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Archive for the ‘Preview/Prediction’ Category

First Look: #8 Ohio State

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017


Michigan put up a fight for 40 minutes in Madison last Saturday, leading the fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers 10-7 until midway through the third quarter, but disaster struck in the form of a head injury to quarterback Brandon Peters and the Wolverines suffered a 24-10 defeat to drop to 8-3 on the season and 5-3 in Big Ten play. They have one regular season game remaining and it’s the big one — the one that is simply referred to as The Game. It presents one last chance to salvage what most consider to be a disappointing season and spoil Ohio State’s hopes of a College Football Playoff berth.

Ohio State & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
44.9 3rd 26.3 82nd PPG 19.8 22nd 17.1 11th
2,778 2,136 Rush Yds 1,254 1,285
252.5 12th 194.2 35th Rush/Gm 114.0 12th 116.8 15th
6.0 4.6 Rush Avg 3.2 3.4
3,230 1,828 Pass Yds 1,953 1,588
293.6 20th 166.2 111th Pass/Gm 177.5 15th 144.4 1st
6,008 3,964 Total Off. 3,207 2,873
546.2 4th 360.4 102nd Total Off./Gm 291.5 8th 261.2 3rd
25.0 15th 19.5 99th KR Avg 17.6 14th 15.6 2nd
3.8 117h 7.5 63rd PR Avg 1.0 1st 10.5 100th
28:40 91st 32:02 22nd Avg TOP 31:20 27:58
50% 4th 33% 112th 3rd Down% 30% 14th 25% 1st
16-96 30th 29-205 102nd Sacks-Yds 29-208 23rd 36-251 8th
65 35 TDs 29 23
13-15 (87%) 15-20 (75%) FG-ATT 5-10 (50%) 9-14 (64%)
54-61 (89%) 36th 31-36 (86%) 53rd Red Zone 23-30 (77%) 22nd 21-26 (81%) 45th
41-61 (67%) 19-36 (53%)  RZ TD 18-30 (60%) 15-26 (58%)
3.79 2nd 2.27 57th OFEI/DFEI 1.39 15th 1.35 11th
40.9 4th 27.8 69th S&P+ 18.8 12th 18.1 8th

When everything is clicking Ohio State may have the most upside of any team in the country. But as their two losses indicate, they also may have the lowest floor of any of the teams in contention to make the final four. The Buckeyes have two good wins, both at home, over then-No. 2 Penn State (39-38) and then-No. 12 Michigan State (48-3). But their two losses to then-No. 5 Oklahoma and then-unranked Iowa have come by a combined 46 points.

The Iowa loss was the most surprising as the Hawkeyes took a 31-17 lead into the half and kept piling on in the second, eventually winning 55-24. They have since dropped their last two games at Wisconsin and at home to Purdue by a combined 33 points to fall to just 6-5 overall and 3-5 in conference play. They’re simply not a very good team, and yet they handed Ohio State a 31-point loss. In fact, in their two games before the Ohio State game and their two games since, they’ve combined to score a total of 56 points — one more than they scored against the Buckeyes.

So is there hope for Michigan? Objectively, sure. The Wolverines average about a half a point more than Iowa does, have a slightly better offense, and a considerably better defense. And in a rivalry game like this, anything can happen. But when applying recent history, its hard to imagine Michigan breaking out of the slump that has seen them lose 14 of the last 16 meetings.

This season, Ohio State features one of the nation’s most explosive offenses, ranking 3rd nationally in scoring (44.9 points per game), 12th in rushing (252.5 yards per game), 20th in passing (293.6 yards per game), and 4th in total offense (546.2 yards per game).

The Buckeyes have been held below 25 points just twice this season and both were losses — 24 points against Iowa and 16 against Oklahoma. They’ve scored 48 or more points in eight of 11 games with a high of 62 against Maryland. The only game in which they scored fewer than 48 but more than 24 was the 39-38 come-from-behind win over Penn State.

The running game hasn’t been held below 163 yards in a single game this season. Michigan’s rush defense, which ranks 15th nationally, allows just 116.8 yards per game and has allowed 163 or more just four times in 11 games, although it has done so in each of the past two. Ohio State has topped 200 yards rushing eight times and 300 yards in each of the last two weeks. The same Michigan State defense that held Michigan to 102 rushing yards on 39 carries yielded 335 yards on 42 carries to OSU.

The passing game isn’t quite as good under senior quarterback J.T. Barrett, but it’s still dangerous and the Buckeyes’ receivers have matured throughout the season. In the two losses, Barrett has thrown a combined five interceptions — four of which came against Iowa — and in the nine wins, he has thrown just three. Iowa and Oklahoma held the Bucks to just 195.5 passing yards per game on just a 53.6 percent completion rate. Those other nine games? He’s averaged 315.4 passing yards on a 69.6 percent completion rate.

Michigan boasts the nation’s top pass defense, allowing just 144.4 yards per game, and with a healthy Lavert Hill back, they’ll present the toughest matchup OSU has faced to date. Michigan has allowed just one opponent — Penn State — to pass for more than 200 yards.

Defensively, Ohio State isn’t nearly as good as they were a year ago but they still rank among the nation’s best. The Buckeyes rank 22nd nationally in scoring defense (19.8 points per game), 12th against the run (114.0 yards per game), 15th against the pass (177.5 yards per game), and 8th in total defense (291.5 yards per game).

With the exception of two games, OSU’s defense has been tough against the run. One of those two, Army, is excusable because they’re a service academy that runs a wacky offense like Michigan’s defense saw with Air Force. The other was Iowa, who inexplicably rushed for a season-high 243 yards on 6.4 yards per carry. To put that in context, Iowa has rushed for more than 200 yards just one other time (against North Texas) and has been held to just 89 yards or fewer four times.

Ohio State’s pass defense has been more susceptible, though it rebounded from a very poor start to the season. In the season opener, Indiana passed for 420 yards and Oklahoma threw for 386 a week later. Since then, Ohio State has allowed more than 200 yards passing just twice and has held three opponents — Army, Maryland, and Illinois — to fewer than 20 passing yards. The exceptions were Nebraska’s 27th-ranked passing offense which threw for 349 yards and Iowa’s 87th-ranked passing offense that passed for 244.

On special teams, Ohio State is one of the nation’s best in kick returns, but one of the worst in the punt return game. They’re also among the nation’s best at defending both kick and punt returns. Kicking-wise, Ohio State has converted 13-of-15 field goals.

The Buckeyes will be the most talented team Michigan has faced this season, but as Iowa showed three weeks ago, they’re beatable. Just how much of a chance Michigan will have will likely depend on the health of Peters.

#24 Michigan at #5 Wisconsin game preview

Saturday, November 18th, 2017


(Brad Mills, USA Today Sports)

It’s hard to believe that only two games remain in the 2017 regular season, but here we are with a chance for Michigan to either make a statement or continue what some believe to be a disappointing season. Never mind that Michigan lost 16 starters, they should be winning a national championship in Jim Harbaugh’s third season, the theory goes. Well, that’s not going to happen this year, but by beating Wisconsin and Ohio State the Wolverines could earn at least a share of the Big Ten East title, which, when taken in context, should be considered a major accomplishment.

Quick Facts
Camp Randall Stadium – 12p.m. EST – FOX
Wisconsin Head Coach: Paul Chryst (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 50-25 (31-6 at UW)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Rudolph (3rd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Jim Leonhard (1st season)
Last Season: 11-3 (7-2 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 14 – UW 7 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 50-14-1
Record in Madison: Michigan 21-6-1
Jim Harbaugh vs Wisconsin 1-0
Last Michigan win: 2016 (14-7)
Last Wisconsin win: 2010 (48-28)
Current Streak: Michigan 1
Wisconsin schedule to date
Opponent Result
Utah State W 59-10
Florida Atlantic W 31-14
at BYU W 40-6
Northwestern W 33-24
at Nebraska W 38-17
Purdue W 17-9
Maryland W 38-13
at Illinois W 24-10
at Indiana W 45-17
#20 Iowa W 38-14

Doing so is much easier said than done, however, as both Wisconsin and Ohio State rank in the top 10 nationally. Wisconsin has already booked it’s spot in the Big Ten championship game by winning the much easier West and has its sights set on a College Football Playoff berth.

