Penn State Nittany Lions vs. No. 4 Michigan Wolverines
The Records: Penn State (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten); Michigan (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten).
The Coaches: Penn State: James Franklin, third season, 40-28 overall, 16-13 at Penn State; Michigan: Jim Harbaugh, second season, 71-30 overall, 13-3 at Michigan.
The Game: Penn State heads to Michigan to begin Big Ten conference play to the tune of nine-straight games against Big Ten foes. The Nittany Lions enter the game at 2-1 on the season, while Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines are a perfect 3-0 on the year.
Coming into Saturday’s game, Michigan has outscored opponents 159-45 so far this season, while Penn State is giving up an average of 27 points per game. The Wolverines’ high-powered offense will look to take advantage of a defensive unit riddled with injuries at the linebacker position.
Harbaugh’s No. 4 Michigan team faces its stiffest competition yet in James Franklin’s Nittany Lions, which is not saying much about the Wolverines’ non-conference schedule.
The Wolverines have defeated Penn State in the teams’ previous two meetings, but both were close games, with Penn State losing by five in 2014 and 12 in 2015. In fact, over the 19 times these two teams have squared off on the gridiron, the margin of victory has been an average of 12.5 points — the Nittany Lions’ largest win came in 2008 when they beat a Rich Rodriquez-coached Wolverines team 46-17. In 1998, a Michigan team lead by head coach Lloyd Carr shut out Penn State 27-0 for the Wolverines’ biggest victory over their Big Ten foe.
In this year’s match-up, the Nittany Lions are led by quarterback Trace McSorley, who continues to have success in Joe Moorhead’s offensive system. The dynamic duo of wide receivers Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton has helped McSorley reach the top of the Big Ten in passing yards heading into the fourth grade of the season. Godwin, who is averaging six receptions per game, is currently second in the Big Ten.
Also leading the way on offense is running back Saquon Barkley, a big play threat whenever he touches the ball. Barkley burned the Temple defense on a 55-yard touchdown run last week and has begun putting his name in the mix as one of the premier running backs in the country. Through three games, the sophomore standout currently has seven touchdowns, falling short of Lydell Mitchell’s Penn State record of eight set in 1971.
Scary thought: @saquonb21 left the game with a leg injury.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 18, 2016
As successful as the offense has been thus far, the Nittany Lions’ defense has been peppered with injuries — at least seven of the original starters were hurt during or leading up to last week’s game against Temple. Linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White suffered a season-ending knee injury for the second consecutive year.
Throughout Franklin’s tenure at Penn State, the Nittany Lions have employed a ‘next-man-up’ philosophy, and the game against Michigan will be a true test of that mentality as Penn State goes up against a strong Wolverines offense.
Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight leads the way for the fourth-ranked scoring offense in the country (the Wolverines are averaging 53 points per game). Speight has distributed seven touchdowns this season to a duo of receivers in Jehu Chesson and Amara Darbo and in tight end Jake Butt.
On defense, Jabrill Peppers is the top playmaker for a team ranked first in tackles-for-loss and third down conversions. Peppers leads the country in punt return yards at 143 and leads his team in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss. Executing against the Michigan defense will be a daunting task for the Nittany Lions, however, the Wolverines have yet to see an offense this season like the one run by Penn State.
One thing is for certain: the Nittany Lions must continue to move the ball well on offense and limit turnovers if they want to have any chance of winning Saturday afternoon. Penn State currently leads the Big Ten with eight turnovers through three games this season — two coming via McSorley interceptions and the other six coming via fumbles from the multitude of running backs the Nittany Lions who take the field.
Time: 3:30 p.m. EDT
Location: Michigan Stadium. Ann Arbor, MI.
TV/Radio: ESPN/Penn State Radio Network
Prugar’s Prediction: Michigan, 45-14
Image credit: GoPSUsports.com