the low 60s before cooling off into the low-50s, upper-40s for kickoff.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 51-21, 6th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 75-36, 9th Year

VS. MICHIGAN: 1-4

Jim Harbaugh:

MICHIGAN RECORD: 43-15, 5th Season

OVERALL RECORD: 145-61-1, 16th Season

VS. PENN STATE: 3-1

NOW THE FUN PART....

MICHIGAN OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Michigan’s philosophy on offense is simple- establish the running game, and then get the ball in the hands of its talented playmakers. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, getting production out of this model has not proved as simple.

The one benefit of playing Iowa and Michigan in consecutive weeks is the defense can prepare for two very similar quarterbacks. Like Nate Stanley, Patterson is an experienced pocket passer who is capable, but not the type to carry the offense. Both have also been able to put together promising numbers against the poorer defenses on the schedule, but have difficulties when faced against one of Penn State’s caliber.

Patterson’s favorite target is sophomore Ronnie Bell, a smaller receiver who uses his speed to get open and can be dangerous in the open field. He has 20 receptions on the season, but has yet to reach the end zone. He’s coming off his most productive performance of the season with 98 receiving yards against Illinois. Junior Tarik Black is a big, physical receiver but has seen his productivity dip with five receptions in the past three games. Junior Donovan Peoples-Jones is dangerous, but defenses have been able to hold him in-check this season with only one game of more than 36 receiving yards. Nico Collins is a playmaker with a 20.7 yard per catch average, but is likely out again after missing last week’s game at Illinois.

Michigan may also be without its top running back after freshman Zach Charbonnet was forced out against Illinois. Before exiting the game, he was enjoying the best performance of his short Wolverines career, rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown against the Illini. However, backup Hassan Haskins outdid him with 125 yards and a score on just 12 carries in relief. It was just the second game where Haskins received more than two carries. The other time resulted in 45 yards on nine carries against Rutgers.

Penn State will stick to its tried-and-true strategy to stop Michigan by not allowing much on the ground and force Patterson to continually drop back and face the wrath of the Wild Dogs. This strategy could often be foiled in the past as long as the opposing quarterback had a satisfactory performance. That’s not as simple against this year’s Penn State defense with the regular, oftentimes constant, pressure they can bring.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. MICHIGAN DEFENSE

As per usual under Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines have relied on the strength of its defense while the offense often flounders. Things aren’t much different this year, although the unit isn’t quite as dominant as recent years as the Wolverines replace some top-notch talent from 2018.

Michigan is allowing 17 points per game, good for 15th in the nation and just 0.2 points more than Alabama. They have one of top pass defenses in the nation, with the run defense coming in at 33rd nationally.

Lavert Hill, a huge reason why the Wolverines are stingy against the pass, missed the Illinois game and it’s not clear if he will be present on Saturday. If so, he’s one of the top cornerbacks in the nation and is typically avoided. One the other side is Ambry Thomas, another standout with two interceptions on the season.

Khaleke Hudson is in the “Viper” spot, and will line up anywhere on the defense on any specific play. He leads the team in tackles with 58, and makes his presence felt on each play. Jordan Glasgow is another disruptor who makes plays all over the field, and can cause confusion based on where he is lined up prior to the snap. He has four sacks on the season and is second on the team with 47 tackles.

Defensive end Kwity Paye has done an excellent job getting into the backfield as well, with 7.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. He also missed the Illinois game after suffering a minor injury against Iowa the previous week. According to Harbaugh, there’s a strong chance he’ll be ready to go on Saturday. Outside linebacker Josh Uche regularly creates pressure off the edge, collecting 3.5 sacks and 5.5 TFLs this year.

Michigan has an overall strong defense throughout, and Penn State will need to earn its points on Saturday. The Nittany Lions offensive did something in the second half against Iowa it hadn’t done in years - controlled the line of scrimmage against a very good front seven. Michigan will provide another test to see if they can do it consistently — not just week-to-week, but for a full four quarters.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Michigan has been using two placekickers this season. Sophomore Jake Moody is five of six with a long of 43 yards. Meanwhile, the infamous Quinn Nordin has missed all three attempts on the season, including one in each of the last two games. It would seem reasonable to believe that Moody will be the choice on Saturday, but perhaps Jim Harbaugh will decide to go with Nordin after noticing Moody eating a chicken sandwich as his pregame meal. Senior Will Hart has done a fantastic job as punter this season, averaging 46.5 yards per punt and has several 60-yard-plus bombs to his name. He will be a huge asset for the Wolverines if the game turns into a defensive slugfest as many are speculating.

Peoples-Jones is a slippery punt return that can do some damage if the punt team doesn’t stay in its lanes. He’s averaging an impressive 11.4 yards per return, while his counterpart Ronnie Bell has an 8.4 yard average. Freshman wide receiver Giles Jackson has done well handling kickoffs with a 22.3 yard average, but does not have a return of longer than 34 yards on the season.

Jackson may not get he chance for a kickoff return as Jordan Stout has regularly taken away the opportunity by putting the ball well out of the end zone. However, he has had a few shorter kickoffs during the last three weeks after being an automatic touchback machine at the start of the season. Kicker Jake Pinegar is five of six on the season and connected on his only attempt last week, a 33-yarder against Iowa. KJ Hamler will usually attempt a punt and kickoff return whenever possible, and is always a threat to go the distance if he can make the first man miss.

PREDICTION

Penn State-27, Michigan-13

If you asked the pundits back in August, most would have expected Michigan to walk out of Beaver Stadium with a victory. Despite an offense that still had many questions to resolve and a huge departure of talent on defense, many viewed Michigan as the Big Ten favorite, a top-5 team, and a strong playoff contender. Not many would have given much of a thought of Penn State being ranked nine spots higher and a nine-point favorite.

While it’s nice to be in this position, Michigan will still be a challenge. It’s defense is capable of slowing down Penn State, and it has playmakers on offense that can make a decisive play if they remain in striking distance. Fortunately, we’ve learned this young and talented Nittany Lions team brings a business-like approach each week. They may still have some things to work out, but they will come out each week and consistently play hard, smart football. They’ll be looking to take care of business once again under the bright lights of Beaver Stadium.

Penn State will feed off the atmosphere and come out with an early score, and hang on to the lead as Michigan remains in striking distance. That will be until (and boy does it feel nice to finally be able to reasonably predict this) the offensive line and Noah Cain take over with a clock-churning drive to put the game away for good midway through the fourth quarter. The defense goes out and does its job to close out a satisfying victory against another ranked team.

Journey Brown joins Cain with a rushing touchdown and Clifford connects with Pat Freiermuth for another. On defense, Lamont Wade leads the way again with 10 tackles, Cam Brown has a momentum-swinging forced fumble and recovery, while Shaka Toney leads the Wild Dogs with two sacks.