Michigan (8-2) vs. Penn State (7-3) 3:30 pm
Since 2010, the Nittany Lions are 2-1 against the Wolverines. The last two games have been decided by a total of 8 points including last season’s 18-13 by Michigan in Ann Arbor. Penn State will have an extra week to prepare for this game as the team had a bye last week.
The Wolverines are coming off of a high scoring overtime game with Indiana in which the team pulled out an impressive 48-41 victory in Bloomington. Michigan is averaging 32.6 points per game and loves to pound the football between the tackles with a rushing attack that is averaging 168 yards per game. The success of the running game has opened up the play action passing game for quarterback Jake Ruddock and company. Ruddock looked very sharp last week against the Hoosiers and had a school record 6 touchdown passes in the road win. On the year, Ruddock is completing 64.2% of his passes for 2,220 yards with 14 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He has displayed confidence as the season progresses and has shown great poise in the pocket this year in making smart decisions in the passing game. Michigan is converting 42% of the team’s 3rd down conversions (40th in FBS) due in part to the strength of the running game and running back DeVeon Smith. Smith is a bruising runner that leads the team with 582 yards averaging 4.4 yards per carry with 5 touchdowns. Michigan will challenge the Penn State defensive front this coming weekend and not shy away from the running game. Two weeks ago on the road, the Nittany Lions allowed 227 rushing yards to Northwestern and look for the Wolverines to implement a similar attack this Saturday. The Wolverines have come alive in recent weeks with their passing game and have thrown for over 300 yards in back to back victories over Rutgers (337) and Indiana (440). On the season, the team is passing for 224 yards per game with wide receiver Amarah Darboh leading the offense with 45 receptions for 567 yards with 4 scores. Teammate Jehu Chesson can be an X-factor in this game, as he is coming off an impressive 10 reception 207 yard performance with 4 touchdowns in last weekend’s win. On the season, Chesson has 33 receptions for 466 yards with 7 touchdowns.
The defense has carried this team this year and is one of the nations strongest units allowing 14.8 points per game. Michigan plays a “blue collar” and physical style that wears down opposing offenses as the game progresses. On the year, the Wolverines are giving up 103 rushing yards per game and are surrendering 165 yards through the air. In order to get the road win, Michigan will have to put pressure on a suspect Penn State offensive line. The unit has 25 sacks on this year with defensive lineman Willie Henry leading the team with 6 sacks. Senior linebacker Joe Bolden (64 total tackles) is the heart and soul of the defense which is allowing opponents to convert 23% of the time on third down (3rd in FBS). In order to get the victory the Wolverines must force Penn State into predictable third down situations which will allow the unit to blitz Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Defensive backs Jabril Peppers and Jeremy Clark are the Wolverines best defenders and will be critical in stopping the passing attack of the Nittany Lions. Clark leads the team with 3 interceptions while Peppers is utilized in run blitz packages and can play up on the line of scrimmage to create pressure on opposing offensive lines.
The Nittany Lions are averaging 25.2 points per game and struggling to consistently stretch opposing defenses this season. Penn State is averaging 143 rushing yards per game and is passing for 207 yards through the air. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been pressure all season long and is completing 54.2% of his passes for 1,992 yards with 13 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. The offense has relied on a conservative running game and has not been able to “open” up the playbook because of a porous offensive line that has allowed 33 sacks on the season (tied for 120th overall). Running back Saquon Barkley will be the key to the offense on Saturday and success in the passing game will depend if Barkley can find running room against the Wolverines tough rush defense. Barkley leads the team with 836 yards on the ground averaging 6.2 yards per carry with 7 touchdowns and the Nittany Lions must be able to run the football to take the pressure off of the offensive line in third down situations. Penn State is converting 28% on third down this year and will need a better effort on Saturday to get the victory. The offense cannot become predictable and must break offensive tendencies to get the home win. Wide receiver Chris Godwin leads the team with 49 receptions for 808 yards with 3 scores and must be able to make one or two big plays down the field to keep the Wolverine secondary from honest.
While the Nittany Lions have one of the worst offensive lines in the nation, the good news is that the team leads FBS in total sacks with 42. Led by defensive end Carl Nassib (team leading and 1st in FBS with 15.5 sacks) the defense has been able to win a majority of the games this year by shutting down opposing offenses. Penn State is allowing 17.7 points per game and is very good at defending the pass giving up 159 passing yards per game. The unit is very physical in run support and is yielding 152 yards per game to their opponents. In order to get the victory in Happy Valley, the defense must be able to force turnovers and give Hackenberg along with the rest of the offense field position. Penn State is +7 in turnover margin and has been very good at home with a +7 in turnover margin in Beaver Stadium. Look for Penn State to blitz early on to create pressure on Wolverine quarterback Jake Ruddock. If Penn State can force Ruddock into third down and long situations it can allow Nassib to get a jump off the line of scrimmage during critical drives.
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Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor atwww.2FiveSports.com.He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson(www.sportsxradio.com).
Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2.
Joe has a weekly radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com with former Georgia Bulldogs WR Corey Allen called: