– Story by Brian Tripp (@PSUTripp)
Penn State Nittany Lions (2-1) at #4 Michigan Wolverines (3-0)
3:30 PM – Michigan Stadium – Ann Arbor, MI
Spread: Michigan (-18.5)
Head Coach – Jim Harbaugh (2nd season, 13-3)
Last Game – Win 45-28 vs. Colorado 9/17/16
Key Players – TE Jake Butt (SR), WR Jehu Chesson (R-SR), WR Amara Darboh (R-SR), OL Erik Magnuson (R-SR), LB Jabrill Peppers (JR), DL Chris Wormley (R-SR), CB Jourdan Lewis (SR)
The controversial Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s khaki-wearing, milk-guzzling, slumber party extraordinaire, has quickly spearheaded a program resurgence that places the Wolverines among the top contenders to reach this season’s College Football Playoff. An extremely difficult matchup, Michigan is experienced, talented and well-coached. Of the players to start at least one game this season for the Wolverines, 19 are seniors and nine Michigan players have started in at least 20 career games. Thanks in large part to lopsided scores against inferior opponents, Michigan has also already played 21 true freshmen this season. However, no freshman has started a game in 2016. Make no mistake, this is an experienced team. Still, watch for newcomer Rashan Gary, a former Penn State target, to make an impact along the defensive line.
Michigan ranks 4th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 53 points per outing. Listing all of Michigan’s stats and accomplishments through three games isn’t worth the effort. Know this, they’re good and rank highly in almost every major statistical category, especially throwing the football. Michigan’s ground game has not been as effective, ranking 9th in the Big Ten, and the Wolverines are allowing an average of six tackles for loss per game. While Michigan has solid personnel along the offensive line, led by all-conference honorees Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Mason Cole, the statistics do indicate some minor hiccups. There isn’t a more fortunate quarterback in the nation than Wilton Speight, who outdueled Shane Morris and John O’Korn, to capture the starting spot. Speight has arguably the nation’s most dynamic receiving threats at his disposal with superb tight end Jake Butt and wide receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. Speight has tossed eight touchdowns this season and has only been picked off once, but went just 16-for-30 in last week’s win over Colorado. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno are creative in maximizing talent and generating mismatches. Highly-skilled defensive and special teams standout Jabrill Peppers might even get some touches on offense. Chris Evans, De’Veon Smith and Ty Isaac anchor the running game.
Peppers leads the Michigan defense and plays both in the secondary and along the line of scrimmage. He’s the team’s leader in all-purpose yards, tackles and sacks. He’ll have plenty of with preseason All-American Chris Wormley starring at defensive end and NFL prospects Taco Charlton and Jourdan Lewis both likely returning from injury at defensive tackle and cornerback, respectively. According to reports, minor injuries have kept Lewis, an All-American last season, from participating in the team’s first three games, however, Michigan’s top cover corner is expected to have a role in Saturday’s game against Penn State. Statistically, Michigan leads the nation in third down defense and red zone defense and rank second in tackles for loss. Overall, the Wolverines yield an average of 15 points, 156 passing yards and 140 rushing yards against.
– Penn State has won four of its last five conference openers.
– Michigan defeated Penn State 28-16 last season at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions totaled just 207 yards of total offense in the loss.
– Michigan won the last meeting in Ann Arbor 18-13 in 2014. Four of the last five contests at the Big House between the two teams have been decided by five points or less.
– Michigan is one of five Big Ten teams to have a winning record against Penn State in all-time meetings. The Wolverines lead the series 12-7. Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin also have winning records against the Nittany Lions.
Stat of the Week:
Penn State’s offense has a conversion rate of just 27% on third downs this season. In fact, the Nittany Lions have only converted a total of four third downs over the last two weeks. Penn State’s 27% efficiency on third down ranks 118th nationally. Meanwhile, Michigan’s defense leads the nation on third downs, holding opponents to a 10.5% success rate.