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25 Random Thoughts Heading Into The Michigan Game

Can Penn State just win this game please?

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Penn State beat Maryland. It was a good win and much needed after an uninspiring, sloppy Indiana performance until the last three minutes. The Terrapins served their purpose: as a “get right” opponent, and boy, did the Nittany Lions get right to the tune of 51-15.
  2. As nice as that was, it was largely a meaningless game in the grand scheme of James Franklin’s tenure at Penn State.
  3. You know what won’t be though? This Saturday’s clash with the Michigan Wolverines, who come into Beaver Stadium ranked No. 3 in the country and carry a 20-game Big Ten win streak dating back to the 2021 season.
  4. Oddly enough, one of the few games that saw that streak almost snapped was the last time the Wolverines made their way to Beaver Stadium in 2021. Michigan trailed 21-17 late in the fourth quarter until tight end Erick All got loose down the sideline and scored from 47 yards out.
  5. When you look at the history between Penn State and Michigan during the Franklin/Harbaugh eras, all of the “loud” Michigan wins — 2016, 2018, and 2022 — have come in the Big House. Games within Beaver Stadium that Michigan ended up winning — like 2015 and the aforementioned 2021 game — have been much closer and against unranked Nittany Lions squads.
  6. Just *how* good the Nittany Lions are this year remains to be seen, but the at the very least, the data and history points toward this game not being a demoralizing beatdown like we saw last year.
  7. For Penn State to put itself in position to win, one of the key areas where they will have to be better than it was in 2022 will be defending the run. The Wolverines bullied the Nittany Lions defense last season, rushing for 418 yards on 7.6 yards per rush.
  8. After the game, Franklin lamented the Nittany Lions lack of size on the defensive line, and specifically defensive tackle. But the bigger issue was gap control across the front seven. To put it simply, the defensive line and (especially) linebackers played undisciplined. That’s why if you take out the Michigan performance, Penn State’s 2022 defense allowed just 2.7 yards per rush, which would have been the best in the Big Ten last season.
  9. Fast forward a year, and the Nittany Lions actually find themselves as not only the best rushing defense in the Big Ten but in all of the Power 5 as well. Despite lacking a PJ Mustipher-esque 320-pounder, they have held up extremely well against the run, only allowing 2.00 yards per rush.
  10. A repeat of last year’s performance hopefully isn’t in the cards. One of the things that could help that — beyond playing more disciplined — is an offense that can put together some drives. In the first half of last year’s game, Michigan’s offense had 53 plays to Penn State’s 14. Of those 14 plays, the Nittany Lions offense picked up just one first down; Sean Clifford’s 62-yard scamper which set up 1st and goal.
  11. Like Penn State saw firsthand against Iowa earlier this season: inept offenses debilitate even the strongest of defenses. Scoring every drive isn’t realistic, but whether it’s chunk plays and/or converting third downs at a higher rate than 6.25% (thanks, Jim Knowles), the offense is going to need to manufacture ways to stay on the field. Going three-and-out is a killer for both the offense and defense.
  12. Obviously, that’s easier said than done given Penn State’s inability to generate big plays. The Buckeyes keyed on that deficiency and showed that an offense predicated on converting lots of third downs isn’t a winning recipe.
  13. 42 teams have faced 130 third downs this season. Just three of them — Utah, Oklahoma State, and Penn State — are ranked.
  14. I know that James Franklin and Mike Yurcich have opted for this type of offense because of the struggles at wideout, but shots need to be taken. Even if it converts third downs at a 30%+ clip, Penn State will not beat Michigan without at least two plays of 30+ yards.
  15. On that same note, the Nittany Lions will need the best version of Drew Allar. Fortunately, he is coming off his best performance of the season, throwing for 240 yards and four touchdowns against the Terrapins. I thought he played with some regained confidence, and was back to trusting his reads and instincts.
  16. Hello, Dante Cephas?! This team so desperately needed him to step up with Harrison Wallace sidelined, and it seems like he is doing so just in the nick of time.
  17. Kaytron Allen is this team’s RB1. For every four offensive series, I think Allen needs to be starting three of them.
  18. As much as we all love Nick Singleton’s “home run ability” it just hasn’t been there this season, and without it, what is he providing compared to Allen?
  19. I say that with a lot of hope that I jinx myself into looking stupid, with Singleton breaking off two 30+ yard runs. Please, Nick. Make me eat crow.
  20. Chop Robinson and Amin Vanover were full participants at practice on Wednesday night, and it seems like the expectation is that both will be ready to go for Saturday.
  21. Chop strip sack *prayer emoji* *prayer emoji* *prayer emoji*
  22. Speaking of defensive players who could use big games, Kalen King and Abdul Carter have had good seasons, but we are still waiting for a statement game from both. How does Saturday sound? Pick six for King and JJ McCCarthy getting suplexed into the mantle from Carter, yes?
  23. I just want to give credit to myself for not mentioning anything about the sign stealing scandal until now. Made it almost 1,000 words before doing so.
  24. Here’s where I stand on this: Michigan fans are the biggest baby losers in the world. Just own that you cheated and that you don’t care because you got two Big Ten titles out of it. That’s much more respectable than crying about the need for a “full investigation” and “due process” when you don’t actually care about either of those things. You would only accept the results of the “full investigation” should it clear Harbaugh’s name, and your “due process” is just a semi-fancy legal term for “let’s just make sure this drags out past the season so we can give the CFP one more try.”
  25. Anyway, win or loss, I will be doing the postgame show shirtless while laying on the floor. That’s how you know this game is important.