photo Michigan-Display-Ad-728x90-Die-Hard-Fans-only_zpskcnarkrk.jpg  photo MampGB header 2015 v6_zpsdluogxnr.jpg

Posts Tagged ‘Nittany Lions’

#4 Michigan 49 – Penn State 10: Michigan defense smothers Penn State

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

um-d-vs-penn-state(Dustin Johnson)

On the first play of the game, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley was sacked for a loss of two. On the second play, he completed a pass to tight end Mike Gisecki for one yard. On the third play, McSorley was sacked for a near safety by Chris Wormley. Unlike the start of last week’s game against Colorado, this game was over, basically, three plays in.

Michigan’s defense came to play from the opening whistle and Penn State never stood a chance. It set the tone from the start that it wasn’t Kent State. It wasn’t Pitt. It wasn’t Temple. And it certainly wasn’t a RichRod defense or a Brady Hoke defense. It was a Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown defense. It was a Michigan defense.

Jabrill Peppers damn near took the ensuing Penn State’s punt to the house. After beating the last defender he got tripped up at the 9-yard line. Michigan took advantage of the short field and never looked back.

Final Stats
Michigan Penn State
Score 49 10
Record 4-0, 1-0 2-2, 0-1
Total Yards 515 191
Net Rushing Yards 326 70
Net Passing Yards 189 121
First Downs 25 12
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties-Yards 7-80 2-13
Punts-Yards 1-44 6-240
Time of Possession 35:49 24:11
Third Down Conversions 11-of-16 2-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 2-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 6-27 0-0
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-1
PATs 7-for-7 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-6 2-of-2
Red Zone Scores-TDs 6-of-6 1-of-2
Full Box Score

The first half was as thorough a beatdown of a Big Ten power program as one could get. Michigan led 28-0, sacked McSorely five times, outgained Penn State’s offense 259 yards to 50, converted 7-of-10 third downs and 2-of-3 fourth downs, and found the end zone on four of five possessions.

While four Penn State beat writers talked themselves into choosing James Franklin over Harbaugh if they were given the choice, the reality of the chasm that exists between the two head coaches was never more evident than on Penn State’s opening drive of the second half. Down 28-0 in the third quarter, facing 4th-and-goal from the Michigan two, Franklin sent his field goal team onto the field, called timeout to think about it, and sent them back out to kick the 19-yard field goal. The television cameras may have missed it, but Franklin was waving a white flag.

On Michigan’s next possession, Harbaugh faced a 4th-and-4 from the Penn State 28 and went for it, up 28-3. The conversion failed, but message was clear. Harbaugh plays to win.

Not content to simply win, Michigan flexed its muscle on the next drive, running the ball eight of nine times right through the Penn State defense. Chris Evans for 37. De’Veon Smith for eight. Ty Isaac for five. Karan Higdon for three. Evans for five. Smith for eight. Higdon for 11. Evans for three. Touchdown.

Penn State would add a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth, but Michigan added two more to double the point spread and improve to 4-0 on the season.

The Michigan offense racked up 515 total yards — 326 on the ground and 189 through the air — and the defense held Penn State to just 191 total yards. Wilton Speight completed 21-of-34 for 189 yards and a touchdown. Smith led Michigan with 111 yards on 8.9 yards per carry and a touchdown. Higdon gained 84 yards and scored two touchdowns, while Isaac finished with 74 yards and a score. Nine different Wolverines caught a pass, including freshman tight end Devin Asiasi, who caught the first touchdown of his career.

Linebacker Ben Gedeon led the Michigan defense with 11 tackles, 1.5 of which were behind the line of scrimmage. Maurice Hurst led the Wolverines with three tackles for loss. Hurst, Matt Godin, Chris Wormley, Chase Winovich, and Taco Charlton each recorded a sack, and Mike McCray picked off McSorley in the fourth quarter. Peppers finished with five tackles, but was unable to add to his Big Ten-leading 9.5 tackles for loss. Michigan held Saquon Barkley — who came in averaging 5.1 yards per carry — to just 59 yards rushing on 3.9 yards per carry.

At 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten, Michigan will likely remain ranked fourth nationally and will face its toughest test to date next week when Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) comes to town. The Badgers stunned Michigan State in East Lansing, 30-6 on Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rushing yards, no sacks allowed)
Michigan’s offensive line has been much maligned over the past few seasons, and although it’s not the big, mauling line Harbaugh wants just yet, it has made considerable progress from the days of negative rushing yards. Against Penn State on Saturday it was nearly flawless. It paved the way for Michigan’s backs to rush for 326 yards and six touchdowns and it didn’t allow a sack against a Penn State defense that entered the game with 10 in its first three games. Four different running backs rushed for more than 50 yards, five different backs scored touchdowns, and the Wolverines rushed for 6.7 yards per carry.

Week 1 – Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Week 3 — Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Maurice Hurst (6 tackles, 3 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Michigan’s defense was all over Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, but Hurst stood out the most. He seemed to be in the PSU backfield all afternoon, recording three tackles for loss and dropping McSorley once.

Week 1 – Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
Week 3 — Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 kick ret. for 81 yards, 4 punt ret. for 99 yards, 1 TD)

M&GB staff predictions – Penn State

Friday, September 23rd, 2016


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:

Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn State
Justin 48 20
Derick 38 20
Sam 34 10
Josh 38 13
Joe 42 10
M&GB Average 40 15

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

Josh (1)

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

Joe (2)

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

#4 Michigan vs Penn State game preview

Friday, September 23rd, 2016


Michigan skated through its first two games before receiving a test against Colorado last Saturday. The Wolverines spotted the Buffaloes 14 points and — to paraphrase Jim Harbaugh when he tripped entering his introductory press conference a year and a half ago — a lesser athlete would have gone down.

It remains to be seen over the next 10 weeks, but this year’s Michigan team may be the closest to the Michigan of old that we’ve seen in a decade. This isn’t RichRod’s Michigan. This isn’t Brady Hoke’s Michigan. Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan absorbed early blows, shrugged them off, and still won by 17 points, holding Colorado to barely 100 yards of offense over the final three quarters, 70 of which came on one play.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30p.m. EST – ABC
Penn State Head Coach: James Franklin (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 40-28 (16-13 at PSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Moorhead (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Pry (3rd season)
Last Season: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 28 – PSU 16 (2015)
All-Time Series: Michigan 12-7
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 6-3
Jim Harbaugh vs PSU 1-0
Last Michigan win: 2015 (28-16)
Last Penn State win: 2013 (43-40)
Current Streak: Michigan 2
Penn State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Kent State W 33-13
Pittsburgh L 39-42
Temple W 34-27

Time will tell just how good Colorado is, but it was an important early challenge for Michigan and the Wolverines passed. Now the real season begins. Michigan opens Big Ten conference play tomorrow against Penn State, and although they opened as 16-point favorites, the margin for error will shrink.