The Badgers are 10-0, but find themselves behind a pair of one-loss teams, Clemson and Oklahoma because of their strength of schedule which has seen them beat just one ranked team. That was 20th-ranked Iowa last week and it was Iowa’s fourth loss of the season. They were only ranked because they used their Kinnick Stadium voodoo on Ohio State the week before that.

Wisconsin played a non-conference schedule that consisted of Utah State, Florida Atlantic, and a very bad BYU team. In conference play, they get to avoid Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State, which means Michigan is their last chance for a quality win before they get to Indianapolis.

Although Michigan holds a 21-6-1 advantage in Madison, they haven’t won there since 2001 when Hayden Epstein kicked a 31-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining to give Michigan a 20-17 win.

Michigan won last season’s matchup 14-7, scoring on a 1-yard Khalid Hill touchdown early in the second quarter and a 46-yard Wilton Speight touchdown pass to Amara Darboh with eight minutes remaining. Jourdan Lewis sealed the win with a leaping, one-handed highlight-reel interception and Michigan’s defense held the Badgers to just 159 total yards.

Can they replicate that performance tomorrow? Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Prediction

Offensively, Wisconsin ranks 24th nationally and 3rd in the Big Ten in scoring (36.3 points per game), 18th and 2nd in rushing (245.0 yards per game), 95th and 10th in passing (188.1 yards per game), and 37th and 2nd in total offense (433.1 yards per game).

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook ranks seventh in the Big Ten in passing, averaging 186.3 yards per game, but is very accurate, completing 64.1 percent of his passes. However, he is prone to mistakes. His 12 interceptions are more than all but Nebraska’s Tanner Lee, so if Michigan’s defensive front can pressure him they could create some turnovers.

The harder task will be stopping Wisconsin’s running game, which features the Big Ten’s leading rusher, freshman Jonathan Taylor, who averages 152.5 yards per game. He has topped 100 yards in seven of 10 games this season with a high of 249 on 10.0 yards per carry against Nebraska and a low of 73 yards on 6.1 yards per carry against Illinois. Northwestern, who features a rushing defense on par with Michigan’s, held Taylor to his lowest yards per carry of the season — 4.2 — though he did still score two touchdowns.

Defensively, Wisconsin ranks 3rd nationally and 1st in the Big Ten in scoring (13.4 points per game), 1st and 1st in rush defense (81.5 yards per game), 7th and 2nd in pass defense (166.1 yards per game), and 1st and 1st in total defense (247.6 yards per game).

The Badgers defense has shut down virtually everyone this season, allowing no more than 143 rushing yards or 271 passing yards in a single game. Maryland and Illinois both found some success on the ground against Wisconsin, both averaging 4.1 yards per carry, but they combined for just one rushing touchdown. Wisconsin has also done a good job of limiting big plays as only two teams nationally — Alabama and San Diego State — have allowed fewer explosive runs of 10 yards or more. Only three teams have allowed more 20-yard runs and Wisconsin is the only team in the country that hasn’t allowed a 30-yard run. Michigan’s running game ranks 10th nationally with 13 30-yard runs and fifth with nine 40-yard runs.

Wisconsin has also held six of ten opponents to 155 passing yards or fewer, including Iowa, who threw for just 41 yards last week. The same Iowa team that passed for 244 yards against Ohio State the week prior.

With Brandon Peters making his third career start at quarterback — and averaging just nine completions for 108 yards per game — it’s a safe bet to assume Wisconsin will stack the box to stop the run, which means Peters will need to be able to make plays with his arm for Michigan to win. That could make for a big day for Michigan’s tight ends, Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry, who rank second and third on the team in receiving yards and lead the team with two touchdowns each.

This game features two great defenses and two average offenses, so expect a low-scoring game. The weather calls for rain in the morning, but it should be cleared up by game time and shouldn’t affect the game. With Michigan’s running game coming on the past few weeks and Peters’ ability to protect the football — he hasn’t turned it over yet — I like Michigan’s ability to break a couple of big runs even with a Wisconsin defense focusing on stopping the run. Defensively, Wisconsin is the type of offense that Michigan defenses can hold in check, so aside from a couple of early successful drives I don’t see Wisconsin doing much. Quinn Nordin redeems himself by making his only field goal attempt of the game and that’s the difference as Michigan pulls out a close one in Madison.

Score Prediction: Michigan 17 – Wisconsin 14

First Look: #8 Wisconsin

Monday, November 13th, 2017


(David Stluka)

Michigan closed its three-game cupcake stretch with it third straight win, improving to 8-2 on the season and 5-2 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines outscored Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland 105-34 to stay within reach of at least a share of the Big Ten East. But it won’t come easy as a pair of top-10 foes remain in Wisconsin and Ohio State. Michigan travels to Madison to face unbeaten Wisconsin this Saturday. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare through the first 10 games of the season.

Wisconsin & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
36.3 24th 27.9 70th PPG 13.4 3rd 16.4 9th
2,450 2,078 Rush Yds 815 1,103
245.0 18th 207.8 30th Rush/Gm 81.5 1st 110.3 9th
5.2 4.9 Rush Avg 2.8 3.3
1,881 1,652 Pass Yds 1,661 1,445
188.1 95th 165.2 111th Pass/Gm 166.1 7th 144.5 2nd
4,331 3,730 Total Off. 2,476 2,548
433.1 37th 373.0 94th Total Off./Gm 247.6 1st 254.8 3rd
21.9 52nd 19.6 99th KR Avg 18.7 29th 15.6 3rd
6.0 84th 8.2 54th PR Avg 6.2 51st 7.1 63rd
35:46 2nd 32:25 18th Avg TOP 24:14 27:35
52% 1st 33% 112th 3rd Down% 29% 10th 24% 1st
14-76 23rd 27-187 104th Sacks-Yds 35-261 4th 33-233 5th
47 34 TDs 14 20
10-12 (83%) 14-19 (74%) FG-ATT 12-15 (80%) 8-13 (62%)
40-47 (85%) 61st 29-33 (88%) 39th Red Zone 19-27 (70%) 7th 19-23 (83%) 60th
32-47 (68%) 18-33 (55%)  RZ TD 8-27 (30%) 14-23 (61%)
2.78 28th 2.31 52nd OFEI/DFEI 1.13 6th 1.40 15th
31.9 35th 28.9 53rd S&P+ 14.2 1st 18.2 6th

If you like defensive football this game is for you. Wisconsin and Michigan both rank in the top two or three in every defensive statistic in the Big Ten and in the top ten nationally. But the Badgers also feature a pretty good offense, better than Michigan’s and much better than the offenses Michigan has faced the past few weeks.

When the next College Football Playoff rankings come out on Tuesday Wisconsin will present an interesting case study. They’re one of only four unbeaten teams remaining — along with Alabama, Miami, and UCF — but have played one of the worst schedules in the country. This past Saturday’s 38-14 win over Iowa was the first time they’ve played a ranked team this season, and Iowa is now 6-4 and only ranked because they applied the Kinnick Stadium at night curse on Ohio State a week ago.

Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule featured Utah State, Florida Atlantic, and BYU, who have gone a combined 15-16 so far this season. Then the Badgers opened Big Ten play with Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue, Maryland, Illinois, and Indiana before hosting Iowa. In other words, they get to skip the gauntlet that the teams in the East Division have had to endure, facing only Michigan and skipping Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State completely.

