Matchup: No. 14 Penn State (6-2) vs. No. 5 Michigan (7-1)
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
When: Saturday November 3rd, 2018 at 3:45pm EST
Penn State Offense vs. Michigan Defense
The struggles continued last week for the Penn State as they narrowly escaped the grasps of Iowa at Beaver Stadium. Despite getting the job done in a 30-24 victory, the offensive numbers were not particularly appealing. It’s clear that this team still has some things to work on. Trace McSorley, who was briefly out of the game with a leg injury, threw for just 167 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He did add a touchdown on the ground while leading the team in rushing yards though. The hobbled quarterback led the team in rushing yards with 63 while running back Miles Sanders was right behind him with 62 yards of his own.
Now Michigan week has rolled around, and the Nittany Lions are facing their toughest task since Ohio State. This time however, Penn State must do it on the road at the Big House. The Penn State offense will have their work cut out for them as Michigan’s defense is one of the best in the country. In fact, they are currently ranked as the top team in the FBS in total defense with an average of just 220 total yards of offense allowed per game. Breaking it down a little further reveals that they are also ranked as the top passing defense. The Wolverines are averaging just 122 passing yards allowed per game. Additionally, although not tops in the country, their rushing defense is very good. They are ranked 9th in the FBS as they average just over 97 rushing yards allowed per game.
Individually, the Michigan defense is packed with impact player talent. On the defensive line resides Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary. Winovich is a proven senior with a lot of experience that ranks top 10 in the country and tops on his team in tackles-for-loss with 10. Gary is an interesting player to watch, he is a force to be reckoned with when he plays but he has been out with shoulder injury for the last few games. He appears to be questionable, but he could possibly return this week to cause some problems for the Penn State offense.
In the defensive backfield, look out for linebackers Devin Bush and Josh Uche. Bush is one of the best linebackers in the country so it’s hard to overlook him. He is second on the team in tackles while also compiling six tackles-for-loss and four sacks. Uche is an interesting player to watch as well. Although relatively inexperienced, he is making the most of his opportunity this year as he holds the team lead with five sacks.
Finally, the secondary contains cornerback Lavert Hill and safety Josh Metellus. Hill is Michigan’s clear-cut number one cornerback as the junior is excellent in one-on-one coverage. Also, a junior, Metellus is having a fine season, ranking in the top five in total tackles and leading the team with three interceptions.
Penn State Defense vs. Michigan Offense
Penn State heads into Ann Arbor to take on the 5th ranked Wolverines of Michigan. Penn State comes in as a double-digit underdog this week, a rare sight in the last few years. Let’s see how the defense matches up with the Michigan offense.
Quarterback transfer from Ole Miss, Shea Patterson, does not have the huge numbers of some of the other Big Ten QBs but has played very well to this point. Patterson is completing 67 percent of his passes while throwing for 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Patterson is also a threat on the ground, although the pro-style offense the Wolverines run under Jim Harbaugh limits his running opportunities to mainly scrambles when the play breaks down. A key highlight for Patterson was his 81-yard touchdown run against Wisconsin a few weeks ago. All in all, Patterson has rebounded nicely from his poor performance in week one against Notre Dame.
In the backfield, Karan Higdon has been a beast for the Wolverines so far this season. Higdon averages 118 yards per game on the ground has found the end zone six times on the ground. His 118 yards per game is good enough for third in the Big Ten behind Jonathon Taylor of Wisconsin and Miles Sanders. Look for Tru Wilson or Chris Evans to spell him at times, as well.
On the receiving end for Patterson, Michigan has a variety of options and they are all mostly big targets. Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins are both over 6’ 2’’ and very physical receivers. The matchups on the outside between these two and the corners from Penn State, especially the physical Amani Oruwariye, could be very interesting throughout the game. In addition, Zach Gentry is a 6’ 8’’ monster tight end who has 23 catches and averages over 14 yards per catch. With Patterson’s mobility look for Gentry to be involved in play action roll out plays, as well as in the middle of the field.
On this side of the ball, it seems to be strength against strength with the Michigan running game behind Higdon going against the Penn State defensive line that has stepped up in recent weeks. Yetur Gross-Matos is coming off Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. Shareef Miller, Kevin Givens, Shaka Toney, and Robert Windsor are all playing their best football of late, as well.
Brandon Musso (7-1):
This is one Penn State’s toughest games as they face a very good Michigan team that comes into game with just one loss to fourth ranked Notre Dame. Penn State had their way with Michigan at last year’s whiteout with a blowout win but I expect this week to go much differently at the Big House. The road atmosphere is a serious factor to be considered as well as the talent level on the other side. A combination of those to factors and Penn State’s recent sloppy play leads me to pick against the Nittany Lions this week.
Michigan 31 Penn State 14
Kraigen Rasalla (5-3):
Despite being a pretty big underdog, I see Penn State keeping this one very close. The defensive line will be able to keep Higdon in check, while the Michigan defense will also control Sanders. Despite being banged up, I think Trace McSorley will play a solid game. However, I think the Penn State special teams will hinder them too much. In a game where field position will be important, the Penn State punting unit has not been very good lately, as most prominently proven by last week’s performance. I think Michigan takes a defensive battle, but I would not be surprised if Penn State spoils the Playoff hopes of the Wolverines.
Penn State 17 Michigan 21