For the first time this season the narrative leading up to the game doesn’t center around an opposing coach’s comments towards Harbaugh or previous animosity toward Michigan, although the Penn State beat writers are trying their hardest. They’ve been hard at work sending zingers Harbaugh’s way and submitting applications for the Onion.

No matter how much they try to distract from what’s happening on the field or try to convince themselves that their program is headed in the right direction with better leadership than Michigan, their doing so signals that they have plenty to worry about this Saturday.

Penn State is 2-1 with wins over Kent State (33-13) and Temple (34-27) and a 42-39 loss to in-state rival Pittsburgh. Kent State and Temple stand at 105th and 56th in S&P+ thus far, but Penn State hardly won convincingly. Kent State — whose only win is over Monmouth — was down just 16-13 at halftime and within two scores until Penn State put the game away with two minutes left. Temple — whose only win is over Stony Brook — hung with the Nittany Lions all game and was within as few as three points midway through the fourth quarter.

According to the final score, Penn State played Pitt close — and they did — but they were playing catchup all game after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter and 28-7 before scoring just before the half. They made it a game late in the fourth, but Pitt’s lead was too much to overcome.

Let’s be honest. Penn State is an average football team. But that doesn’t mean they have no chance tomorrow. They have plenty of athletes even if they don’t have a lot of depth. Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Penn State has the ball

After a second straight 7-6 season in 2015 that saw Penn State pose one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten — 108th nationally — James Franklin fired offensive coordinator John Donovan. He turned to Joe Moorhead, who guided Fordham to a 38-13 record over the past four seasons. There, he was known for his up-tempo offense that averaged 453.2 yards and 36.8 points per game over the past two seasons. While Penn State has featured a statue at quarterback the past few seasons in Christian Hackenberg, Moorhead’s offense is a spread with a run-pass option that utilizes the quarterback’s ability to run.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley may not be the perfect fit to run Moorhead’s offense — he has just 63 rushing yards, sacks removed, with a long of 17 — but Moorhead is determined to make it work regardless. McSorley is the Big Ten’s second-leading passer through the first three games of the season, averaging 276 yards per game. In terms of total passing yards, he leads the conference with 828. He is completing 64.4 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

In the loss to Pitt, McSorley completed 24-of-35 passes for 332 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. However, is that a reflection of Penn State’s offense or the weakness of Pitt’s secondary. The Panthers allowed 540 passing yards in a 45-38 loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday. Yes, the same Oklahoma State that lost to Central Michigan — and threw for just 288 — the week prior.

McSorley has some talented receivers to throw to, most notably junior Chris Godwin, who ranks second in the Big Ten with six catches per game. His 1,101 receiving yards a year ago ranked second in the conference behind only Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge, which was good enough to earn second team All-Big Ten honors. He has 18 receptions for 220 yards and a touchdown so far this season. Senior DaeSean Hamilton and redshirt sophomore DeAndre Thompkins are the other two talented receivers. Hamilton has 12 receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown, while Thompkins has seven for 166 yards — a team-leading 23.7 yards per catch. Junior tight end Mike Gesecki has caught nine passes for 158 yards and a score.

Sophomore running back Saquon Barkley is one of the best in the Big Ten. In 2015, he rushed for 1,076 yards — behind only Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson — and seven touchdowns as a true freshman. He’s averaging 86 yards per game so far this season on 5.1 yards per carry and has already found the end zone six times. However, there’s not much proven depth behind him. No other back has more than eight carries and true freshman Miles Sanders is the second-leading running back with 27 yards on three carries. By contrast, Michigan has six rushers — including Eddie McDoom and Jehu Chesson — with more than 27 yards, and Jabrill Peppers has 24.

The offensive line has struggled mightily in recent years but hasn’t let up as many sacks in the early season as it did a year ago, though it hasn’t faced a stellar defense yet. Redshirt junior Brendan Mahon is in his first season at left tackle after starting 20 games at left guard and right tackle the past two seasons. He’ll have a tough task against Rashan Gary and Co. Next to him is redshirt freshman left guard Ryan Bates, who will be facing the best defensive line he’s seen to date. Senior center Brian Gaia was the only lineman to start all 13 games last season. Fifth-year senior right guard Derek Dowry has nine career starts under his belt, while redshirt junior right tackle Andrew Nelson has 24. As a unit, they’ve allowed five sacks, which is equal to what Michigan has allowed.

When Michigan has the ball

While the Penn State offense is still a work in progress under new guidance, the defense has been the side of the ball that has carried the team the past few years. But in the third year under Brent Pry, it’s not quite as stout as it once was. The Nittany Lions rank 77th nationally in scoring defense (27.3 points per game), 46th in total defense (345 yards per game), 92nd against the run (176.3 yards per game), and 23rd against the pass (168.7 yards per game).

Pry’s defense has been banged up already and suffered a major loss when fifth-year senior linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White was lost for the season with a torn ACL against Temple. The other two starting linebackers, redshirt junior Brandon Bell and junior Jason Cabinda, both missed the Temple game with injuries and may not play tomorrow eight. That leaves sophomores Jake Cooper and Manny Bowen and redshirt junior Brandon Smith — who had a combined one start heading into the season — to handle the linebacker spots.

That’s an area that Michigan will look to exploit. Even with Wartman-White, Bell, and Cabinda, the Penn State defense got gashed by Pitt for 341 rushing yards on 6.1 yards per carry. Michigan’s running game hasn’t been outstanding, but there are enough playmakers — especially when the jet sweeps with McDoom and Chesson and the wildcat snaps to Peppers are added — that Michigan could have success on the ground this week.

The defensive line lost three starters to the NFL who combined for 45.5 tackles for loss, most notably Carl Nassib, who led the Big Ten with 15.5 sacks and ranked second with 19.5 tackles for loss. Redshirt sophomore Torrence Brown and redshirt junior Garrett Sickels are the starting ends. Sickels started 12 games last season and has two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks so far this year. Redshirt freshman end Shareef Miller leads the team with two sacks. Redshirt freshman Kevin Givens and redshirt junior Parker Cothren are the tackles.

The secondary features the two leading tacklers, junior free safety Marcus Allen and fifth-year senior strong safety Malik Golden. Allen was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season, but Golden started just four games. This season, they have combined for 39 tackles, 3.5 for loss, an interception, three passes defended, and a fumble recovery. The corners, sophomore John Reid and junior Christian Campbell, are first-year full-time starters. Reid has a pair of takeaways, but the secondary as a whole allowed Temple quarterback Phillip Walker to complete 25-of-34 passes for 286 yards last week.

The other third

Redshirt junior kicker Tyler Davis has made all five field goal attempts so far with a long of 40, while freshman punter Blake Gillikin ranks third in the Big Ten with an average of 44.3 yards per punt. He has downed seven of his 14 punts inside the 20 with three touchbacks.