Do the Badgers deserve to be ranked in the top four come Tuesday? By record, yes. But one could easily argue that if they had played the schedule of a team in the East Division, they would likely have at least one if not two losses. Time will tell as they host Michigan this Saturday and then will get to face the East champion in the Big Ten championship game two weeks later.

Like a typical Wisconsin team, the Badgers get it done with their defense and their running game. The running game ranks second in the Big Ten and 18th nationally, averaging 245 yards per game. Their lowest rushing output of the season was 109 yards against Northwestern’s 7th-ranked rush defense, which gives hope that Michigan’s 9th-ranked rush defense can hold them in check. The Badgers have topped 200 yards rushing in eight of 10 contests and have topped 300 yards twice — a 357-yard performance against Florida Atlantic and 353 yards against Nebraska. Illinois was the only other defense to hold them below 200.

The passing game, however, is more like Michigan’s, ranking 10th in the Big Ten and 95th nationally with an average of 188.1 yards per game. Wisconsin has topped 200 yards passing four times this season, but has done so only once since Week 3. In their last seven games they’re averaging 167.7 passing yards per game, which is right about Michigan’s average. In their last three, the average is down to just 146.7. Michigan has the nation’s second-best pass defense, giving up just 144.5 yards per game through the air, and with Wisconsin’s leading receiver, Quintez Cephus, out for the year, that bodes well for the Wolverines.

Defensively, Wisconsin is the best in the nation, statistically at least. The Badgers rank 1st in the Big Ten and 3rd nationally in scoring defense (13.4 points per game), 1st and 1st in rush defense (81.5 yards per game), 2nd and 7th in pass defense (166.1 yards per game), and 1st and 1st in total defense (247.6 yards per game).

Only four opponents have topped 100 rushing yards against Wisconsin this season. Maryland had the most success with 143 yards on 4.1 yards per carry. Illinois had 134 yards on 4.1. But Wisconsin has shut down its last two opponents, holding Indiana and Iowa to a combined 65 yards on 47 carries (1.4 yards per carry). Now, before you get too worried, both of those running games rank in the 100s nationally and 10th and 11th in the conference.

Wisconsin’s pass defense hasn’t allowed more than 271 yards in a game this season. Six of ten opponents have thrown for 155 yards or fewer including Iowa, who passed for just 41 yards last week.

Clearly, Wisconsin is one of the best teams Michigan has faced all season, at least statistically. Just how good the Badgers are remains to be seen given the strength of their schedule. But the same can be said for Michigan, who has lost to the only two good teams they’ve played. Michigan can win, but it will take a complete performance to do so.

First Look: Maryland

Thursday, November 9th, 2017


(umterps.com)

Brandon Peters got the start of his career, but last Saturday was all about the running game and the defense. Karan Higdon and Chris Evans combined for 391 rushing yards and four touchdowns, while Khaleke Hudson set a Michigan and Big Ten single-game record with eight tackles for loss, matching the NCAA record. The Wolverines will look to carry that momentum into College Park, Md. when they face Maryland this Saturday afternoon. Here’s a look at how the two teams compare so far this season.

Maryland & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
29.9 55th 27.1 73rd PPG 36.3 115th 17.1 11th
1,553 1,918 Rush Yds 1,573 923
172.6 56th 213.1 29th Rush/Gm 174.8 77th 102.6 7th
4.5 5.0 Rush Avg 4.5 3.0
1,480 1,507 Pass Yds 2,330 1,285
164.4 114th 167.4 111th Pass/Gm 258.9 104th 142.8 1st
3,033 3,425 Total Off. 3,903 2,208
337.0 112th 380.6 85th Total Off./Gm 433.7 101st 245.3 3rd
24.2 22nd 20.0 86th KR Avg 20.0 53rd 14.6 3rd
12.6 17th 8.2 57th PR Avg 11.7 108th 7.7 75th
27:27 108th 32:57 13th Avg TOP 32:33 27:03
32% 115th 33% 113th 3rd Down% 50% 127th 24% 3rd
24-124 108th 27-187 111th Sacks-Yds 15-75 88th 32-227 3rd
36 29 TDs 43 19
6-10 (60%) 14-18 (78%) FG-ATT 9-16 (56%) 7-11 (64%)
25-32 (78%) 97th 25-27 (93%) 13th Red Zone 32-37 (86%) 86th 17-20 (85%) 75th
20-32 (63%) 14-27 (52%)  RZ TD 28-37 (76%) 13-20 (65%)
2.39 48th 2.31 52nd OFEI/DFEI 2.82 107th 1.40 15th
26.8 73rd 28.6 58th S&P+ 29.7 88th 19.5 13th

If you thought Minnesota was bad last week, Maryland is even worse — statistically at least. Yes, Maryland beat Minnesota 31-24 to open Big Ten play, but they seem to have gotten worse as the season has progressed, dropping four of their last five and five of their last seven. The only wins in that span have come over Indiana (42-39) and Minnesota. Last week, they lost to Rutgers.

The offense is fairly similar to Michigan’s with a decent running game and virtually no passing game. It ranks 55th nationally in scoring (29.9 points per game), 56th in rushing (172.6 yards per game), 114th in passing (164.4 yards per game), and 112th in total offense (337.0 yards per game).

The Terrapins rushed for over 260 yards in three of their first four games, tallying 263 against Texas in the opener, 367 against Towson, and 262 against Minnesota. But UCF held them to just 42 yards on 37 carries in Week 2. Ohio State and Northwestern also held the Terps’ running game in check, combining for just 135 yards on 73 carries (1.8 yards per carry).

The passing game hasn’t topped 255 yards in a game all season and has failed to reach 175 yards in six of nine games. Against Ohio State, Maryland completed just 3-of-13 passes for 16 yards and it wasn’t because the running game was working so well. The Terps managed just 66 total yards that game.

Defensively, Maryland is one of the worst in college football. D.J. Durkin’s defense ranks 115th nationally in scoring (36.3 points per game), 77th against the run (174.8 yards per game), 104th against the pass (258.9 yards per game), and 101st in total defense (433.7 yards per game).

UCF, Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Rutgers all rushed for over 200 yards against Maryland. Three of those (UCF, OSU, and Wisconsin) have fairly similarly-ranked running games as Michigan, while Rutgers and Northwestern rank 62nd and 96th, respectively. Opponents are averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

The passing game is even worse. Much worse. Maryland is allowing almost twice as many passing yards per game as Michigan and that’s an improvement after holding Rutgers to 107 passing yards last Saturday, although “holding” may not be the right word as the Scarlet Knights threw just 18 passes and found plenty of success on the ground. Indiana passed for 410 yards and Ohio State for 303.

One of the big reasons Rutgers’ defense is so bad is that it hasn’t been able to get off the field on third downs, allowing opponents to convert 50 percent of the time. They rank ahead of only Oregon State and Eastern Carolina in that category. By comparison, Michigan’s defense allows just a 24 percent conversion rate, meaning that they get off the field twice as often as Maryland’s defense does.

Another figure that bodes well for Michigan in this one is that Maryland has given up 24 sacks this season, an average of 2.7 per game. It’s three less than Michigan’s line has allowed and that’s good news for a Wolverine defense that ranks third nationally with 32 sacks. In the past two weeks, Michigan has faced offenses that entered that game allowing a total of 14 sacks all season, and the Wolverines got to the quarterbacks 10 times themselves — five each game.

Last week’s craziness with Iowa toppling Ohio State and Michigan State taking down Penn State brought an outside shot at at least a share of the Big Ten East title into play. With Wisconsin and Ohio State looming the next two weeks, Saturday’s game at Maryland is Michigan’s best shot at another win, so expect them to take full advantage of it.

