Michigan opens Big Ten play on Saturday against 2-1 Penn State. The Nittany Lions are three games into a new up-tempo spread offense that has fans in State College excited, but is still in its infancy. They’re also missing their entire linebacking corps.
Joe was the winner of our staff predictions last week with his prediction of Michigan 45 – Colorado 17. He now has the lead in our staff picks challenge. Here are our picks for this week:
This game just has the makings of a big Michigan win. The Wolverines faced adversity for the first time this season last week and showed they can overcome it. Now, with that added confidence, they’ll kick off conference play with a convincing win.
Like Michigan’s previous opponents, Penn State will load the box to stop the run and force Wilton Speight to beat them. But the Nittany Lions won’t be able to get consistent pressure on Speight and he’ll approach 300 yards passing. Watch for another big game from Jake Butt, who will capitalize on Penn State’s linebacker inexperience.
On the other side of the ball, Moorhead will try to keep the PSU offense moving quickly, getting the ball out of McSorley’s hands quickly and utilizing his feet. Michigan may give up a few big plays and some points, but it won’t be consistent. McSorley hasn’t faced the type of pressure Michigan will bring and will make a couple of mistakes. Michigan’s defense leads the nation on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 11 percent, while Penn State’s offense ranks 118th, converting just 27.3 percent. That doesn’t spell success with Don Brown bringing the heat.
Michigan 48 – Penn State 20
I think the up-tempo offensive style of Penn State will give Michigan some issues, but if Jourdan Lewis returns, the secondary will obviously have a huge lift.
On offense, Michigan will have to keep being creative in the running game to open things up for Wilton Speight in the short passing game.
I don’t think Penn State is much better than Colorado, but this might be Michigan’s toughest test to date. With that said, Michigan’s wake up call came last weekend and I expect Jim Harbaugh will have them firing on all cylinders to start Big Ten play.
Michigan will cruise past Penn State, 38-20.
Michigan 38 – Penn State 20
Michigan cruised through weeks 1 and 2 against clearly inferior competition…then came week 3 against a Colorado team that we also thought would be a mere speed hump (not even a bump!). Alas, as the first quarter was drawing to a close, I was already reasoning with myself that “it’s just a game”.
But the recovery came quickly, and things will hopefully be back on track as Penn State comes to town tomorrow. Wilton Speight is probably not as good as the first two weeks showed, and probably not as bad as last week either.
Will it be enough to win the Big Ten? Only time can tell. But it should be plenty to beat a Penn State team that is going to struggle to find space for Saquon Barkley to run into. Taco Charlton should be back in a big way as Michigan dumps the Nittany Lions.
Michigan 34 – Penn State 10
Ah, Penn State. What a wonderful team. Wait, no that’s not right. Apparently they have a saying there, “It’s -blank- o’clock and Michigan still sucks.” Yes, Michigan sucks. Clearly they haven’t checked their place in the conference hierarchy lately. Even so, I think they’ll provide yet another stout test for Michigan this week. They have a new spread-y type offense, one of the best running backs in America and a dominating defensive li… What’s that? Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel graduated? And they’re also missing two of three starting linebackers? Oh well then, disregard any mention of their defense. So maybe the defense isn’t a force to be reckoned with anymore, but their new spread offense might be and Michigan will need to be on their best game if they want to avoid getting caught on too many busted plays again.
I’ll go ahead and say it, Saquon Barkley scares me. He is shifty, he has excellent vision and he is fast. Taking the wrong angle on him could end up with six on the scoreboard. Michigan absolutely has to contain him if they are to win this game. That said, it’s been the passing game that has generated the big plays for Penn State this year (4.67 per game, same as Michigan). Luckily, Michigan is getting Jourdan Lewis back this week so that should do wonders for the defense. And maybe Taco too? Either way, this is a game Michigan should win but will likely be test once again.
On offense – I’d like to see Wilton Speight bounce back from an iffy performance with confidence and make some big plays once again. At this point I’m not sure anyone really respects Michigan’s run game (I don’t blame them) so Penn State will probably be content to let Speight try to beat them with his arm. It would be nice to see the run game get some momentum heading into the Wisconsin match-up but my gut says Penn State is going to stack the box so I’m not so sure this is the week we see our traditional run game get going. Thank God for jet sweeps and guys like Jabrill Peppers, Jehu Chesson and Eddie McDooooooooooom. I’d also like to see the left guard spot get sorted out, as neither Ben Braden nor Ben Bredeson has looked all that good there and it’s beginning to become a concern for me as we head into the meat of the schedule.
On defense – I’d like to see them shore up some of the containment/missed assignment issues that plagued them the last two weeks as well as how they adjust to another spread/no-huddle team. Penn State isn’t exactly a tempo spread team, they are no-huddle but don’t run a ton of plays. In fact, they’re averaging almost 5.5 plays fewer per game than Michigan is right now. Either way, I’d like to see how Michigan continues to adjust to a no-huddle team. How they manage to improve upon this could be the difference between 12-0 and 10-2. Hopefully adding Jourdan Lewis back into the mix is a shot in the arm for both the pass and run defense.
For the record, I’m not too worried about Penn State causing issues here as it seems they line up quickly and look to the sideline for the play-call but it could be an issue anyway. Michigan has done a fairly good job of hiding their coverages/blitzes so far but when a defense is spread out it can become tricky to hide those blitzes as well as before. On that note…
Maybe a new wrinkle, or two, as far as formations or crazy blitzes to keep that spread offense from clicking. Don Brown has hung his hat on not only his aggressiveness but also his ability to stop spread teams, with three games under their belts I think now is the time we need to start seeing some progress on that front. Holding Penn State to under three big run plays and two big pass plays would be HUGE in my opinion. Remember, holding an opponent to under six big plays per game would be on par with a top ten ranking (stats-wise) based on 2015 big play stats. This needs to be the game where Michigan really asserts itself on defense and shuts down all those big plays they’ve been giving up lately.
On special teams – All I want to see is Kenny Allen keep his punts out of the endzone, consistently. That and maybe another block/deflection. I won’t be greedy and ask for another special teams score, OK maybe I will.
Michigan is the better team. They have better players and a far superior coaching staff. Any Penn State fan who thinks Franklin will outcoach Harbaugh (I saw it on twitter) clearly needs their head examined. Penn State will put up a fight, probably not a jump-out-to-an-early-lead like Colorado fight but a fight nonetheless. After getting punched in the mouth last week Michigan should come out focused and ready to roll. Michigan wins going away but the game is much closer than the score.
Michigan 38 – Penn State 13
This is a game where the lines should dominate early and often and wear the Nittany Lions down over the course of four quarters. While the Penn State quarterback is leading the Big Ten in passing yards (second in passing yards per game) he will not have much time to survey his options. Our defensive front should have a field day and generate tons of pressures and quarterback hits. That will lead to turnovers and points for the Maize and Blue.
If Michigan can keep Saquon Barkley in check most of the time and force them to throw, things will get ugly in the second half. Barkley is the best and only option coming out of Happy Valley.
Wilton Speight should come back strong and have a solid day thru the air. I think Michigan will look to establish the run early and then open things up. Speight goes for 250 and three scores through the air with two of them going to Butt. Michigan wins this one big.
Michigan 42 – Penn State 10