Big Ten hijinks ensued last Saturday, and I couldn’t have been happier Michigan was sitting it out. There is now a clear road in front of the Wolverines that will divert to either Pasadena or a playoff location. James Franklin is out to prove his program is elite. Which is curious considering elite programs don’t take the ball out of their best player’s hands on fourth down plays. But at least they make good ice cream out there.
Michigan has historically not been super strong coming out of a bye week, and even more so when facing a good team. These are the games Jim & the gang must win in order to get to that elite territory before ‘ol timeout whiz can.
Take it away…
Trevor: Ann Arbor is a long way from Happy Valley, and this is setting up to be a wild west revenge story. Sheriff Harbaugh and Doc Brown won’t be taking too kindly to how they were treated last season and are lookin’ to return the favor. They are looking to run up the score themselves and suffocate the Nittany Lions offense. The question is, can they?
Andrew V: My head says this will be a decent back and forth game until Michigan pulls away in the fourth, but my gut says Michigan just drops a bomb on Penn State. I haven’t been terribly impressed by PSU and it’s clear U-M’s defense still remembers what happened at the end of last year’s game. Factor in that Trace McSorley is a tad banged up and everything just seems to favor Michigan. Jump on them early and don’t let up.
Daniel P: This game is the most important of the season so far. We thought that this 3 game series would be a gauntlet for Michigan, but honestly that hasn’t been the case so far. Wisconsin has fallen completely out of the conversation for the CFP, and Michigan State didn’t put up much of a fight as we gave them their third loss of the season and knocked them out of the Top-25 as well.
Penn State has been in the Top-25 all year but have fallen to their two biggest opponents this season: Michigan State and Ohio State. A win against Michigan would prove their belonging in the Big Ten Championship conversation. If they win, that hope will survive. They will be playing for just as much as Michigan. This game could come down to who wants it more.
The Wolverines have to get their hands dirty early and take a lead. Squashing that hope right away will be key to a victory. Put them in their place, and show the right away that they are the worst of the Big 4 in the Big Ten East.
Side Note: Thank God Maryland did the right thing and fired DJ Durkface. Was a horrible decision and a bad look on both the university and the Big Ten.
DJ Durkface soon to be named offensive analyst for the Ohio State football program
Von L: After what James Franklin tried to do last season in Happy Valley, I really want to see Michigan destroy the Nittany Lions, a la 2016. And they have the ability to do that.
Don Brown has said it multiple times over the last couple weeks: the loss to Penn State last year has haunted him, and he still thinks about it daily. He has been prepping for Trace McSorley and company all offseason, all season and throughout the bye week. With his defense playing on an unreal level, I think the Nittany Lions will have some trouble moving the ball. Hell, they had trouble against their last four opponents, going 2-2 in that span.
Elite programs aren’t truly elite until they have close calls with and FBS team and...Iowa.
With the emergence of Michigan’s offensive line being able to move people at rates I have not seen since the days of Lloyd Carr, Shea Patterson seems to have all day in the pocket, and Karan Higdon is picking up chunk yards with ease. This will not be an easy game by any means, as Penn State’s defensive line leads the conference in sacks and tackles for loss, but Michigan should be able to walk out of the Big House going 3-0 in this “gauntlet” of the schedule.
David: This is another revenge game for the Wolverines. Don Brown has talked recently about what this game means after what happened last year in Happy Valley. I think the bye week will not phase this defense and they’ll be hungry for domination. Shea Patterson and the improving offense is facing the No. 64 overall ranked defense so I anticipate a balanced game like we’ve seen so far. Michigan is averaging 207 yards passing and 212 on the ground per game.
The crowd will be in it, hopefully, and the later game will allow for plenty of adult beverages. James Franklin has had some interesting moments so far this year after games on the field with players and fans, along with press conferences. I’ve got Michigan winning and the theme of the home team the last two years have been lopsided wins by an average of 34 points.
