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Posts Tagged ‘Trace McSorley’

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.

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

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.