Michigan vs Minnesota game preview

Friday, November 3rd, 2017


Michigan turned to the future in the second quarter of last week’s win over Rutgers, inserting redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters to replace John O’Korn. While Peters wasn’t perfect he showed enough potential to give Michigan fans hope — something O’Korn couldn’t do.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 7:30p.m. EST – FOX
Minnesota Head Coach: PJ Fleck (1st season)
Coaching Record: 34-26 (4-4 at Minn)
Offensive Coordinator: Kirk Ciarrocca (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Robb Smith (1st season)
Last Season: 9-4 (5-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 29 – Minn 26 (2015)
All-Time Series: Michigan 74-25-3
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 39-13-1
Jim Harbaugh vs Minnesota 1-0
Last Michigan win: 2015 (29-26)
Last Minnesota win: 2014 (30-14)
Current Streak: Michigan 1
Record in Little Brown Jug: Michigan 70-23-2
Minnesota schedule to date
Opponent Result
Buffalo W 17-7
at Oregon State W 48-14
Middle Tennessee W 34-3
Maryland L 24-31
at Purdue L 17-31
#21 Michigan State L 27-30
Illinois W 24-17
at Iowa L 10-17

Peters is likely to get his first start tonight in a FOX primetime matchup with Minnesota. The Gophers are looking to avoid falling below .500 for the first time since PJ Fleck took over. Fleck rose to stardom last season when he took Western Michigan to a MAC championship and a Cotton Bowl appearance where they held their own with Wisconsin.

When Tracy Claeys was fired following the season, Fleck jumped at the chance to take the reigns of a Big Ten West team, a better situation than Chris Ash and DJ Durkin put themselves in with coaching gigs at Rutgers and Maryland in the loaded Big Ten East. If Fleck is able to rebuild the Gophers he’ll have a chance to compete with Wisconsin for the division title.

It’s not going to happen this year, however, as Minnesota is just 4-4 overall and 1-4 in conference play. They started the season 3-0 with wins over Buffalo (17-7), Oregon State (48-14), and Middle Tennessee (34-3) before dropping their first three conference games to Maryland (31-24), Purdue (31-17), and Michigan State (30-27). They bounced back with a 24-17 win over Illinois before falling to Iowa 17-10 a week ago.

Now, Fleck gets his first taste of the Little Brown Jug, one of the oldest rivalries in college football. Michigan has owned the series, winning 75 percent of the all-time matchups including 40 of the last 44. But Minnesota got the better of the Wolverines the last time they visited Ann Arbor. Fittingly, it was the game that sealed Brady Hoke’s fate when Shane Morris was concussed

With a new quarterback behind center Michigan will try to put that behind them and build some momentum heading into the final three games of the season.

Prediction

Offensively, Minnesota ranks 86th nationally and 9th in the Big Ten in scoring (25.1 points per game), 47th and 4th in rushing (182.2 yards per game), 115th and 13th in passing (156.4 yards per game), and 110th and 11th in total offense (338.6 yards per game).

Quarterback play has been erratic as Conor Rhoda lost his job to Demry Croft two weeks ago. Croft has completed just 42.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions. In the last two games, he’s just 14-of-43 for 186 yards. Michigan’s defense will be the best he has faced to date.

The running game, however, has been pretty steady, rushing for more than 200 times in four of eight games. Rodney Smith, who rushed for 1,185 yards a year ago, leads the team with 670 yards on 4.3 yards per carry.

Defensively, Minnesota ranks 21st nationally and 6th in the Big Ten in scoring (18.8 points per game), 36th and 7th against the run (132.8 yards per game), 23rd and 4th in pass defense (184.0 yards per game), and 20th and 6th in total defense (316.8 yards per game).

In conference play, the Gophers are allowing a touchdown more per game than their season-long scoring defense indicates. Maryland, Purdue, and Michigan State all scored 30 or more points on the Gophers, while Maryland and Michigan State both found success on the ground, rushing for 262 and 245 yards.

The biggest thing to watch in this game is how Peters handles his first start. He had success coming in as a backup last week when the opponent was not only Rutgers, but had no tape on him. Now, Minnesota has a little bit of tape and can throw things at him that he hasn’t seen yet. Can he rise to the occasion against a decent pass defense? Expect Michigan to look to establish the running game and utilize a simpler offense than the first half of the season to give Peters easy reads and greater chance for success.

Defensively, Michigan should be able to stop Minnesota’s offense with very little threat of a passing game. Like usual, the Wolverines might give up an early score, but Don Brown’s defense will adjust and shut down the Gophers the rest of the way. Michigan wins comfortably.

Score Prediction: Michigan 31 – Minnesota 7

First Look: Minnesota

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017


(Gophersports.com)

Michigan got back in the win column last Saturday with a Homecoming victory over Rutgers. Not only that, but they also saw the emergence of Brandon Peters at quarterback, something fans have been clamoring for all season. The redshirt freshman threw just 14 passes (completing 10) for 124 yards and a touchdown, but it was a solid opening performance that warrants a likely start this coming Saturday when Minnesota comes to town for a night game. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare so far this season.

Minnesota & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
25.1 86th 26.4 78th PPG 18.8 21st 18.0 16th
1,458 1,547 Rush Yds 1,062 833
182.2 47th 193.4 38th Rush/Gm 132.8 36th 104.1 8th
4.1 4.4 Rush Avg 4.1 3.2
1,251 1,451 Pass Yds 1,472 1,211
156.4 115th 181.4 103rd Pass/Gm 184.0 23rd 151.4 2nd
2,709 2,998 Total Off. 2,534 2,044
338.6 110th 374.8 87th Total Off./Gm 316.8 20th 255.5 4th
20.7 73rd 19.8 86th KR Avg 22.6 94th 15.1 5th
4.5 104th 8.3 57th PR Avg 5.2 38th 8.3 80th
32:12 24th 33:37 9th Avg TOP 27:48 26:23
36% 96th 32% 110th 3rd Down% 36% 51st 24% 1st
8-47 11th 24-164 106th Sacks-Yds 12-60 100th 27-181 5th
24 24 TDs 18 18
11-15 (73%) 14-17 (88%) FG-ATT 8-13 (62%) 6-10 (60%)
25-32 (78%) 94th 23-25 (92%) 14th Red Zone 18-22 (82%) 55th 15-18 (83%) 63rd
18-32 (56%) 12-25 (48%)  RZ TD 13-22 (59%) 12-18 (67%)
2.03 66th 1.91 109th OFEI/DFEI 1.81 18th 1.33 14th
21.6 116th 27.0 73rd S&P+ 20.7 23rd 19.6 15th

Minnesota is 4-4 so far this season under first-year head coach P.J. Fleck and will be looking to avoid falling below .500 for the first time this season. The Gophers opened with wins over Buffalo, Oregon State, and Middle Tennessee before starting Big Ten play with three straight losses to Maryland, Purdue, and Michigan State. They bounced back with a 24-17 win over Illinois before falling at Iowa last Saturday.

Statistically, Minnesota is a slightly better Rutgers. They rank about 10-20 spots higher nationally in each offensive category and about 20-30 spots higher defensively than Rutgers did entering last week’s game. According to S&P+, however, which takes into account efficiency, explosiveness field position, and finishing drives, Minnesota actually ranks one spot lower than Rutgers’ offense does, at 116th nationally.

The Gophers rank 86th in scoring (25.1 points per game), 47th in rushing (182.2 yards per game), 115th in passing (156.4 yards per game), and 110th in total offense (338.6 yards per game). The rushing game has been held below 100 yards twice this season — 80 yards on 2.6 yards per carry against Maryland and 74 yards on 2.7 yards per carry against Michigan State. Conversely, they’ve topped 200 yards rushing four times with a high of 292 yards on 5.3 yards per carry against Illinois’ 108th-ranked rush defense two weeks ago. They also rushed for 227 yards on 4.8 yards per carry against Purdue. By comparison, Michigan managed just 139 yards on 3.2 yards per carry — on just three fewer carries — against the Boilermakers.

