Michigan is coming off a much-needed bye week to get healthy in preparation for a team in Penn State that embarrassed them in Happy Valley last year when they lost 42 to 13. The Nittany Lions have a lot of confidence coming off a tough win at home against Iowa last week. Michigan has to play a stellar game in all three phases if they do not want to get upset at home and hinder their chances of competing for a Big Ten Title and a chance at the College Football Playoff.
Penn State traditionally has always had an excellent defense. However, this year, they have underperformed in key games that have given them their two losses by not being able to close out games against Michigan State and Ohio State.
Michigan will be the most balanced team that the Nittany Lions have faced all year. A down-hill, smash-mouth football team that can wear them down using multiple looks under center and in the gun, and then use play-action pass to stretch their defense vertically and horizontally with big play opportunities.
The stat sheet does not lie. Michigan is 10-0 when Karon Higdon reaches the century mark during his career. If Michigan wants to have their best chance of winning this football game at home, Higdon needs to be given the football 25 to 30 times on Saturday. He is at his best with inside/outside zone and power run plays.
This is the most explosive offense Michigan has faced so far this season. In light of that, Shea Patterson will need to take care of the football on his end by not allowing any extra chances for Penn State to put up points. He cannot take sacks when he rolls out of the pocket to look for an open receiver. Patterson needs to throw the ball away or scramble to get something out of the play. He will also need to use every ounce of his athleticism in the run game by keeping the ball when backside defensive ends or linebackers close down on the running backs to keep their defense honest as he has in previous weeks.
The Wolverines need to stay ahead of the chains this week. Being ranked 119 out of 120 on third and long simply is not the formula to be great on offense. They have gotten away with it in games past due to their opponents’ inability to move the football. At least half of third and long situations they may face tomorrow will need to be converted because Penn State is too good on offense to allow them more opportunities to score than they need. If they can’t convert on third and long, it could get interesting real fast in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
If the rumor is true that Tarik Black will be back in the lineup on Saturday at receiver for the Wolverines and is back to full strength, the Michigan offense gets even better. Though Donavon Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins have held down the number one and two receiver spots well since Black’s injury, they will only get better having Black in the lineup because he is a true, take the roof off the top receiver that will allow Jones and Collins to get open on any intermediate throws in the middle of the field for Patterson.
This is the first true test of an explosive offense for Michigan. Senior quarterback, Trace McSorley, is one of the most dynamic, dual-threat quarterbacks in all of college football. Though undersized at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, he runs a sub 4.6 40, is tough as nails, and can make any throw on a football field he is asked to make. Though he banged up his knee last week against Iowa, he is still the x-factor for Penn State’s success on offense.
In Don Brown’s aggressive man-to-man pressure scheme, containing the quarterback in the pocket is essential because there is no one on the second or third level of the defense that will be able to help because they will be in man coverage. McSorley time and time again last year hurt the Wolverines with his design quarterback runs and scramble abilities. If McSorley consistently gets out of the pocket on Saturday and is able to extend drives with his legs, Penn State will put up 21 or more points. Defensive ends better do a great job of squeezing down the line of scrimmage while keeping their shoulders square if they want to even have a chance to tackle him if he keeps the football off of any read run plays they game plan.
Penn State’s running back, Miles Sanders, though he is no Saquon Barkley, he is still an excellent running back for PSU. He is averaging 6.1 yards a carry so far this season. He is strong, fast, extremely shifty and has the patience to allow his blocks to happen in front of him. He very easily could be the running back that Michigan will give the most yards against if they do not control the line of scrimmage and play gap-sound defense.
Penn State’s freshmen receiver, KJ Hamler, out of Pontiac, Michigan, is the real deal. He can change a dynamic of a game in one play with his electric 4.4. speed ability off of any jet sweep, screen or deep ball shot to him.
If Michigan can contain Penn State’s running game and make them one dimensional with their multi-faceted pass rush attack led by defensive ends, Chase Winovich and Josh Uche, it will make McSorley complete passes against the number one ranked passing defense in the country. The chances for a W improve immensely.
Featured image courtesy of Michigan Wolverines Athletics
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