Hello, everyone! Welcome to this edition of Behind Enemy Lines, where I interview someone each week from fellow SB Nation sites.
This week I spoke with Aaron Yorke who writes for Black Shoe Diaries, the Penn State blog. So without further ado, let's get into it.
Josh LaFond: Are Penn State fans pretty confident that the Nittany Lions can take down Michigan on Saturday?
Aaron Yorke: It's safe to say that Penn State fans are very confident that victory is imminent on Saturday, especially after Michigan lost to Michigan State in a monsoon and struggled to hold off an Indiana squad that the Lions demolished three weeks ago. If John O'Korn and the underwhelming Michigan offense can scrape together more than 10 points this weekend, there will be a lot of disappointed fans in Happy Valley.
Josh: The key for Michigan has got to be getting some points on the board, this defense can't do everything.
Let’s take away the big men on campus, McSorley and Barkley… who’re some guys that nobody's really talking about who’ll have an impact on the outcome of the game.
Aaron: Everyone else. Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley are the only two players anyone talks about, especially since Barkley's elevated involvement in the passing attack has made him the team's leading receiver as well as its leading rusher. The real star of this team is the defense, though, and one of its best players is cornerback Grant Haley. The senior from Atlanta was recently named to USA Today's mid-season All-America team and he'll be a big part of limiting what the Wolverines can do through the air on Saturday.
We know that Michigan is going to try to move the ball on the ground, though, and that's where middle linebacker Jason Cabinda and safety Marcus Allen come in. The pair are Penn State's two leading tacklers and should see plenty of action in prime time considering Michigan's game plan.
One more guy to look out for is freshman defensive end Shaka Toney, who has made a name for himself lately with a pair of sacks against Northwestern. The emerging talent could give Penn State's pass rush a kick in the rear during the second half of the campaign.
Josh: That's some good information to know. It should be a battle in the trenches, that's for sure.
What’re Penn State’s keys to victory?
Aaron: The biggest key is stopping the run, since that is where Michigan excels on offense. With the way the Lions have defended the pass lately, they are going to want O'Korn throwing the ball in as many third-and-long situations as possible. Those aren't going to present themselves, however, if the Wolverines are gaining five-yard chunks on the ground. We all remember how last year's game turned out.
The key on offense will be to get Barkley involved in the passing game. Since his incredible effort against Iowa, Barkley has just 131 rushing yards and 60 receiving yards in two games. He might be even more limited in the ground game due to Michigan's advantage up front, so offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and McSorley should look to get him the ball in other ways. With no one wide receiver having stepped up to fill Chris Godwin's shoes, Barkley should remain a big part of the passing attack going forward.
Josh: Michigan's offensive line seemed to have finally gotten into a groove last week at Indiana, it needs to stay in that groove and keep churning out those 4-5 yard carry plays like you mentioned the Wolverines did last year.
In his first year, Jim Harbaugh has coached Michigan to victory midst a Beaver Stadium white out, granted, it was in the day time.
This time around though the white out is under the lights.. Does the famous Penn State whiteout have as big of an impact as people like to think it does?
Aaron: I don't think so. I've been part of White Outs that resulted in victories and ones that resulted in disappointment. As much fun as wins over Ohio State were in 2005 and 2016, there's also plenty of times the effort falls short. Who can forget Penn State's failed revenge game against Iowa in 2009? That was a bummer. In the end, this game will come down to the players on the field, just like the rest of them.
Josh: Hmmm, that's surprising to me. I thought they would've had a bigger impact.
Is Penn State’s defense good enough to win the Big Ten once again?
Aaron: It's looked that way so far. The defense has come up big in road wins over Northwestern and Iowa as well as the home victory against Indiana. Considering the offense's ability to strike from anywhere, the defense isn't asked to do too much, but that could change with the next three games coming against tough opposing defenses.
Barkley and McSorley could find themselves under siege against the front sevens of Michigan and Ohio State, and if that happens Penn State's defense will need to force turnovers and quick stops to make up the difference. I'd say that if the offense can score at least 25 points in each of the next three games, this defense is good enough to win the league.
Josh: Flipping the field and forcing turnovers could be a key to victory for Penn State, and it sounds like they have the defense to do that.
Thanks for your time, Aaron, I’d like to ask you one last question though, and you had to know that this was coming… How do you see the game going and what’s your score prediction?
Aaron: This game could turn into a slobberknocker with a big mismatch on each side of the ball. On one side, you have O'Korn against Penn State's pass rush and secondary. On the other, you have Penn State's offensive line against the Michigan front seven. That's why I think this one comes down to McSorley making plays in the passing game and the Lions getting stops on the ground. These Lions are far from perfect, but I think they get the job done. Penn State 20, Michigan 13.
I would like to extend my special thanks to Aaron Yorke and Black Shoe Diaries for making this interview happen. As we all know, the game Saturday against Penn State has major season implications for both teams. So head to BlackShoeDiaries.com and check out my interview with Aaron, as well as more information and analysis on the Wolverines from this week's opponent.