The return game has been average, ranking 61st nationally in kick returns and 74th in punt returns. Miles Sanders and redshirt sophomore safety Nick Scott are the main kick returners, averaging 23.4 and 22.4 yards per return, respectively. Reid is the punt returner, averaging 8.8 yards per return. One area in which Michigan might be able to exploit is kick returns as Penn State ranks 122nd nationally with an average of 30 yards allowed per kick return.


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

The numbers game: Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

peppers-vs-colorado(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays

Well, I did not panic at all during the first quarter last weekend. Nope, not one bit.

But in the end Michigan pulled off the comeback and now we can look at the numbers. Spoiler alert: they’re not quite as bad as you might think given how the first quarter played out.

Okay, let’s just rip the Band-Aid off and get the defensive numbers out of the way first.

Michigan gave up seven total big plays, four of which came in the first quarter. Colorado had four big run plays (10-yards or more) and three big pass plays (20-yards or more), which is right about in line with their season average of 6.5 big plays against per game coming in. After that horrendous first quarter, Michigan settled down and Colorado had just two runs of over 10-yards and only one big pass play, although it was a 70-yard touchdown pass. Hooray for a coaching staff that makes adjustments!

Through three games the 2015 Michigan defense gave up 4.33 big run plays per game, 1.33 big pass plays per game for a total of 5.67 big plays given up per game and a 9.19 percent big plays against percentage.

Adding in the Colorado numbers, the 2016 iteration of the Wolverines now gives up five big run plays per game (75th), 1.67 big pass plays per game (14th), for a total of 6.67 big plays per game (44th) and a big play against percentage of 10.26 percent. All are slightly higher than this point last year. Keep in mind that All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis has yet to play this season and starting defensive linemen Taco Charlton and Bryan Mone have missed the last two games.

Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first three weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 20 16 36 16.98% 6.72% 18
2015 10 8 18 8.57% -0.62% -1
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 5 1.67 6.67 10.26% 6.72% 18
2015 4.33 1.33 5.67 9.19% -0.62% -1

Despite a slight uptick in big plays given up by the defense, Michigan’s offense fared quite well in the big play department against Colorado, with 10 total — four big running plays and six big passing plays. However, despite a solid offensive outing, Michigan’s 10 total big plays were less than their season average of thirteen. Let’s see how Michigan’s offense compares to last year through three games.

In 2015, Michigan averaged 3.33 big runs per game and 2.67 big passes per game, for a total of six big plays per game and a big play percentage of 8.57 percent.

Through three games in 2016 Michigan has averaged 7.33 big run plays (19th), 4.67 big pass plays (21st), for a total of 12 big plays per game and a big play percentage of 16.98 percent (12th). That is literally double the amount of big plays on offense compared to last year and nearly double the big play percentage. Let that sink in for a moment. Michigan has had twice as many total big plays through three games this year than they did through three games in 2015. That is remarkable, even given any quality of opponent caveats.

Michigan’s big play differential is 6.72 percent (18th) and their total toxic differential is 18 (15th on a per game basis). Last year, those numbers were -0.62 percent big play differential and a total toxic differential of -1. I actually had to go back and double check my numbers because the difference was so glaring. I figured the offense would get better but this is just an astronomical improvement thus far.

To sum up: through three games Michigan is giving up one big play more per game over last year (6.67 versus 5.67) while putting up twice as many big plays of their own (12 versus 6). Their big play differential has gone from a negative, -0.62 percent to a solid 6.72 percent and their toxic differential has taken a massive jump from -1 to 18. The toxic differential number is not inflated by a lot of forced turnovers either, which are mostly random anyway. Michigan is only plus-2 in that category. The jump is due to the plus-16 difference in big plays for/against compared to a plus-1 in big plays for/against at this time last year. This is not your grandfather’s three yards and a cloud of dust pro-style offense.

Michigan’s Week 3 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 12 Run
1 1st and 10 Jabrill Peppers 10 Run
1 1st and 10 Eddie McDoom 10 Run
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 10 Run
2 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 21 Pass
2 1st and 10 Jehu Chesson 17 (TD) Run
2 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 45 (TD) Pass
3 2nd and 7 De’Veon Smith 42 (TD) Run
3 1st and 19 Wilton Speight to Ty Isaac 21 Pass
3 3rd and 14 Wilton Speight to Grant Perry 54 Pass
Colorado’s Week 3 big plays
1 2nd and 12 Sefo Liufau to Devin Ross 37 (TD) Pass
1 2nd and 7 Phillip Lindsay 10 Run
1 1st and 10 Sefo Liufau to Bryce Bobo 50 Pass
1 2nd and 8 Phillip Lindsay 11 Run
2 2nd and 3 Phillip Lindsay 15 Run
3 1st and 10 Sefo Liufau to Shay Fields 70 (TD) Pass
4 2nd and 12 Steven Montez 10 Run

What stands out here is the obvious improvement in the offensive numbers. And of course, the slight regression in the big plays given up by the defense. Any concern we may have about the defense though has been mitigated by a massive explosion in offensive production.

Earlier I predicted the offense should be able to add about one big play more per game via Harbaugh’s magic touch and the defense would be able to eliminate about one total big play per game with Don Brown’s scheme. I also predicted there would be some hiccups in the early going regarding the defense.

The offense is way ahead of schedule; did I mention they’ve literally doubled their total big plays? The hiccups we’re seeing on defense now are likely compounded with the absences of Mone, Charlton and Lewis. I don’t think either of these trends — the offense recording an inordinate amount of explosive plays and the defense continuing to give up more than expected — will continue though. However, I should note that the 6.67 big plays given up per game by the defense is still about half a big play less per game than their final 2015 total.

As the season progresses and competition level increases I think we’ll see the offensive numbers drop a bit (likely around the 8-9 total per game range) and as the team gets more comfortable in Don Brown’s scheme (and the three missing starters return) the defense should start to contain some of those big plays. The defensive improvement may not quite reach that one less big play per game I predicted but even if they keep it steady at around 6.5 plays per game I think they’ll be fine. Based on 2015’s numbers anything under 6.5 per game should have them in the top 15 nationally, while anything under 6 per game and they’d be around the top 10 (fewest given up).

And now let’s take a peek at our first conference opponent, Penn State, and see how they stack up in the big play department.

Michigan offense vs Penn State defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 20 16 36 16.98% 6.72% 18
PSU Def. 20 3 23 11.39% 1.37% 0
Penn State offense vs Michigan defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
PSU Off. 11 5 16 12.76% 1.37% 0
UM Def. 13 4 17 10.26% 6.72% 18

The Nittany Lions’ offense currently averages 3.67 big run plays per game (105th) and 4.67 big pass plays (21st), for a total of 8.33 big plays per game (78th) with a big play percentage of 12.76 percent (57th). I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised to see Penn State’s big pass plays higher than their run plays given that Saquon Barkley is one heck of a running back.

