October Big Ten Primer: Penn State

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Stop two in our look around Michigan's October Big Ten schedule. Does Penn State have what it takes to beat Michigan in Happy Valley, or will Michigan take back the upper hand in this rivalry?

The Schedule So Far

23 - 17 win vs. Syracuse - Game one for Penn State got of to a slow start, but the Nittany Lions scored 17 points after halftime and maybe the most important development was the two second-half touchdown passes from true freshman starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

45 - 7 win vs. Eastern Michigan - The Eagles got on the board first with a defensive touchdown, but slowly Penn State would exert control of the game and end up with a dominant win.

34 - 31 loss vs. UCF - Penn State's first loss of the season. UCF led almost throughout, and despite a late charge by Penn State, this one ended poorly for the Nittany Lions. Penn State put up 455 yards of offense, but was just 2/8 on third down with a -1 turnover margin.

34 - 0 win vs. Kent State - A nice bounce back win against a MAC team. Michigan fans look at this in envy.

Who To Watch Out For...

Christian Hackenberg - Yes, he is only a true freshman and msot of us rightfully scoff at the notion of a kid walking onto campus and quickly becoming the leader of a capable offense. We also watched Chad Henne, so we shouldn't be so quick to judge. Hackenberg has thus far exceeded reasonable expectations and looks to be the real deal. After just four games he has already passed for over 1000 yards at a completion rate of 62%. His 5/4 TD/INT ratio is pretty solid. What's more, in two tight games he has two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, so the kid has a little bit of clutch or whatever ESPN is calling it these days. This seemed like it was a big problem for PSU coming into the season. It looks like it is a net positive these days and trending upwards.

Allen Robinson - If you are going to give Hackenberg some credit, you should quickly follow that up with a nod to Nittany Lion receiver Allen Robinson. He has caught nearly one-third of all Hackenberg's completed passes (26 of 82), and his 448 yards are nearly half of Hackenberg's season total. Robinson continues to make a strong case for top receiver in the Big Ten, and the Hackenberg-Robinson combo will be the best downfield passing attack Michigan will face all month. He will be a handful.

DaQuan Jones - On the inside of Penn State's defense is Jones, a big (6'3 318), active tackle that is currently leading the Nittany Lion defense in TFLs (5.5 for 22 yards) and sacks (2.0 for 16 yards). Given Michigan's troubles on the interior, he could be the stiffest test of any interior lineman Michigan faces in October.

Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams - Penn State boasts a pair of talented sophomore corners, and both stand over 6-feet tall. So far the Penn State pass defense has been very solid, giving up just 183 yards per game and three touchdowns while pulling in four interceptions. Williams has one of those interceptions, and the two have combined for 11 passes defended and 12 break ups.

Outlook vs. Michigan

This section has way more to do with Michigan pulling its collective head out of its collective arse than Penn State, but you knew that.

Penn State presents an interesting challenge. The offense has been very balanced thus far, averaging nearly 200 yards on the ground and 260 through the air. The run offense is productive at 4.7 yards/carry and the Hackenberg-Robinson combination looks to be capable of testing defenses over the top as well as opening up room to run (Robinson is one receiver you want safety help over the top with).

The defense looks to be just as stout as previous years, ranking in the top 25 nationally in total, scoring, pass eff., and rush defense. Penn State is also better than average at racking up both sacks (2 per game) and TFLs (5.8 per game) which could make a difference against a Michigan team that has shown a tendency to give up negative plays as an offense.

This is a winnable game, but certainly not by much. While Penn State's rushing attack might not be great (it failed to crack 100 yards against Syracuse), the offense as a whole has enough balance that Michigan's defense will be tested. The one thing we have yet to see is what Michigan's defense can do against a more traditional offense, vs. the passing spreads that Michigan has faced so far.

On the other side of the ball, it all depends on whether or not someone feeds Devin Gardner after midnight.

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