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Posts Tagged ‘Trace McSorley’

#2 Penn State 42 – #19 Michigan 13: Hapless Michigan outplayed, outcoached in State College

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

Michigan entered Saturday night’s matchup with No. 2 Penn State with a chance to make a statement in front of a Beaver Stadium whiteout and a primetime national television audience. They did make a statement, but not the kind they wanted, falling 42-13 and dropping out of the Top 25.

Final Stats
Michigan  Penn State
Score 13 42
Record 5-2 (2-2) 7-0 (4-0)
Total Yards 269 506
Net Rushing Yards 103 224
Net Passing Yards 166 282
First Downs 16 25
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 6-59 1-10
Punts-Yards 6-233 2-99
Time of Possession 32:56 27:04
Third Down Conversions 6-of-16 4-of-7
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-11 7-49
Field Goals 0-for-0 0-for-0
PATs 1-for-2 6-for-6
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 4-of-5
Red Zone TDs-Chances 2-of-2 4-of-5
Full Box Score

It was all Penn State from the outset as the Nittany Lions scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives while Michigan went three-and-out on their first two.

Heisman Trophy frontrunner Saquon Barkley didn’t waste any time making his statement, taking the game’s second play 69 yards for a touchdown. On Penn State’s second possession, it took just four plays to move 78 yards for another touchdown.

Michigan cornerback David Long intercepted Trace McSorley on Penn State’s third possession — which was threatening to score once again — and that allowed Michigan to show a little life. John O’Korn led a 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive that was capped with a 1-yard Karan Higdon touchdown run. But freshman kicker Quinn Nordin, who was once committed to Penn State before flipping to Michigan, missed the extra point to a chorus of boos.

Michigan’s defense forced a three-and-out, but the offense wasn’t able to do anything. Penn State’s next possession stalled at the Michigan 33-yard line on a failed fourth-down conversion, and Michigan took advantage with a 8-play, 67-yard drive capped off by a 6-yard Ty Isaac touchdown run to pull within 14-13.

But it was all downhill from there. Penn State drove for another touchdown to take back the momentum just before the half and when Michigan couldn’t put points on the board on the first possession of the second half, Penn State put the nail in the coffin with a 9-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to go up 28-13. From there, the only drama was whether or not James Franklin would try to top the 49 points that Michigan hung on Penn State in Ann Arbor a year ago. They didn’t quite get there, but the damage was done.

Penn State gained 506 yards on a Michigan defense that was allowing just 223.8 yards per game. Penn State rushed for 224 yards on a rush defense that was allowing just 85.5 yards per game. Penn State scored 42 points on a defense that was giving up just 14.7. Barkley rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 7.2 yards per carry and also caught three passes for 53 yards and a score. McSorely completed 17-of-26 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown and added 76 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry.

Michigan, meanwhile, failed to top 20 points in regulation for the third straight week, managed just 269 total yards, and gave up seven sacks. O’Korn went 16-of-28 for 166 yards but failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third straight game. Higdon rushed for 45 yards on just three yards per carry, while Grant Perry led the way in the air with three receptions for 46 yards.

It was an outcome that most expected, even die-hard Michigan fans, but the matter with which it happened was a worst-case scenario. And now it has a chorus of hot takes and Twitter crusaders calling for Jim Harbaugh’s head. It will die down a bit if Michigan can take care of business the next three weeks against Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland, but it won’t go away completely until he wins a big game. With Wisconsin and Ohio State scheduled to close the regular season, he’ll get that shot, but unless there is significant improvement between now and then, it’ll likely just turn up the noise.

Michigan returns home to face Rutgers (3-4, 2-2) next Saturday at noon. The game will be televised by Big Ten Network.

Game Ball – Offense

None
Higdon averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. Issac averaged 6.0 but got just six carries. O’Korn threw for just 166 yards with no touchdowns and was sacked seven times. Kekoa Crawford made a nice catch, but it was his only one. Donovan Peoples-Jones got involved in the passing game but dropped a bubble screen that had potential for a huge play. Eddie McDoom is probably the best candidate for this week’s game ball with three receptions for 29 yards and a rush for eight yards, but it didn’t have much impact on the game. The offensive line was horrendous. So no game ball is being given out on offense this week.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
Week 5 — Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
Week 6 — Karan Higdon (25 carries for 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per carry)

Game Ball – Defense

Khaleke Hudson (7 tackles — 4 solo — 1 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 pass breakup)
Michigan’s defense had its worst game of the season defensively as Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead did a great job of picking on matchups where the Nittany Lions had advantages. That mostly involved getting Barkley matched up with linebacker Mike McCray who couldn’t keep up, but it also involved utilizing slot receivers against Michigan’s safeties. Hudson certainly wasn’t perfect himself, but he made his impact felt with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup that was nearly an interception in the end zone early in the game.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Week 5 — Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
Week 6 — Rashan Gary (7 tackles — 3 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)

#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.

The numbers game: U-M’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace

Thursday, September 29th, 2016


peppers-vs-penn-state(Dustin Johnson, Maize n Brew)

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, Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks

I didn’t think Penn State would put up much of a fight but that was just embarrassing on their part. James Franklin seriously kicked a field goal to make a four score game a four score game. After he called a timeout to think it over. Wow. But enough about a once proud program who’ve fallen on hard times.

After the offense carried the way with big plays the last two weeks it was the Michigan defense that owned this game. Just four big plays were given up — three run and one pass.

On offense Michigan had nine big plays — eight runs and one pass — which was lower than their season average of 12 coming in. But we expected them to drop off as the season went on (I’m still sticking with my projection of eight or nine per game).