On defense they give up an average of 6.67 big running plays per game (101st), only one big pass play per game (4th) for a total of 7.67 total big plays per game (65th) with a big play against percentage of 11.39 percent (71st). Their big play differential is a paltry 1.37 percent (70th) and their toxic differential is zero, good for 75th on a per game basis.

First Look: Penn State

Monday, September 19th, 2016


Michigan survived its first test of the season on Saturday with a 45-28 win over a resurgent Colorado squad. Now, the Wolverines look toward this coming Saturday when they open Big Ten conference play against Penn State. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare three games into the season.

Penn State & Michigan statistical comparison
Penn State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 35.3 | 53.0 50 4
27.3 15.0 77 | 19
Rushing Yards 335 593 529 420
Rush Avg. Per Game 111.7 197.7 113 52
176.3 140.0 92 57
Avg. Per Rush 3.2 | 4.9
4.2 3.6
Passing Yards 828 763 506 468
Pass Avg. Per Game 276.0 254.3 31 47 168.7 156.0 23 16
Total Offense 1,163 1,356 1,035 888
Total Off Avg. Per Game 387.7 452.0 83 46 345.0 296.0 46 24
Kick Return Average 21.6 19.0 61 91 30.0 19.5 122 | 47
Punt Return Average 6.4 22.9 74 5 1.0 17.5 15 121
Avg. Time of Possession 26:43 31:18 101 48 33:17 | 28:42
3rd Down Conversion Pct 27.3% | 49.0% 118 27
28.6% | 11.0% 27 | 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 5-44 | 5-34
49 | 49
10-73 | 11-87 17 | 11
Touchdowns Scored 13 | 21
10 | 6
Field Goals-Attempts 5-5 4-6
4-6 | 1-4
Red Zone Scores (13-16) 81%|(16-18) 89% 76 | 47
(12-13) 92%|(1-3) 33% 93 1
Red Zone Touchdowns (8-16) 50%|(12-18) 67% (9-13) 69%|(1-3) 33%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 31.0 36.1 54 28 20.5 10.8 14 2

Penn State comes in with a 2-1 record, having beaten Kent State (33-13) and Temple (34-27) and lost to Pittsburgh (42-39).

Offensively, the Nittany Lions rank in the middle third of the Big Ten in most categories. They rank seventh in scoring offense, 11th in total offense, 13th in rushing, second in passing, seventh in passing efficiency. Those aren’t great numbers considering two of Penn State’s three opponents rank 56th (Temple) and 110th (Kent State) in S&P and neither has a win over an FBS program yet. Temple’s lone win is over Stony Brook and Kent State’s only win is over Monmouth.

In the loss to Pittsburgh, Penn State’s offense did put up 406 total yards, but only 74 of those were on the ground for 2.4 yards per carry. They’ve struggled to run the ball this season even with one of the Big Ten’s top running backs, Saquon Barkley. He has been a one-man backfield, accounting for 258 of their 335 rushing yards and six of eight rushing touchdowns. As a team, Penn State has yet to crack four yards per carry in a game this season. They rushed for 3.8 yards per carry in the opener against Kent State, but North Carolina A&T essentially did just as well on the ground against the Golden Eagles the next week.

The passing game, on the other hand, has been strong, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 332 yards against Pitt, but that doesn’t look as impressive after Oklahoma State threw for 540 against the Panthers this past Saturday.

Defensively, Penn State is similar, ranking 11th in the Big Ten in scoring defense, sixth in total defense, 12th in rush defense, second in pass defense, and ninth in pass defense efficiency. Pitt ran all over the Nittany Lion defense, to the tune of 341 yards and three touchdowns on 6.1 yards per carry. Kent State and Temple were held in check, but neither features a potent rushing attack. Temple, however, passed for 286 yards — nearly identical to their combined total against Army and Stony Brook. Penn State’s pass defense isn’t as good as its national rank of 23rd indicates, since Pitt had such success on the ground and didn’t need to challenge the Nittany Lion secondary. Through three games, opponents are completing 64.4 percent of their passes on Penn State.

Overall, Penn State looks to be an average team with a few playmakers on both sides of the ball, but not enough talent overall to put a major scare into Michigan. The line opened at Michigan by 16 and it may creep higher before game time.

Michigan hoops preview: Penn State

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

Michigan vs Penn State
Saturday, Jan. 30 | New York, N.Y. | 12 p.m. EST | Big Ten Network
Line: Michigan -10
77.3 Points/gm 65.7
(575-1,179) 48.8 Field Goal % 41.3 (476-1,153)
(227-545) 41.7 3-pt FG % 29.9 (120-402)
(246-330) 74.5 Free Throw % 69.4 (308-444)
11.7 FT Made/gm 14.7
32.8 Reb/gm 34.6
16.1 Assists/gm 9.5
10.0 Turnovers/gm 11.2
64.0 Points/gm 68.5
(492-1,159) 42.5 Field Goal % 42.1 (482-1,145)
(142-422) 33.6 3-pt FG % 37.0 (153-413)
31.4 Opp. Reb/gm 35.6
5.6 Steals/gm 5.0
2.5 Blocks/gm 4.4
Individual Leaders
Caris LeVert (17.6), Duncan Robinson (12.6) Points/gm Brandon Taylor (16.0), Shep Garner (13.5)
Derick Walton (5.7), Caris LeVert (5.4) Reb/gm Brandon Taylor (5.8), Payton Banks (5.1)

Michigan invades Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon for the final game of the “easy” portion of its schedule. It’s foolish to call any conference game easy, but compared to the final nine games this is one of the likeliest remaining wins. With Indiana and Michigan State on the docket next week, Michigan needs to take care of business against the Nittany Lions in New York on Super Saturday.

Michigan beat Penn State 79-56 in Ann Arbor on Jan. 2 with a balanced effort of 16 points from Zak Irvin and Mark Donnal, 14 from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and 13 from Aubrey Dawkins. Penn State, meanwhile, had just one player in double figures, senior forward Brandon Taylor (6-foot-6, 225), who scored 18. Taylor leads the team with 16 points per game. He scored a season high 29 points against Kent State in the final game before conference play and has scored in single digits just twice all season, not at all since Dec. 22.

Sophomore guard Shep Garner (6-foot-1, 185) is the team’s second leading scorer, averaging 13.5 points per game. He managed just six points — his second fewest in Big Ten play to date — on 2-of-10 shooting in the first meeting. He’s the team’s best three-point shooter at 35.5 percent, but has made just four of his last 21 attempts over the last five games.

