The Michigan Wolverines take their offensive woes and defensive strength on the road to face the mighty Penn State Nittany Lions. The 19th and 2nd-ranked teams, respectively, will square off at 7:30 EST from Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. The game can be seen on ABC.
Penn State has slowly climbed up to the No. 2 spot in the country. They’ve rode on the back of the number one scoring defense in the country and one of the nation’s top runners.
Saquon Barkley is certainly a one-man wrecking crew on offense, and QB Trace McSorley has his moments where he shines as well. But Barkley can do it all, being 3rd in the Big 12 in rushing and leading the team in receiving.
The defense is good in all three phases and has been a turnover machine this season. Shreef Miller is a strong anchor on the D-line, while Amani Oruwariye leads a pick-happy secondary.
Michigan barely pulled out an OT win against middling Indiana last week. They have serious offensive issues, especially with QB John O’Korn. He’s only 26 of 55 passing the last two weeks combined, and has no touchdowns to three picks during that time.
Luckily, Michigan’s defense can keep them in games. They have the No. 1 total defense in the country, giving up 13 yards less than the next-best squad. They’ll still come into Happy Valley as 9 ½-point underdogs.
Don’t expect Michigan to win this football game. Three or four weeks ago, it would’ve looked like a much more realistic proposition. But there’s no reason to think the Wolverines can’t keep it close with their defense.
And let’s take Penn State’s defensive dominance into perspective. Not only has Penn State played a schedule with a combined record of 19-18, but have played teams with an average ranking of 87th in total offense. But Michigan has fallen back to 86th, so that’s about right on par for the Nittany Lions.
If we aren’t overestimating PSU’s D though, then Michigan’s young defense deserves all kinds of props. They’re 6th vs. the run, and Saquon Barkley has yet to play a top-30 rushing defense and only competed against one top-50 rush D. He’ll get his yards one way or another, but this is first defense who can contain him. The speed of Michigan’s defense is leaps and bounds beyond anything the RB saw with Northwestern or Iowa. They’re just as, if not more, physical as well.
Michigan can at least test the Nittany Lions with two running backs who show great skillsets. Those RBs are senior Ty Isaac (5.9 YPC) and junior Karan Higdon (5.7 YPC, 5 TDs). They’ve kept this offense afloat, and if they both get going, thereby staying fresh, they could slowly churn this game into the pace Michigan needs to stay close.
The Wolverines will have to be one-dimensional again, because O’Korn’s one touchdown-to-four interceptions doesn’t pair well with a team accounting for 11 interceptions. They also have nine fumble recoveries.
If Michigan stays out of those turnover troubles, unlike the others before them, this game will stay close. Do not expect them to win, but keeping it to a touchdown or less in such a low-scoring game is very doable.