Through four games in 2016 the Michigan offense has averaged 7.5 big run plays per game (20th nationally) and 3.75 big pass plays per game (38th) for a total of 11.25 big plays per game (20th) with a big play percentage of 15.2 percent (24th). Their big play differential (percent of big plays for minus percent of big plays against) is 5.6 percent (18th). Their total toxic differential is 25 (good for 10th on a per game basis).

Contrast that to the 2015 Wolverine offense who, through four games, averaged 3.75 big run plays and 2.75 big pass plays for a total of 6.5 big plays with a big play percentage of 9.09 percent. Their big play differential was a paltry 0.58 percent and their total toxic differential was 4.

Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first four weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 30 17 47 15.20% 5.60% 25
2015 15 11 26 9.09% 0.58% 4
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 4.50 1.50 5.75 9.60% 5.60% 25
2015 4.00 1.00 5.00 8.51% 0.58% 4

As I mentioned last week, Michigan is faring so well in the toxic differential metric, not due to a huge turnover margin (plus-4 versus minus-2 at this time last year), but because of the offense’s giant leap forward in big plays (11.25 per game versus 6.5 per game).

I haven’t gone back and tracked all of 2015 by game yet but I’m willing to bet the 2016 offense will continue to be far ahead of them on a week by week basis.

On to the defense.

As I mentioned above, Michigan gave up only four big plays to Penn State. Not surprisingly, Saquon Barkley had two of them — one run and one reception. Thus far, Michigan’s defense has given up 4.5 big run plays per game (56th) and 1.5 big pass plays (8th) for a total of 6 big plays (21st) with a big play against percentage of 9.6 percent (33rd). It will be interesting to see how those numbers are affected now that cornerback Jeremy Clark is out for the year with a torn ACL.

Last year at this point the defense had given up four big run plays per game and one big pass play per game for a total of five big plays given up per game with a big play against percentage of 8.51 percent.

Yes, Michigan is giving up slightly more big plays per game through four weeks (6 versus 5). Yes, they’re giving up a higher percentage of big plays (9.6% vs 8.51%). But as we know, the offense is more than making up for it by almost doubling the amount of big plays as opposed to last year. So this shouldn’t be any cause for concern. Remember, giving up around six big plays per game will still have Michigan ranked around the top 10.

Michigan’s Week 4 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 3rd and 6 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 25 Pass
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 39 Run
2 2nd and 10 Ty Isaac 11 Run
3 2nd and 1 De’Veon Smith 30 Run
3 1st and 10 Chris Evans 37 Run
3 1st and 10 Karan Higdon 10 Run
4 2nd and 11 Ty Isaac 10 Run
4 2nd and 15 Karan Higdon 40 (TD) Run
4 2nd and 10 Ty Isaac 25 Run
Penn State’s Week 4 big plays
2 1st and 10 Trace McSorley to Saquon Barkley 30 Pass
3 1st and 10 Saquon Barkley 33 Run
4 3rd and 14 Trace McSorley 13 Run
4 2nd and 7 Miles Sanders 11 Run

However, since there has been more and more clamoring on the interwebs about the high risk/high reward nature and complaints about ALL the big plays we’ve given up, I dug up something interesting that should put all that nonsense to an end. If the big play numbers haven’t already.

It’s not a stat we track as part of our explosive play numbers feature but consider this: through 13 games last year Michigan had 88 tackles for loss (6.77 per game) and 32 sacks (2.46 per game). Through four games, Michigan already has 44 tackles for loss (11 per game) — half of their entire 2015 total — and 17 sacks (4.25 per game) — just over half of their 2015 total. Through just four games. Let that sink in for a moment. Seriously, go back and read it again.

On that same note, Michigan leads the country in both total tackles for loss and sacks and is tied for second in tackles for loss per game and third in sacks per game.

Don Brown’s defense is on pace to give up around six big plays per game — roughly the same as Michigan did last year (and about what his Boston College defense did as well). But they are also on pace to finish top five for both tackles for loss and sacks per game. High reward/LOW risk.

Fun fact: In 2015 Brown’s BC defense finished second in total tackles for loss (Clemson was first but played three more games) and first in tackles for loss per game.

Wisconsin comes to town this weekend having just knocked off a top-10 Michigan State team. Yes, they also beat a top-five LSU team earlier this season, but seeing as LSU is not even ranked anymore it’s not as impressive as it once looked. Still, the Badgers are a tough, well-coached team who will give Michigan all they have.

Michigan & Wisconsin offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 28 17 45 16.00% 6.00% 26
WIS Off. 19 13 32 10.63% 1.99% 15
Michigan & Wisconsin defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 18 6 24 9.60% 6.00% 26
WIS Def. 9 10 19 8.64% 1.99% 15

Wisconsin’s offensive numbers, as far as explosive plays, are rather pedestrian: 4.75 big run plays per game (82nd) and 3.25 big pass plays per game (65th) for a total of eight big plays per game (89th) with a big play percentage of 10.63 percent (101st).

However, their defense is where they hang their hats. They allow 2.25 big run plays per game (8th) and 2.5 big pass plays (36th) for a total of just 4.75 big plays given up per game (8th) with a big play against percentage of 8.64 percent (22nd). A very solid defense indeed. Their big play differential is 1.99 percent (60th) and their total toxic differential is 15 (good for 29th on a per game basis).

Saturday’s game should be a good one.

#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.

um-psu_small-final
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.

Previous
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.

Previous
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


StaffPicks_banner20152

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:

Justin
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

Derick

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

Sam

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


um-penn-state-game-preview-header

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.

um-psu_small
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.

Prediction

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

First Look: Penn State

Monday, September 19th, 2016


penn-state-mascot

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.