Sophomore forward Payton Banks (6-foot-6, 220) averages 10.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He was held scoreless the last time these two teams played on 0-of-5 shooting and has had an up and down conference season. He followed up his goose egg with a 24-point outing against Minnesota, but then scored just five against Michigan State and two against Purdue.

Freshman guard Josh Reaves (6-foot-4, 190) scored six in the first meeting, which is right on his season average of 6.4, but is out with mono. Senior guard Devin Foster (6-foot-2, 205) starts in his place, averaging four points per game. He scored four in 20 minutes in the first meeting.

The fifth starter is senior center Jordan Dickerson (7-foot-1, 245), who averages just 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. He leads the team with 1.7 blocks per game. Despite being a starter and despite his size, he averages just 17.7 minutes per game and hasn’t reached double figures yet this season.

Sophomore forward Julian Moore (6-foot-10, 235), senior forward Donovan Jack (6-foot-9, 210), freshman forward Deividas Zemgulis (6-foot-6, 220), and redshirt freshman guard Isaiah Washington (6-foot-3, 160) are the other contributors. Washington was the team’s second leading scorer against Michigan on Jan. 2 with nine points, but he hasn’t scored more than five in any other game this season. In fact, he hasn’t scored a point in his last four games.

As a team, Penn State averages 12 fewer points per game than Michigan and allows 4.5 more. Their offense ranks last in the Big Ten in points per game and 10th in scoring defense. Penn State is also the worst shooting team (41.3 percent) and three-point shooting team (29.9 percent) in the conference.

Michigan won the first meeting by 23 points and is favored by 10 in this one. With a big alumni base in New York, the crowd will be far more pro-Michigan than if the game was in State College, and Michigan typically plays well in Madison Square Garden. The Wolverines should win comfortably and move to 17-5 overall and 7-2 in the Big Ten.

#12 Michigan 28 – Penn State 16: Wolverines take care of business in Happy Valley

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Jabrill - DeVenon vs PSU(

With Ohio State looming next Saturday for a potential shot at the Big Ten East division title, Michigan took care of business in Happy Valley with a workman-like 28-16 victory over Penn State.

The defense held Penn State to 207 yards of total offense — most of which came on three big plays — and sacked Christian Hackenberg four times. Jake Rudock continued his ascension with a 25 of 38 for 256 yards and two touchdown performance to lead the Wolverines to victory.

Penn State struck first with a 23-yard Tyler Davis field goal on its first possession of the game, but Michigan answered with a 7-play, 89-yard drive that was capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass from Jake Rudock to Jake Butt. After a Penn State three and out, Michigan made the first mistake of the game when Rudock was intercepted by linebacker Brandon Bell. But Michigan’s defense held strong and forced a punt.

Final Stats
Michigan Penn State
Score 28 16
Record 9-2 (6-1) 7-4 (4-3)
Total Yards 343 207
Net Rushing Yards 87 70
Net Passing Yards 256 137
First Downs 19 14
Turnovers 2 1
Penalties-Yards 13-117 3-30
Punts-Yards 6-198 6-225
Time of Possession 33:22 26:38
Third Down Conversions 7-of-14 3-of-14
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 1-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 4-26 2-10
Field Goals 0-for-0 3-for-3
PATs 4-for-4 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-4 3-of-3
Red Zone Scores-TDs 3-of-4 0-of-3
Full Box Score

Defenses ruled much of the rest of the first half until Penn State found the end zone for the first time with 1:57 remaining in the half. On 3rd-and-6, Christian Hackenberg connected with freshman receiver Saeed Blacknall for a 25-yard touchdown to put the Nittany Lions ahead 10-7.

Michigan marched 70 yards in seven plays on the arm of Rudock, who completed passes of 26 yards to Amara Darboh, four and 11 to De’Veon Smith, 18 to Butt, and then a 11-yard wide receiver screen to Darboh who evaded Penn State defenders and found the end zone. Michigan took a 14-10 lead into the break.

Michigan took the opening possession of the second half across midfield, but stalled and punted it back to Penn State. After forcing a three and out, Michigan again had to punt, but this time return man DeAndre Thompkins muffed it and Jehu Chesson recovered at the PSU 9-yard line. Three plays later, Sione Houma scored from a yard out to put Michigan ahead 21-10.

Another defensive stand gave Michigan the ball back with a chance to put the game away, but Rudock had the ball knocked out of his hands by Bell and Penn State recovered at the Michigan 42. Four plays later, Hackenberg hit Chris Godwin for a 38-yard gain to the Michigan three. But the Michigan defense held strong and forced a 24-yard field goal.

Michigan’s offense went three and out, giving Penn State a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion. The Nittany Lions mounted a 10-play, 62-yard drive, but couldn’t get past the the goal line and had to settle for another field goal, this time from 18 yards out.

With the game slipping away, leading just 21-16 with 7:53 remaining, Michigan needed to get something going. Enter Jourdan Lewis. The program’s single-season record holder for pass breakups took the ensuing kickoff and rumbled 55 yards to the Penn State 40-yard line, giving Michigan’s offense a much-needed boost. On the first play, Chesson took an end around 20 yards, and on 3rd-and-6, Chesson was interfered in the end zone giving Michigan 1st-and-goal at the PSU six. Two plays later, Smith broke the plane to put Michigan ahead 28-16. The defense held Penn State off the scoreboard the rest of the way and Michigan completed its first unbeaten road conference slate since 1997.

Although Michigan’s offense struggled to move the ball consistently against a very good Penn State defense, it still managed 343 total yards, and their 256 passing yards was the most Penn State’s defense has allowed all season. Michigan’s receiving trio was consistent as Darboh led the way with seven receptions for 68 yards and a score, Butt with five for 66 and a score, and Chesson with four for 69. Smith led Michigan on the ground with just 39 yards on 13 carries.

Michigan’s defense held Hackenberg to just 13-of-31 for 137 yards and one touchdown, while sacking him four times. Freshman running back Saquon Barkley, who entered the game as the Big Ten’s third-leading rusher, averaging over 100 yards per game, managed just 68 yards on 15 carries — 56 of which came on the first carry of the game.

Michigan, now 9-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten, finishes the regular season next Saturday with rival Ohio State (10-1, 6-1). The Buckeyes suffered their first loss in 24 games on Saturday afternoon against Michigan State, taking some of the luster out of next Saturday’s matchup. The winner of that one needs Penn State to knock off Michigan State in order to advance to the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 5.

Game Ball – Offense

Jake Rudock (25 of 38 for 256 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT,)
It maybe boring to some to give Rudock the game ball for the third straight week, but since Michigan had no running game and he spread the wealth evenly between the big three receivers, it’s really hard to justify anyone else. Rudock has quietly moved his way up the Big Ten quarterback charts the last three weeks. He has completed 69.7 percent of his passes (76 of 109) for 1,033 yards, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions during that span. He’s a major reason Michigan has won the past two weeks and if he performs the same way next Saturday Michigan could send the Buckeyes back to Columbus with a second straight loss.