Minnesota’s passing game, however, leaves a lot to be desired, averaging about 25 yards fewer per game than Michigan’s. They’ve thrown for 200 or more yards just three times in eight games with a high of 239 yards in the season opener against Buffalo and they were limited to just 47 yards on 5-of-15 passing against Illinois. In fact, Minnesota hasn’t had a game with more than 50 percent completions since Week 3. In the last five weeks, they have completed just 54-of-127 passes, which is a miserable 42.5 percent, for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Like Rutgers last week, Minnesota doesn’t allow a lot of sacks. They’ve given up just eight through eight games, a total that ranks 11th nationally and first in the Big Ten. However, as we saw last week, Michigan’s defense doesn’t care. The Wolverines nearly matched Rutgers’ seven-game sack total last Saturday.

Defensively, Minnesota is pretty solid, ranking above average in the Big Ten in most categories. Nationally, they rank 21st in scoring defense (18.8 points per game), 36th in rush defense (132.8 yards per game), 23rd in passing (184.0 yards per game), and 20th in total defense (316.8 yards per game). They made it through the non-conference portion of the schedule with just 24 points allowed, but they’ve given up an average of 25.2 per game in Big Ten play.

None of those first three opponents topped 80 yards rushing, but they did average 180 yards in the air and a 56.6 percent completion rate. In Big Ten play, however, Maryland and Michigan State — both of whom have running games slightly worse than Michigan’s — found great success on the ground, rushing for 262 and 245 yards on 5.6 and 4.9 yards per carry, respectively. Michigan State did so without a single explosive run — their longest run of the day was nine yards.

Minnesota’s pass defense has been pretty consistent, allowing between 120 and 211 yards in seven of eight games. The one outlier was against Purdue, who passed for 307 yards on 12.3 yards per completion with a 69.4 percent completion rate.

Minnesota isn’t great on special teams either, ranking 73rd in kick returns, 104th in punt returns, 94th in kick return defense, and 38th in punt return defense. In the kicking game, they’ve converted 11-of-15 field goal attempts with a long of 49 yards.

This is obviously a game that Michigan should win, especially at home under the lights, but it won’t be a complete pushover. The Wolverines should be able to have success on the ground, especially if the offensive line performs like it did last week. As Purdue showed, there is potential to attack Minnesota through the air, but with Peters likely making the first start of his young career don’t expect Michigan to open things up too much.

Michigan vs Rutgers game preview

Saturday, October 28th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

Michigan suffered its second loss in three games last week, a humiliating 42-13 beatdown in Happy Valley, drawing a chorus of calls for staff shakeups including Jim Harbaugh. It’s clear that the Harbaugh honeymoon is over, but with the youngest Power-5 team in college football, losses to rival Michigan State and on the road at Penn State aren’t the worst things that could happen. What would be is a Homecoming loss to Rutgers this Saturday.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – BTN
Rutgers Head Coach: Chris Ash (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 5-14 (all at Rutgers)
Offensive Coordinator: Jerry Kill (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Jay Niemann (2nd season)
Last Season: 2-10 (0-9 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 78 – RU 0 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 2-1
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 1-0
Jim Harbaugh vs Rutgers 2-0
Last Michigan win: 2016 (78-0)
Last Rutgers win: 2014 (26-24)
Current Streak: Michigan 2
Michigan on Homecoming: 90-28-2
Rutgers schedule to date
Opponent Result
#8 Washington L 14-30
Eastern Michigan L 13-16
Morgan State W 65-0
at Nebraska L 17-27
#11 Ohio State L 0-56
at Illinois W 35-24
Purdue W 14-12

A year ago, Michigan strolled into Piscataway, N.J. and set all kinds of records including the largest Big Ten margin of victory for any team since 1940 and the most rushing touchdowns in a game in Michigan program history. Fullback Khalid Hill scored three touchdowns and third-string fullback Bobby Henderson even found the end zone. It was an utter beatdown.

Like Michigan’s big win over Penn State last season, Rutgers will enter this matchup looking for revenge. And the Scarlet Knights aren’t nearly as bad as they were in 2016 when they went just 2-10 overall and 0-9 in the conference. For starters, they’ve already topped last year’s win total and have won back to back Big Ten games for the first time since joining the conference. Their win over Illinois two weeks ago ended a 16-game conference losing streak and they followed it up with a 14-12 win over Purdue last Saturday.

Now, before we get carried away with Rutgers accolades, let’s keep in mind that their three wins so far this season are over Illinois (2-5, 0-4), Purdue (3-4, 1-3), and Morgan State, an FCS school that is currently 1-6 and has only scored 93 total points in seven games.

Rutgers lost 16-13 to Eastern Michigan, 27-17 to a Nebraska team that is just 3-4 this season, 30-14 to a good Washington team to open the season, and got whooped by Ohio State, 59-0. So essentially, Rutgers is pretty much where they’re expected to be at this point, except for that loss to EMU.

With two potentially winnable games remaining on the schedule (home against Maryland on Nov. 4 and at Indiana on Nov. 18), Rutgers needs to squeeze out one more win to become bowl eligible. With Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State left on the docket, given Michigan’s recent struggles, they probably feel that Michigan is their best chance, 2016 be damned.

Could that happen? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Rutgers offense

Ash lost last season’s offensive coordinator, Drew Mehringer, to Tom Herman’s staff at Texas, so he went out and paid big money to get former Northern Illinois and Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill to run his offense. Kill went 29-29 at Minnesota from 2011-15 before retiring due to health problems. He wound up at Kansas State as an associate athletic director last season before Ash pulled him back into the coaching ranks.

Through the first seven games of 2017, his offense ranks 103rd nationally and 13th in the Big Ten in scoring (22.6 points per game), 62nd and 8th in rushing (167.7 yards per game), 121st and last in passing (133.6 yards per game), and 122nd and last in total offense (301.3 yards per game).

Fifth-year senior quarterback Kyle Bolin transferred to Rutgers from Louisville, where he lost his starting job to Lamar Jackson in 2015. But he struggled in the first four-plus games, ranking 114th nationally in passer rating with just three touchdowns and six interceptions, so he once again lost his job, this time to redshirt junior Giovanni Rescigno, who promptly led the Scarlet Knights to back to back wins. But did he really? Sure, they won, but he completed just 14-of-28 passes (50 percent) for 176 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps the best part about that two-game stat line is the lack of interceptions.

Like Michigan, Rutgers doesn’t have an established receiving threat. They have a bunch of guys who can occasionally catch the ball, but no go-to weapon. Junior tight end Jerome Washington leads the team with 19 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown, but after catching six passes in the season opener, he has just four combined in his last three games. Fifth-year senior Jenarion Grant is explosive — he was second-team All-Big Ten as a return specialist in 2015 — but suffered a season-ending injury after four games a year ago. Against Eastern Michigan in Week 2 this season, he caught eight passes for 91 yards, but missed the Nebraska and Ohio State games and had just one catch for five yards last week. Fifth-year senior Damon Mitchell — the brother of former Michigan, and injured Rutgers, receiver Ahmir Mitchell — is the only other pass catcher with at least 100 yards this season. He has nine catches for 122 yards.

The bright spot of the Rutgers offense is fifth-year senior running back Gus Edwards, who ranks ninth in the Big Ten with 69.6 rushing yards per game and tied for fourth with five rushing touchdowns. He hasn’t posted a 100-yard rushing game this season, but has been consistent with between 43 and 94 yards in each game. Last week was his best game with 14 carries for 94 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown against Purdue. In fact, on the two-game winning streak he’s averaging 92.5 yards on 5.3 yards per carry and has scored three touchdowns. Senior Robert Martin, the team’s leading rusher last season, has 278 yards and two scores on 4.7 yards per carry, but his production has slowly tailed off throughout the season as Edwards’ has increased.

Rutgers defense

Yes, Rutgers has a defense and it’s better than it was last year. I apologize that I ran out of time to complete this week’s recap.