2016: Michigan 49, Penn State 10
2017: Penn State 42, Michigan 13
Let’s hope this weekend continues that and I can’t see Penn State putting on more than 17 points, which is the goal of Don Brown to keep every opponent under that total per game. I’ll split the above average win and as I’ve said all week, Michigan wins 34-17.
Sam D: Penn State is a hard team to get a read on. On one hand, analytics love them, as they rank No. 10 overall. Both the offense and the defense are top-25 in efficiency, as well.
On the other hand, the Nittany Lions are probably lucky to not be 4-4. Overtime against Appalachian State. Iowa’s Nate Stanley missing wide open tight ends last week.
If I’m a Penn State fan, I worry about an over-reliance on Trace McSorley. He’s taken a far bigger role as a runner this year, toting the rock 110 times for 617 yards and nine scores. While Miles Sanders has technically been productive (136 for 834 yards), he’s been bottled up in most big games. Without support from his top back, McSorley could exacerbate his knee injury suffered last week.
He’s going to manufacture points, but no more than 21. As far as Michigan’s offense goes, this is the offensive line’s biggest test. Penn State ranks No. 4 in the country with 3.5 sacks a game. Great corners in Amani Oruwariye and John Reid figure to contain the receivers, as well, as the pass defense ranks No. 15 in S&P+.
To win, Michigan needs to impose its will with Higdon. Ed Warinner’s line faces a smallish PSU front, and a ground and pound attack would open up downfield passes to tight ends, who should have a big day against inexperienced linebackers in coverage.
It’s going to feel close for awhile, but I suspect this punishing approach with yield dividends in the fourth quarter. Michigan 41, PSU 21.
The Nittany Lions lost their leading receiver and leading rusher for a year ago, but McSorley remains. Which is why James Franklin really hates letting him win games.
SIDE NOTE: Michigan essentially clinches a Rose Bowl berth AT WORST if they win on Saturday.
Daniel A: Man all of this optimism has me a bit spooked. I know that Michigan has done everything right since the Notre Dame loss (sans NU first half), but I’m still not ready to shake last year’s ghosts.
The defense is playing the best ball in the country at the moment and a dominant performance against Trace McSorely would send a message to every team in playoff contention. I think the offense continues with balance, but we’ll see if the offensive line is up to the test of the Nittany Lions’ front - one of the best in the conference, if not country.
How great would it be to see Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones just show out in this game? Michigan went super conservative against the Spartans after unleashing a fury of new run looks against Wisconsin. It’s time for the passing game, right? Shea has been far from perfect, but he’s been good. He’s played at a level that’s allowed Michigan to wear teams down while striking for big plays at opportune times. Jake Rudock really stepped his game up during the last third of the season, and if Shea’s already stellar play follows a similar curve, Michigan’s offense could be onto something special.
Kevin: Dan, I want to believe there’s a few pages of the playbook that have been saved for a matchup with such an elite program. Against Michigan State, Pep really didn’t go for the long ball until the third quarter when they finally decided to try one. Perhaps they were comfortable with methodically moving the ball on an overmatched team, but those plays had to have been there other times. Yes, Harbaugh’s offensive system is basically built around the occasional big play through the air when the defense has been lulled into a false sense of security on the ground. However, throwing deep once to DPJ against a rival was a little...underwhelming. It was likely just the nature and flow of the game where they had to go off script to make that play happen, and they’re going to need to do it again versus Penn State.
We can see these guys developing into better players week by week, and that has been missing for a few seasons. My one hope heading into this year was offensive line play taking a leap, and it is slowly chugging along to start erasing the last decade of terrible offensive line recruitment and development. I need four more weeks, Ed.
Statistically, Penn State does not match up well at all with Michigan. They’re pretty much middle pack in most metrics, but McSorley reminds me of Tate Forcier with legs, on a better team, and with a better arm. I’m not particularly impressed with their defense, even Indiana carved them up for 400-something yards a few weeks ago.
But this is the Big Ten. They play the games to find out which team is better.
Hint: James Franklin is not better.
M by three scores at least.
Want to strike fear into the Penn State fan base? Show them a copy of Franklin’s contract. Or a Mario Manningham jersey.