Week 1 – Jake Butt (8 rec for 93 yards and 1 TD)
Week 2 – De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 126 yards, 3 TDs)
Week 3 – Ty Isaac (8 carries for 114 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — De’Veon Smith (16 carries for 125 yards and 1 TD)
Week 5 — Drake Johnson (13 carries for 68 yards, 1 TD, 1 rec for 31 yards, 1 TD)
Week 6 — Mason Cole, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson
Week 7 — Kenny Allen (3-for-3 field goals, 2-2 PATs)
Week 8 — Jabrill Peppers (4 carries for 16 yards, 1 TD, 1 punt return for 41 yards, 1 kick return for 43 yards)
Week 9 — Jake Rudock (18 of 25 for 337 yards, 2 TDs, 1 carry for 4 yards, 1 TD)
Week 10 — Jake Rudock (33 of 46 for 440 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT, 7 carries for 64 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Taco Charlton (4 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks)
Everyone knew entering the game that Penn State’s offensive line was a sieve, giving up the most sacks in the Big Ten by a wide margin. The question wasn’t whether Michigan would be able to get pressure on Hackenberg; it was how many sacks would Michigan record? The answer was four and Charlton contributed half of those. In total, Michigan stopped Penn State behind the line of scrimmage 10 times and Charlton contributed three of those. While Penn State’s leading tackler had 12, and five different defenders had at least six tackles, no individual Michigan defender recorded more than five. But it was the tackles for loss and sacks that made the most impact, forcing Penn State into passing situations where they didn’t have much luck.

Week 1 – Chris Wormley (5 tackles, 3 TFL)
Week 2 – Chris Wormley (6 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 3 – Jourdan Lewis (3 tackles, 4 PBU)
Week 4 — Ryan Glasgow (3 tackles, 2 TFL)
Week 5 — Desmond Morgan (9 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
Week 6 — Jourdan Lewis (4 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 touchdown, 1 PBU)
Week 7 — Willie Henry (5 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU)
Week 8 — James Ross (9 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 9 — Chris Wormley (4 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks)
Week 10 — Delano Hill (10 tackles, 8 solo, 1 PBU)

M&GB staff predictions: Penn State

Friday, November 20th, 2015


It’s simple, really. The winner of tomorrow’s Michigan-Penn State matchup remains in the Big Ten title hunt for at least another few hours, while the loser is relegated to playing spoiler next Saturday. Both teams know what they have to do and what’s on the line. Penn State got an extra week to prepare and gets the benefit of home field advantage. Michigan gets a red-hot quarterback-receiver tandem and a chance to play a meaningful Ohio State game for the first time in years. Let’s take a look at our picks.


While the more high profile Big Ten game with title implications is expected to be played in a cold Columbus rain, State College calls for no precipitation, a light breeze, and 47 degrees. In other words, a perfect mid-November Saturday for football.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn St.
Justin 23 20
Derick 30 24
Sam 22 19
Josh 24 27
Joe 27 24
M&GB Average 25 23

Michigan’s newfound passing game will be put to the test against a strong Penn State defense that hasn’t allowed more than 251 passing yards in a single game this season. Will the loss of Lucas provide a weak link for Jake Rudock to exploit? It all depends on how well the Michigan line holds up against one of the best defensive lines in the country. If he doesn’t have time to throw Michigan will have trouble moving the ball consistently.

The good news is I don’t expect Penn State’s offense to be able to move the ball consistently either. Michigan will place an emphasis on stopping Barkley on first and second down, forcing Hackenberg into third and long situations where the Nittany Lions have struggled mightily all season.

Remember last year’s 18-13 Michigan win? This one will be similar to that. Not many sustained drives, low scoring, and good defense both ways. Michigan will need its dynamic return game to give its offense good starting field position as it has done so well this season and that will make the difference against a Penn State kick return defense that ranks 118th nationally.

In my season preview back in August I predicted that Michigan would finish 9-4 with losses to Utah, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State. The first two of those have come true, but 11 weeks into the season I’ve had a change of heart. Michigan pulls it out and then has to hope the team down south can beat the team up I-96.

Michigan 23 – Penn State 20


For the second straight week, Michigan hits the road to play an extremely dangerous team. In the final road game of the season, Michigan will play against a 7-3 Penn State team that has no wins against winning power five teams. On paper, Michigan has been much better than PSU this year, but road games have really given Jim Harbaugh’s team trouble.

Penn State is a much better team than Minnesota or Indiana, two teams that easily could have beaten Michigan over the last month. The Nittany Lions are also undefeated at home, and Saturday will be the final game in Happy Valley for Christian Hackenberg and the seniors.

Unlike last weekend, this should be a defensive battle, though probably not of the magnitude we expected three weeks ago. Hackenberg is the X-factor for Penn State. If the future first-round draft pick plays one of his best games of the season, he will torch a Wolverine secondary that’s been exposed throughout the conference season. And if the defensive line gives Hackenberg as much time as it gave Nate Sudfeld, Michigan will need another 40 points to win the game.

I think Michigan can stop the run and make Penn State’s offense one-dimensional. The question becomes whether or not Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers can make enough plays to keep Jake Rudock and company out front. If Michigan runs the ball at all and plays with a lead, I like its chance to close things out and pick up a fourth road win. Michigan will escape Happy Valley with a narrow victory.

Michigan 30 – Penn State 24


The tables seem to be turning themselves of late for the Wolverines, as the once-dominant defense has slipped up lately behind a banged up defensive line while the once-shaky offense is rounding into form with back-to-back marvelous performances from Jake Rudock. At the same time, the tale of the opponents’ tape is also pulling a 180-degree turn over a course of two weeks. The good news for Michigan is that Penn State’s offense is not run nearly at the pace of Indiana’s, and their offensive line is mediocre. The bad news is that the Nittany Lions boast an impressive defense that should make things much more difficult on Rudock. I think Michigan’s defense will bounce back just enough to hold on at the end and give themselves a shot at the conference championship in The Game. Give me the Wolverines.

Michigan 22 – Penn State 19


Wow, what a scare last week was but we pulled out the win! Now on to Penn State, who presents a different challenge. Thankfully, it’s not at night. State College is a very intimidating venue at night, I love noon kickoffs.

On offense: Jake Rudock and the passing game has come on very strong as of late, and just in time since the run game seems to be lacking for whatever reason. However, Penn St. has an excellent front four and if they can pressure Rudock it will be a very long day with very little scoring. While I didn’t hold my breath for Rudock’s ability to complete some long balls it was apparent last week that he is more than capable, given time. I’m not so sure he’ll have that luxury against the Nittany Lions. If Michigan is to win this game they’ll need to keep Rudock upright, at least long enough to get some passes off, and that will be tough against guys like Anthony Zettel and Carl Nassib. I’d expect 2-3 sacks by Penn State, maybe more. That said, they will be without stud safety Jordan Lucas, leaving a hole in the back of the defense, limiting the blitzing package that they usually employ.