Prediction

Michigan wins but doesn’t win nearly as bad as it did last year. Michigan’s defense will load the box to stuff the run, forcing Rescigno to beat them with his arm. Rutgers has allowed just six sacks this year and Michigan’s defense will challenge that. Offensively, Michigan will run early and often, but I expect Jim Harbaugh, Tim Drevno, and Pep Hamilton to try to get the passing game going. Rutgers’ defense gives up 224.9 passing yards per game, so it’s a great opportunity to find some cohesion between John O’Korn and his receivers.

Score Prediction: Michigan 41 – Rutgers 6

First Look: Our bitter rival, Rutgers

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017


Michigan had a tough task going into Happy Valley to face No. 2 Penn State in front of a whiteout and a national primetime audience. But they were thoroughly embarrassed by a score of 42-13, tying for the worst loss in the Jim Harbaugh era.

Now, the Wolverines get a chance to take out their frustrations on a team they beat 78-0 a year ago. Since Saturday, national pundits and rival fans have enjoyed throwing around the stat that Michigan is currently tied with Rutgers for fourth place in the Big Ten East. The Scarlet Knights have won two straight Big Ten games, ending a 16-game conference losing streak dating back to the first Big Ten game of 2015. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare so far this season.

Rutgers & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
22.6 103rd 25.1 89th PPG 23.6 51st 18.6 22nd
1,174 1,213 Rush Yds 1,115 739
167.7 62nd 173.3 55th Rush/Gm 159.3 61st 105.6 11th
4.3 4.1 Rush Avg 4.5 3.2
935 1,314 Pass Yds 1,574 1,110
133.6 121st 187.7 97th Pass/Gm 224.9 71st 158.6 5th
2,109 2,527 Total Off. 2,689 1,849
301.3 122nd 361.0 97th Total Off./Gm 384.1 62nd 264.1 5th
14.8 127th 19.9 90th KR Avg 16.8 11th 14.0 2nd
10.4 32nd 8.1 56th PR Avg 9.4 91st 8.3 79th
31:11 42nd 33:10 11th Avg TOP 28:49 26:50
35% 98th 32% 110th 3rd Down% 30% 22nd 23% 1st
6-49 11th 23-151 118th Sacks-Yds 7-36 122nd 22-156 12th
21 19 TDs 19 16
4-6 (67%) 14-16 (88%) FG-ATT 11-13 (85%) 6-10 (60%)
19-23 (83%) 72nd 19-20 (95%) 8th Red Zone 21-22 (95%) 125th 14-17 (82%) 65th
15-23 (65%) 8-20 (40%)  RZ TD 12-22 (55%) 11-17 (65%)
1.52 122 1.82 103 OFEI/DFEI 1.88 60 0.96 6
20.7 117 26.2 85 S&P+ 22.8 33 17.5 14

Rutgers still isn’t anywhere close to competing for the Big Ten East, but in Year 2 of the Chris Ash era they are ahead of where they were last season. The offense is one of the worst in college football — yes, even worse than Michigan’s — but the defense is halfway decent.

Rutgers ranks approximately midway nationally in nearly every defensive statistic. Their 51st in scoring defense (23.6 points per game), 62nd in rush defense (159.3 yards per game), 71st in pass defense (224.9 yards per game), and 62nd in total defense (384.1 yards per game). They’re 60th in DFEI, which measures defensive efficiency adjusted for strength of opponents faced. But they’re all the way up to 33rd nationally in defensive S&P+, which measures play-by-play data of five factors: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers. By comparison, Michigan’s defense ranks 14th in S&P+, so not much ahead of Rutgers.

Does that mean Rutgers’ defense is in the same league as Michigan’s? Absolutely not. But they are better than their stats indicate. They held Purdue to 12 points in a 14-12 win this past Saturday — the same Purdue team that Michigan let score 10 points — and it took Purdue until 25 seconds remaining to score their first touchdown of the game (they failed the two-point conversion attempt to tie the game). They held Washington to 30 points — their second-lowest output this season — and Eastern Michigan to 13 points — their lowest of the season.

But before we get carried away praising a Rutgers defense, let’s also consider that they haven’t faced the toughest schedule to date (as noted by the DFEI ranking). Yes, they hung with Washington into the third quarter, but that was the first game of the season which can always be unpredictable. The only other S&P top-50 teams they’ve faced are Purdue (48th) and Ohio State (1st). And the Buckeyes soundly beat the Scarlet Knights 56-0, nearly matching their 58-0 score from 2016. Ohio State piled up 628 total yards, averaging 6.2 yards per play. Illinois passed for 308 yards two weeks ago and Purdue, despite scoring just 12 points, piled up 474 total yards, so in the last three weeks Rutgers is allowing an average of 499 yards per game. If ever there’s a week for Michigan’s offense to taste some success it’s this one. On the other hand, if the offense struggles, it will truly be time to worry.

On the other side of the ball, Rutgers ranks 103rd nationally in scoring (22.6 points per game), 62nd in rushing (167.7 yards per game), 121st in passing (133.6 yards per game), and 122nd in total offense (301.3 yards per game). Yes, only seven teams nationally rank worse in total offense than Rutgers.

Interestingly, Rutgers actually averages more rushing yards per game than Penn State did entering the Michigan game last week. But much of that is inflated by a 326-yards performance against Morgan State, which ranks 74th nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in rush defense. Against FBS competition, Rutgers is averaging just 141.3 rushing yards per game, which would rank 89th. Except for a 274-yard rushing game against Illinois’ 107th-ranked rush defense, Rutgers hasn’t topped 131 yards on the ground. They managed just 68 yards on 2.4 yards per carry against Nebraska and 2.9 yards per carry against Ohio State.

The passing game is even worse. Rutgers hasn’t reached 200 passing yards in a game this season and has been held below 100 twice. In the last three weeks, they’ve averaged just 93.7 passing yards per game while completing just 45.6 percent. By comparison, Michigan’s passing offense the last three weeks is averaging 140.7 passing yards per game and 50.6 percent completions. That’s how bad Rutgers’ passing game has been.

If there’s one bright spot for the Rutgers offense it is the fact that they’ve allowed just six sacks through seven games, a figure that ranks 11th nationally. That’s 17 fewer sacks than Michigan’s offensive line has allowed.

As you can see, Rutgers is slightly improved over last year and has a decent defense and an offense even worse than Michigan’s. Given all that has transpired this season I wouldn’t expect a repeat of last year’s result, but anything but an easy Michigan win this Saturday should definitely be cause for real, legitimate concern.

#19 Michigan at #2 Penn State game preview

Friday, October 20th, 2017


(Kirthman F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

A year ago Penn State opened Big Ten play with a visit to Ann Arbor and left with a humiliating 49-10 defeat. It got so bad that, trailing 28-0 in the third quarter and facing 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, James Franklin elected to kick a field goal shorter than an extra point simply to put points on the board rather than try to make a comeback.

Quick Facts
Beaver Stadium – 7:30p.m. EST – ABC
Penn State Head Coach: James Franklin (4th season)
Coaching Record: 55-30 (31-15 at PSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Moorhead (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Pry (4th season)
Last Season: 11-3 (8-1 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 49 – PSU 10 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 13-7
Record in State College: Michigan 6-4
Jim Harbaugh vs PSU 2-0
Last Michigan win: 2016 (49-10)
Last Penn State win: 2013 (43-40)
Current Streak: Michigan 3
Penn State schedule to date
Opponent Result
Akron W 52-0
Pitt W 33-14
Georgia State W 56-0
at Iowa W 21-19
Indiana W 45-14
at Northwestern W 31-7

Somehow, that lifeless group of guys went on to win their next nine games, capturing the Big Ten title and narrowly missing out on the College Football Playoff. They knocked off Ohio State and then topped Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game before losing a shootout to USC in the Rose Bowl.

If anything, that performance gives hope to Michigan to pull off a similar feat this season. The Wolverines’ offense looked inept in a 14-10 loss to rival Michigan State two weeks ago and then they survived an overtime game at Indiana last week. Penn State followed up their loss to Michigan last season with an overtime win over Minnesota before tearing through the rest of the schedule.

