After six tune-ups, the real season finally kicks off for the Michigan Wolverines this weekend. The tenth ranked Penn State Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0) roll in the town and will be greeted by a ‘Maize Out’ at the Big House.
This is the first time Michigan (6-0, 3-0) faces a team with a number next to their name. And they are treating the matchup appropriately.
“Penn State is always a tough game,” Michigan guard Zak Zinter said. “The intensity level, the focus, preparation level, you’re always going to take it up a notch. … They’re a good team, so the preparation does go up a little bit for that.”
This is the first time both teams have been ranked in the top ten during their game week since 1997. Which happens to be the last time Michigan won the National Championship. Coincidence? Let’s not kid ourselves.
One of the most, yet least, surprising tidbits when researching this game is that Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford is 24-years-old. If he makes the NFL next year, he’ll be older than half the team. It’s ok though, a lot of people go to college for six years.
McCarthy Time to Shine Again
Offensively for Michigan, this should be another game where they lean on the arm of quarterback J.J. McCarthy. Penn State has the second-best run defense in the Big Ten with teams averaging less than three yards per carry against them.
Passing wise, the Nittany Lions rank towards the bottom of the conference. They are right in the middle with 13 total sacks, but they’ve also played on less game than everyone else. True freshman Dani Dennis Sutton will be a guy to watch along the defensive line for Penn State. He leads the team with three sacks on the season. He is a lengthy edge player with some athleticism to get around offensive tackles.
The main attraction on defense for Penn State is cornerback Joey Porter Jr. Yes, he is the son of the former Steelers great. But the kid is pretty damn good too. Porter has seven pass breakups already on the same. He will most certainly be drafted next year and will likely hear his name on day one or two.
This is the perfect kind of game to see a lot of tight end Luke Schoonmaker underneath with crossing routes. He has been excellent the last three games and should be able to keep the trend going.
This can also be a good opportunity to get like Andrel Anthony and AJ Henning into the picture. Anthony put on a show last year versus Michigan State. Since then, it’s like he disappeared. Getting the ball into the speedy guys hands, and away from Porter, is going to be key for the Michigan offense.
Tough Balancing Act
One thing that makes Penn State really difficult to game play for defensively is they are very balanced on offense. Clifford may have his AARP card but he’s an experienced guy who’s been through the fire before. He can make a play or two at times when needed.
Clifford has only thrown two interceptions on the year and has been sacked just four times. Those are very good numbers but ones that you’d expect from a vet like Clifford. He is not the fleetest of foot, however. And Michigan’s defensive line has been getting an ample amount of pressure this season. If the flood gates open on Clifford, it could be a long day.
Likely the biggest surprise for Penn State so far this season has been the play of their two true freshman running backs. Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton have raised eyebrows all year carrying the ground attack for their team. Singleton averages 7.3 yards per carry and Allen isn’t far behind averaging 5.3.
Both backs can make a move and leave you in the dust in a flash. Michigan’s linebackers will have to be disciplined and make sure they keep both talented freshmen in front of them. Controlling the edge and covering the gaps will be key to victory for the Wolverines.
Players to Watch:
Michigan – LB Junior Colson
I’m sticking with that thought of linebackers being important for Michigan. Keep an eye on the sophomore linebacker, who leads the team in tackles. Colson isn’t a guy who pops out to you on the screen. But he’s someone that, by the third quarter, you’re noticing him near the ball a lot.
Penn State – RB Nicholas Singleton
I’m excited to see what this kid can do. When you see highlights for Penn State, Singleton is usually in it. He’s going to be a handful for the Wolverines defense. They have enough big bodies up front to contain him, but if they let him slip away too many times he’ll burn them.
Michigan 31 Penn State 24
Penn State +7, Over 51.
Photo Credit:Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK