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No. 23 Penn State vs. No. 9 Michigan: Game Preview

Penn State and Michigan are set for a battle in Happy Valley to prove they are among the Big Ten’s best.

Hack Michigan

Penn State looks to build off its win at Maryland as a Top 10 Michigan squad rolls into town.

#23 Penn State (6-3, 3-3) vs. No. 9 Michigan (8-1, 5-1)

Kickoff: Noon, Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State +1 (Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.)

TV: ABC - Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (analyst), Molly McGrath (sideline)

Weather: A cold and windy morning with a low of 34 that will gradually get to the low 40s by afternoon. There’s currently a 50 percent chance of rain.


James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 66-31, 8th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 89-46, 11th Year


Jim Harbaugh:

MICHIGAN RECORD: 57-23, 7th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 159-69-1, 18th Year




There’s little mystery of Michigan’s plans for offense. While they are balanced enough to keep the defense honest, the Wolverines aim to line up, put a hat on a hat, and win those match-ups to churn up yards on the ground.

Michigan has a two-headed monster leading the way for its rushing attack. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum have nearly equally split a combined 1,615 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. Haskins has the slightly larger role by averaging just under four more carries per game than Corum. However, Haskins will likely be playing a much larger role on Saturday as Corum seems unlikely to play after leaving the Indiana game with an injury and eventually returning to the sideline in a walking boot (Michigan has many injury concerns heading into Saturday, but Jim Harbaugh has wisely remained mum on their availability). Corum is also the team’s third-lading receiver, which could be missed if he’s out of the lineup.

Haskins has a physical style similar to what Penn State saw in Auburn’s Tank Bigsby. He improves as the game goes on, and can wear on a defense with 20-plus carries. Haskins had no issue with Corum’s absence last week, as he finished with 168 yards and a touchdown to lead the way for the 29-7 victory over Indiana. Michigan’s third back, Donovan Johnson, could also be unavilable against Penn State.

Things get tricky from there. Quarterback Cade McNamara has been battling through injuries the past two weeks. Although it’s not the primary focus, McNamara has the ability to move the ball through the air when called upon. He put up 383 passing yards against Michigan State and went for 255 in the victory over Nebraska. Although all other games resulted in less than 200 yards through the air. McNamara is not a threat as a runner, which will be even less so if he’s battling through injuries.

Wide receiver Cornelius Johnson is a big, dangerous target who is leading the Wolverines with 27 receptions, 449 yards and three scores. He is coming off his second 100-yard day, catching five passes for 108 yards against Indiana. McNamara looks to tight end Erick All regularly, although All was forced out of action last week and it’s unclear if he will be available on Saturday. Tight end Luke Schoonmaker proved capable in his place last week, catching two touchdown passes.

Harbaugh and his staff have assuredly studied the Penn State-Illinois tape, where the Illini managed 354 rushing yards, the third-most allowed by the Nittany Lions in the past quarter-century.


There is little mystery to Penn State’s gameplan as well — depend on Sean Clifford and his bevy of pass catchers to carry the offense without a reliable run game. The Nittany Lions will need to find a way to keep Clifford upright, which will be a challenge considering Michigan’s pass rush, led by two of the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten.

Aiden Hutchinson and David Ojabo routinely blow up plays in the backfield, and seem to impact just about every play. Both are contenders for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, with Ojabo racking up eight sacks and four forced fumbles, while Hutchinson has 6.5 sacks and is nearly always in the backfield. You will also hear the name of linebacker Josh Ross quite a bit, who leads the team in tackles by a wide margin, and does well in coverage as well as playing downhill and making plays near the line of scrimmage. Safety Daxton Hill is the most active member of the secondary. He is the only Wolverine with two or more interceptions, leads the team with six pass breakups, and is second on the team with 48 tackles with 3.5 TFLs.

Penn State seemed to have something going on the ground with Keyvone Lee against Maryland. However, after one promising drive, Lee was back on the sideline as others were rotated back in action. It seems that Lee is ready to take ownership as the main ballcarrier for Penn State, although we’ll have to wait and see if James Franklin agrees.


In a strange turn of events, Michigan has a dependable kicker. Jake Moody is having an exceptional season, connecting on 21 of 23 field goals with a long of 52 yards. Both misses were in the 40-49 range. He’s also perfect on all 33 extra point attempts. Punter Brad Robbins is also a standout, averaging 44.6 yards per punt while regularly flipping the field when deep in their own territory.

Michigan could be without its kick returner if Corum is unable to go. This is likely a moot point as Jordan Stout never gives the opportunity for a kick return.


Penn State-20, Michigan-17

I can see this game going many different way, and none of them too surprising. It’s been that type of year that after nine games, it still seems difficult to get a solid grasp of either team - what they’re capable of, and what may trip them up. It’s been that type of year for nearly every program outside of Georgia.

This game will come down to two things for Penn State - keeping Clifford upright and not allowing Michigan to sustain drives on the ground. Both will be challenging, but the Nittany Lions could prove up to the task, especially in front of a fired up Beaver Stadium crowd and facing the Wolverines when they’ve been bit by the injury bug.

I’m expecting a typical November Big Ten slog of a game. Each team puts together a couple impressive drives, with plenty of punting in between. Both teams have outstanding defensive efforts that help force some momentum-shifting turnovers along the way. In the end, I’ll go with a big play by Jahan Dotson and a crucial stop from the Penn State defense to escape with a tight, and very satisfying, victory.

Let’s do this.