Penn State carried enormous expectations into this season and they have so far lived up to them, breezing through the first six games with one of the nation’s best scoring margins, winning by an average of 30.7 points per game. That’s 2.5 more points than Michigan averages per game.

But the Nittany Lions haven’t exactly played anybody yet. The highest-ranked team they’ve beaten, according to S&P+, is Iowa, which is 38th, and it took a last-second touchdown pass to escape Iowa City. The other wins have come over Indiana (44th), Northwestern (69th), Pitt (96th), Georgia State (106th), and Akron (112th).

Penn State is favored by more than a touchdown, but they haven’t faced a defense like Michigan’s or a team with as much talent and athleticism yet this season. Michigan’s young team, however, hasn’t faced an atmosphere like a Beaver Stadium whiteout. So what will give? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Penn State offense

(Gordie Jones, NBC Sports)

Joe Moorhead’s offense ranks 17th nationally and second in the Big Ten in scoring (39.7 points per game), 66th and eighth in rushing (165.0 yards per game), 22nd and second in passing (291.2 yards per game), and 33rd and third in total offense (456.2 yards per game). It’s a potent offense no doubt with a Heisman candidate running back and a dynamic quarterback, but let’s take a moment to consider the defenses it has faced thus far. Iowa and Indiana’s defenses rank 23rd and 22nd, respectively, in S&P+. The Hawkeyes held Penn State to just 21 points — seven coming on the game’s final play. Michigan’s defense ranks No. 2 behind only Alabama. Every other defense Penn State has faced ranks no higher than 44th.

The workhorse is junior running back Saquon Barkley, who may be the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy at this point in the season. He leads the team in both rushing and receiving with 649 yards and six touchdowns on 6.4 yards per carry and 395 yards and two touchdowns on 13.6 yards per reception. In fact, he ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing (108.2 yards per game), tight for fourth in receptions per game (4.8), and seventh in receiving (65.8 yards per game). Yes, only a handful of receivers catch more passes for more yards than Penn State’s running back.

Beyond Barkley, however, only one other player has more than 63 rushing yards and that is quarterback Trace McSorley. The senior leads the Big Ten and ranks 27th nationally with 266.2 passing yards per game, but he’s also effective with his feet with 178 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He also leads the conference with a 67.0 percent completion rate and has a 13-to-4 touchdown to interception ratio.

Even though Barkley leads the team in rushing, it doesn’t mean he’s the only talented pass catcher. Redshirt sophomore Juwan Johnson ranks ninth in the Big Ten with four receptions per game, averaging 50.5 yards per game, while fifth-year senior Daesean Hamilton ranks eighth in the conference with 61.0 yards per game. However, Hamilton has just one game with more than three receptions and that was a nine-catch, 122-yard, three-touchdown performance against Indiana. Johnson, meanwhile, has caught at least four passes in four of six games, including a total of 19 in the last three. Senior tight end Mike Gisecki was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last season and is a good safety valve for McSorley. He has four touchdowns on the season, but hasn’t had one since Week 2.

Penn State defense

(Rich Barnes, USA Today Sports)

Defensively, Penn State’s numbers are pretty impressive in the first half of the season. The Nittany Lions lead the nation in scoring defense (9.0 points per game), rank fifth in the Big Ten and 24th nationally in rush defense (117.3 yards per game), second and ninth in pass defense (167.8 yards per game), and fourth and ninth in total defense (285.2 yards per game).

But while Penn State’s offense hasn’t faced a top-tier defense, its defense hasn’t even faced a competent offense. Northwestern’s 73rd ranked offense (per S&P+) is the best so far. Despite Michigan’s offensive struggles, it’s right on par with that (76th). Penn State allowed the nation’s 113th-best (Pitt), 104th (Georgia State), and 92nd (Indiana) rushing offenses to each rush for over 150 yards. Michigan’s running game, while not a world-beater by any means, ranks 49th, so it should be able to have some success on the ground.

Make no mistake; this is a deep and talented defense. It seems that Penn State always has solid linebackers, and although they had a couple injured in last year’s meeting, that’s true again this year. Senior middle linebacker Jason Cabinda is the team’s leading tackler with 40 tackles, three for loss, and one sack. WILL linebacker Manny Bowen and SAM linebacker Koa Farmer (a converted safety) are both experienced and have combined for 50 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

The defensive front is deep and strong similar to Michigan’s. Redshirt sophomore end Shareef Miller leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and also has 2.5 sacks and three quarterback hurries, while fellow redshirt sophomore end Ryan Bucholz has two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and two quarterback hurries. The combination of fifth-year seniors Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren create a formidable interior. The latter was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season.

Saving perhaps the best unit for last, the secondary is one of the best in the conference. Senior free safety Marcus Allen has been around forever and has been an All-Big Ten performer in each of the past two seasons. He ranks second on the team with 35 tackles, second with four tackles for loss, and also has a sack and an interception. Senior strong safety Troy Apke has 24 tackles and an interception. Corners Christian Campbell and Grant Haley are very good defenders and have a combined 17 passes defended, 14 pass breakups, and three interceptions.

Penn State special teams

Senior kicker Tyler Davis made 32 of his first 34 field goals in 2015 and 2016, earning All-Big Ten second-team honors last season. But he has struggled so far this season, making just 6-of-13 with a long of 47. Sophomore punter Blake Gillikin ranks second in the conference with an average of 44.2 yards per punt. He has booted seven of his 26 punts over 50 yards and has downed 16 of 26 inside the 20.

In addition to rushing and receiving, Barkley is a dynamic kick returner, averaging 32.2 yards per return with one touchdown. Redshirt junior receiver DeAndre Thompkins is the main punt returner with an average of 17.1 yards per return and has also scored a touchdown.

Prediction

There’s a reason Penn State is a heavy favorite and nearly everyone is writing Michigan off. With backup quarterback John O’Korn under center due to Wilton Speight’s injury, Michigan’s offense has struggled immensely against Michigan State and Indiana the past two weeks. Penn State is very good on both sides of the ball and is one of the hottest teams in the nation dating back to last season’s matchup in Ann Arbor. A primetime whiteout is not the type of environment that one of the nation’s youngest teams playing with a backup quarterback can feel confident about going into and earning a win.

But there are a couple of factors working in Michigan’s favor. With Don Brown’s defense playing as perhaps the nation’s best — only Alabama can have an argument about that — the Wolverines will have a great chance to keep the game within striking distance. Even more, it matches up well with Penn State’s offense. As dynamic as the Nittany Lions are, they’ve struggled in a couple areas: third downs and allowing sacks.

Guess what.

Michigan’s defense leads the nation in third-down defense and ranks sixth in sacks. Penn State ranks 77th nationally with a 37.8 percent third-down conversion rate, while Michigan’s defense allows conversions at just a 20.5 percent clip. Penn State ranks 101st nationally with 16 sacks allowed — the same number Michigan’s offense has allowed — and Michigan’s defense is averaging more than three sacks per game. Penn State has allowed 14 of those 16 sacks in the last three games. Iowa, who recorded just eight sacks in its other five games, had four against Penn State. Indiana, who recorded nine its other five games, recorded five against Penn State. And Northwestern, who got to the quarterback eight times in its other five games, sacked McSorley five times.

Additionally, for as good as Penn State’s offense is, they aren’t dynamic in terms of big plays. They average just five explosive runs per game (fewer than Michigan) and 4.3 explosive pass plays per game (Michigan averages three) for a total of 9.3 total explosive plays, which ranks just 40th nationally. They also give up 8.3 tackles for loss per game, a number that only 12 teams nationally can top.

So there’s hope that Michigan’s defense can considerably slow down the Penn State offense. The question is whether Michigan’s offense can put up enough points to make it count. I certainly wouldn’t expect the Wolverines to move the ball consistently, but I’d look for a big night from kicker Quinn Nordin, who chose the Wolverines over Penn State. Michigan will get a touchdown, but will settle for field goals, which in a game like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Points are good. I see this game going down to the wire with Penn State scoring a touchdown late to pull out a win.