I think Jake Rudock will lead Michigan in rushing, again. For whatever reason the run game has been stagnant, part of that is the offensive line not opening holes and part of it is our running backs not being able to find the holes. Against a very stout defense I expect another lackluster run game again. But at least now we know we can count on Rudock to win the game with his arm. Then again, this isn’t the Rutgers or Indiana defense.

On defense: Indiana, yes Indiana, absolutely gashed us on the ground last week to the tune of 300-plus yards. Yet that doesn’t concern me against a team like Penn State, despite having one of the top three backs in the Big Ten in Saquon Barkley. Why? Because Penn State is a slow pace team. A very slow pace team. Part of the reason IU had such success, aside from missing Ryan Glasgow, was their tempo was such that it didn’t allow Michigan to substitute as much as they may have wanted, leading to very gassed defensive linemen as the game wore on. That won’t happen with PSU. Sure, they’ll try to run temp to take advantage of that but they’re not built to run a tempo offense so I don’t think that will be much of an issue. That said, I still think Barkley approaches 150 yards on the ground, he’s just too good not to get those yards and our linebackers haven’t shown the ability to get to the edge quickly enough.

As far as Hackenberg is concerned I think he’s better than we’ve seen but he’s still susceptible to sacks, and lots of them. I’m pretty sure no one else in the Big Ten has been sacked more than him. If Michigan can get a good pass rush, and be able to rotate their line to keep them fresh, then expect to see more #SACKenberg than Hackenberg. The Penn State offense wouldn’t normally worry me but the last few games have exposed some massive holes in this defense and has shown it to not be an elite unit. Couple that with a big loss in Ryan Glasgow (this defense is only average without him IMO) and Penn State’s odd proclivity for big plays with Saquon Barkely and receiver Chris Godwin and you have a recipe for an upset.

I said in my season preview that I thought Michigan would lose to Utah, MSU, OSU and then one of the 50-50 games. PSU was one of those. After needing a last second goal line stand (made even easier with the Hoke-ian clock mismanagement) and double overtime to beat Minnesota and Indiana, respectively, I think Michigan’s late game luck finally runs out in Happy Valley. Penn State makes a few big plays (which they are very good at despite all their other struggles) and pulls off the upset. Sorry folks, but Michigan won’t be playing for a Big Ten East division title against the Buckeyes next week.

Michigan 24 – Penn State 27


This is a huge week H U G E ! ! !  I will assume that coach will have this team geared up and ready on both sides of the ball along with special teams. There is no way they start peeking ahead. This unranked PSU team is 7-3 and has the potential to put up some big numbers. Defensively, we have a big advantage and should control them up front. Rudock has progressed each week and will limit his mistakes. I think Butt will get his along with Chesson and Darboh. I have no idea who will get the bulk of carries as long as we mix in some Jabrill along the way. He is a GAME CHANGER and GAME BREAKER that we have not seen in a very long time. I think this one is closer than we all would like, but the good guys will come out on top. I have Michigan winning by three.

Michigan 27 – Penn State 24

#12 Michigan vs Penn State game preview

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Game Preview_PennState_banner

Only two games remain in the regular season and Michigan is still very much in play for a Big Ten championship. A lot still has to go their way — some of it out of their control — but it’s a nice spot to be in after the past seven years. Tomorrow is essentially the Big Ten East division semifinal taking place in State College, Penn. and Columbus, Ohio. Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State all have varying degrees of a chance to face the West division champion in Indianapolis on Dec. 5, and all four face only each other this week and next.

Quick Facts
Beaver Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ABC
Penn State Head Coach: James Franklin (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 38-24 (14-9, 6-8 at PSU)
Offensive Coordinator: John Donovan (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Shoop (2nd season)
Last Season: 7-6 (2-6)
Last Meeting: Michigan 18 – PSU 13 (2014)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 11-7
Record in State College: Michigan 5-4
Jim Harbaugh vs Penn State: 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2014 (18-13)
Last Penn State win: 2013 (43-40)
Current Streak: Michigan 1

For Michigan to have a shot at a likely date with Iowa in Indianapolis, the Wolverines need to beat Penn State and need Ohio State to beat Michigan State. That would set up The Game on Nov. 28 as a winner take all affair. The winner of that one would go to the title game and the loser would have to wait until bowl season to play again.

A loss to Penn State would put Michigan out of the race and leave next Saturday as an opportunity to play spoiler.

Penn State comes in at 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the conference. In James Franklin’s second season, the Nittany Lions have defeated Buffalo (27-14), Rutgers (28-3), San Diego State (37-21), Army (20-14), Indiana (29-7), Maryland (31-30), and Illinois (39-0). They lost to Temple (29-10), #1 Ohio State (38-10), and #21 Northwestern (23-21).

At the start of the season the Temple loss looked like a bad one. But the Owls are currently 8-2 with a close, 24-20 loss to fourth-ranked Notre Dame. Suddenly, that Week 1 loss doesn’t look so bad. Yet the Nittany Lions have lost to the only two ranked teams they have faced — Ohio State and Northwestern. The Buckeyes routed them by four touchdowns while the Wildcats got a 35-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining to steal a two point win in Evanston.

When looking at common opponents, one that sticks out is Indiana, who Penn State beat easily, 29-7, and Michigan snuck by in double overtime last Saturday. However, an important distinction is that Indiana was without quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard for that game. Yes, the two Hoosiers that accounted for 466 of the team’s 527 total yards and three of four field goals against Michigan.

So Penn State is really still looking for its first quality win of the season, an improvement in bowl position, and yes, still a slight chance at winning the Big Ten East. Although San Diego State (7-3) is the only team Penn State has beaten that currently has a winning record, Franklin’s squad could win the East by beating Michigan tomorrow and Michigan State next week, and seeing Michigan State beat Ohio State tomorrow.

With both teams playing for a chance to remain in the Big Ten title hunt, the White Out in Beaver Stadium is sure to be rocking. Thankfully for Michigan, which has lost its last three trips to State College, it’s a noon kickoff rather than a night game, but the Wolverines haven’t been sharp on the road yet this season. Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Penn State has the ball

Penn State ranks 103rd nationally and 12th in the Big Ten in total offense (350.6 yards per game), 98th and 11th in rushing (143.2 yards per game), 89th and 11th in passing (207.4 yards per game), 66th and 7th in pass efficiency (131.0), and 93rd and 9th in scoring (25.2 points per game).