Score Prediction: Penn State 23 – Michigan 19

First Look: Penn State

Monday, October 16th, 2017


Michigan got back in the win column on Saturday, topping Indiana 27-20 in overtime to advance to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten. Their reward? A trip to State College to face the No. 2 Penn State Nittany Lions in a primetime “White Out” game.

A year ago, Michigan humiliated Penn State in Ann Arbor to the point where James Franklin kicked a field goal on 4th-and-goal from the Michigan 2-yard line in the third quarter while trailing 28-0. Penn State went on to win the Big Ten despite that 49-10 loss and you can bet Franklin hasn’t forgotten that game. The Nittany Lions have won 15 of their last 16 games and had a bye week this Saturday to prepare. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Penn State & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
39.7 17th 27.2 79th PPG 9.0 1st 14.7 8th
990 1,110 Rush Yds 704 515
165.0 66th 185.0 49th Rush/Gm 117.3 24th 85.8 6th
4.8 4.4 Rush Avg 3.1 2.6
1,747 1,148 Pass Yds 1,007 828
291.2 22nd 191.3 94th Pass/Gm 167.8 9th 138.0 3rd
2,737 2,258 Total Off. 1,711 1,343
456.2 33rd 376.3 86th Total Off./Gm 285.2 9th 223.8 1st
30.9 1st 18.5 104th KR Avg 18.6 40th 13.9 2nd
15.8 12th 8.7 49th PR Avg 1.3 12th 8.0 72nd
29:56 63rd 33:12 11th Avg TOP 30:04 26:48
38% 77th 32% 116th 3rd Down% 34% 41st 20% 1st
16-99 101st 16-102 101st Sacks-Yds 17-111 19th 20-145 6th
31 17 TDs 7 10
6-13 (46%) 14-16 (88%) FG-ATT 2-4 (50%) 6-10 (60%)
23-27 (85%) 58th 17-18 (94%) 10th Red Zone 6-10 (60%) 4th 10-12 (83%) 67th
19-27 (70%) 6-18 (33%)  RZ TD 4-10 (40%) 7-12 (58%)
OFEI/DFEI
22.4 3 27.6 76 S&P+ 21.7 22 15.3 8

Penn State is the nation’s hottest team with 15 wins in their last 16 games since their loss at Michigan last September. The only loss was a 52-49 defeat by USC in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2 to end last season. They’re 6-0 so far this season and have looked dominant in doing so, but how good are they really?

The non-conference slate featured Akron (now 3-3), Pitt (2-5), and Georgia State (3-2). Penn State handled those three by a combined score of 141-14. The Nittany Lions opened Big Ten play with Iowa, nearly getting tripped up, but scoring from seven yards out on the final play of the game to pull off a win. They then beat Indiana 45-17 and Northwestern 31-7.

Have they looked better than Michigan this season? Of course. But are they unbeatable? Absolutely not, as proven by the near defeat in Iowa City. Iowa is a good team, but isn’t the team it has been the past few seasons. But the next three weeks will decide Penn State’s fate. Michigan comes to town and then they travel to Ohio State and Michigan State in back to back weeks. Get through that gauntlet unscathed and they’ll have a date with Wisconsin for the Big Ten title for the second straight year. But that’s easier said than done.

Penn State features the best offense Michigan has faced yet this season but also the best defense. The Nittany Lions have a scoring margin of 30.7 points, which is one of the best nationally, behind Alabama, Ohio State, and UCF. They have two shutouts, have held three of six opponents to a touchdown or less, and haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 19 points yet this season. Their offense, meanwhile, hasn’t scored fewer than 21 points and has topped 45 points in three of six games.

They do it mostly through the air with the 22nd-best passing offense, averaging 291.2 passing yards per game. By comparison, Michigan’s nearly nonexistent passing offense is averaging 100 yards fewer. Quarterback Trace McSorely leads the Big Ten and ranks 27th nationally with 266.2 passing yards per game and he carries a 13-to-4 touchdown to interception ratio and leads the conference with a 67 percent completion rate. Penn State has thrown for at least 300 yards in three of their six games with a high of 360 against Georgia State, but Pitt’s 110th-ranked pass defense held the Nittany Lions to just 164 passing yards on 5.9 yards per attempt.

While the running game is just middle of the pack statistically (66th nationally, averaging 165.0 yards per game), it does feature one of the nation’s top running backs in Saquon Barkley, who ranks third in the Big Ten with 108.2 yards per game. He leads the conference with 217.0 all-purpose yards per game — nearly 50 more than the next-best — as he factors heavily into the run game, pass game, and kick return game. But there’s not much in the way of a run game beyond Barkley. Penn State topped 200 yards rushing twice in six games, against Iowa’s 57th-ranked and Akron’s 69th-ranked rush defenses. But PSU managed just 39 yards on 37 carries against the same Indiana team that Michigan thrashed for 271 yards on Saturday. Barkley averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on 20 carries with a long of eight yards. Last week at Northwestern, they failed to break 100 yards for the second straight game, managing just 2.5 yards per carry.

Defensively, opponents have been able to have some success on the ground as Pitt, Georgia State, and Indiana all rushed for at least 150 yards, though they did so on 3.4 yards per carry. But none of those three have highly-ranked running games. Indiana’s is the best at 92nd nationally, while Georgia State’s ranks 104th, and Pitt’s ranks 113th. The other three opponents — Akron, Iowa, and Northwestern — averaged just 74 yards per game, though all four rank in the 90s nationally as well, which means that Michigan’s 49th-ranked running game will be twice as good as any running game Penn State has faced this season, which isn’t saying much.

The pass defense is another story. Penn State hasn’t allowed a 200-yard passing game yet this season and they boast the nation’s ninth-best pass defense, allowing an average of 167.8 yards per game. By comparison, Michigan’s third-ranked pass defense allows about 30 yards fewer per game. With the exception of the season opener, when Akron threw for just 85 yards, the last five opponents have been pretty consistent against Penn State, throwing for 187, 170, 191, 175, and 198 yards. Michigan’s passing game has been anemic the past couple weeks since the injuries to Wilton Speight and Tarik Black — John O’Korn threw for just 58 yards against Indiana on Saturday — so I wouldn’t expect the Wolverines to have much more success through the air than Akron did.

In the special teams game, Penn State ranks pretty highly across the board, leading the nation in kick returns with an average of 30.9 yards and ranking 12th in punt returns, averaging 15.8 yards. The good news is that Michigan ranks second nationally in kick return defense and a big reason for that is James Foug’s ability to kick it deep and prevent returns.

There are a couple of reasons for hope that Michigan’s defense can slow down Penn State’s offense. First, the Nittany Lions rank 77th nationally in third-down conversion rate (38 percent) and the Wolverines defense leads the nation, allowing just a 20 percent clip.

The other area is sacks, where Penn State has allowed 16 just like Michigan, a total that ranks 101st nationally and 10th in the Big Ten. They’ve given up 14 sacks in the last three games (four to Iowa, and five each to Indiana and Northwestern). Outside of their matchup with Penn State, those teams have averaged 1.6, 1.8, and 1.6 sacks per game against their other opponents. Michigan’s defense leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally in sacking the opposing quarterback, averaging 3.3 per game.

Finally, when Penn State has been forced to settle for field goals, which it has attempted more than anyone else in the Big Ten except for Michigan, it has made just 6-of-13 — worst in the conference. Kicker Tyler Davis is just 2-of-8 from beyond 30 yards and has had two blocked.

So if Michigan can stop Barkley on early downs, force Penn State into long passing downs and pressure McSorely, and hold the Nittany Lions to field goal attempts, they’ll have a chance to pull off the upset on Saturday night.