Third-year starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg still hasn’t quite lived up to the hype he arrived with. He currently ranks 9th in the Big Ten in passing with an average of 199.2 yards per game and 8th with a 128.4 passing efficiency. However, his completion percentage of 54.2 percent is better than only Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson (52.6) and Maryland’s Perry Hills (50.0). By comparison, Jake Rudock leads the conference with a 64.2 percent completion rate. One thing Hackenberg has done is limit interceptions, having thrown just three this season.

Hackenberg’s favorite target has been sophomore receiver Chris Godwin. He leads the team with 49 receptions for 808 yards and also has three touchdowns. After a consistent first six games in which he caught either four or five passes for 65 yards, Godwin has broken out with 100-yard games in three of the last four, including a four-catch, 135-yards, one touchdown performance against Maryland. Redshirt sophomore DaeSean Hamilton is the second leading receiver with 31 catches for 426 yards and he leads the team with five touchdown receptions. He hasn’t hit the century mark in a game yet this season but came close with 96 yards against Maryland. Sophomore tight end Mike Gesiki has the third most catches on the team with 12, but just 116 yards and one touchdown.

True freshman running back Saquon Barkley is the Big Ten’s third leading rusher, averaging 104.5 yards per game, which falls behind only Indiana’s Jordan Howard (149.9) and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott (142.5). Barkley missed two games in the middle of the season and also got just one carry in the season opener. If you remove Week 1 — his first collegiate game — his average jumps up to 119.3 yards per game in the seven he has fully played. Last year’s leading rusher, redshirt junior Akeel Lynch, has seen his carries plummet to just 54 this season, though he’s still averaging 5.1 yards per.

The offensive line is one of the reasons Hackenberg has struggled. The Nittany Lions rank dead last in the Big Ten with 33 sacks allowed, an average of 3.3 per game. By comparison, Michigan has allowed 14. In fact, Penn State’s offensive line has allowed an astounding 99 sacks during the Hackenberg tenure.

When Michigan has the ball

Penn State’s defense ranks 13th nationally and 4th in the Big Ten in total defense (311.2 yards per game), 48th and 8th against the run (152.2 yards per game), 2nd and 1st against the pass (159.0 yards per game), 11th and 5th in pass efficiency defense (104.09), and 13th and 5th in scoring defense (17.7 point per game).

Senior defensive end Carl Nassib is the danger man along a tough defensive front that leads the Big Ten with 42 sacks. Nassib leads all conference individuals with 15.5 sacks of his own. His 19.5 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles are also tops in the conference. Mason Cole will have his hands full. But it’s not all just Nassib. The other defensive end, redshirt sophomore Garrett Sickels, and senior tackle Anthony Zettel have three sacks apiece. And we can’t forget redshirt junior tackle Austin Johnson, who ranks second on the team with 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. All told, that’s 27 sacks from the starting defensive line alone. By comparison, Michigan has 25 as a team.

Sophomore middle linebacker Jason Cabinda leads the team in tackles with 71 and also has 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He’s also tied for the team lead with six passes defended and leads the team with five pass breakups. Outside linebacker Brandon Bell, a junior, has 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss of his own in eight games, while the other outside linebacker, Troy Reeder, has yet to record a sack but has 5.5 tackles for loss and an interception.

The secondary suffered a major loss when senior safety Jordan Lucas — a captain — was lost for the year against Northwestern. He ranked fourth on the team with 56 tackles. The other starting safety is sophomore Marcus Allen, who has 57 tackles and one sack. In Lucas’ place will likely be redshirt junior Malik Golden, who has 17 tackles and an interception as Lucas’ backup. The corners are sophomore Grant Haley and senior Trevor Williams, who have combined for 51 tackles, four for loss, three interceptions, six pass breakups, and nine passes defended.

The other third

Kicker Joey Julius has made 10 of 12 field goal attempts with a long of 40, though the hefty redshirt freshman was pulled in favor of redshirt sophomore Tyler Davis after having two extra points blocked by Illinois. Davis is 3 of 3 on the season with a long of 42. Sophomore punter Daniel Pasquariello ranks 9th in the Big Ten with an average of 40.2 yards per punt. He has booted eight of 43 punts over 50 yards with a long of 60 and landed eight inside the 20.

Redshirt freshman running back Nick Scott and redshirt freshman safety Koa Farmer are the main kick returners, averaging 23.8 and 28.1 yards per return, respectively. Fellow redshirt freshman receiver DeAndre Tompkins averages eight yards per punt return.


While the more high profile Big Ten game with title implications is expected to be played in a cold Columbus rain, State College calls for no precipitation, a light breeze, and 47 degrees. In other words, a perfect mid-November Saturday for football.

Michigan’s newfound passing game will be put to the test against a strong Penn State defense that hasn’t allowed more than 251 passing yards in a single game this season. Will the loss of Lucas provide a weak link for Jake Rudock to exploit? It all depends on how well the Michigan line holds up against one of the best defensive lines in the country. If he doesn’t have time to throw Michigan will have trouble moving the ball consistently.

The good news is I don’t expect Penn State’s offense to be able to move the ball consistently either. Michigan will place an emphasis on stopping Barkley on first and second down, forcing Hackenberg into third and long situations where the Nittany Lions have struggled mightily all season.

Remember last year’s 18-13 Michigan win? This one will be similar to that. Not many sustained drives, low scoring, and good defense both ways. Michigan will need its dynamic return game to give its offense good starting field position as it has done so well this season and that will make the difference against a Penn State kick return defense that ranks 118th nationally. Michigan pulls it out and then has to hope the team down south can beat the team up I-96.

Michigan 23 – Penn State 20

Five Spot Challenge: Penn State

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015


We have our first repeat winner of the season and it just happens to be back to back. Congratulations to Jaeschke for winning his second straight week in a row. Typically, just one of the five questions each week yields a large variance, but this week we changed it up a bit and added two — Michigan’s total yards and Indiana’s total yards. A third turned up with Jordan Howard’s rushing total, and all of that resulted in a range from the winner’s total deviation of 324 to last place deviation of 872.

Jeschke was the closest to Howard’s rushing yards (238) with his prediction of 130, and was consistently close across the board. He was third closest to Michigan’s total offense (581 yards), second closest to Indiana’s total offense (527 yards), and second closest to Blake O’Neill’s longest punt (45 yards).

Kashkaav‘s prediction of 450 was closest to Indiana’s total offense. Jim Mackiewicz was the closest to Michigan’s total offense with his prediction of 550, Michigan’s total combined yards of touchdowns (164) with his prediction of 175, and one of three contestants to correctly predict O’Neill’s longest punt. Kashkaav and tooty_pops were the other two. Unfortunately for Jim Mankiewicz, he was 227 away from Indiana’s total offense, which is why he came in third.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated.

This week, Michigan travels to Penn State to face a very good defense and a so-so offense. Here are this week’s picks.