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3 players to watch: Penn State

A tough opponent awaits the Wolverines.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Michigan at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

This Saturday’s game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Penn State Nittany Lions will have some high stakes. The Wolverines have had one, maybe two legitimate tests this season. Penn State will be another opponent to add to that list. If Jim Harbaugh wants the game at the end of the year to carry significant weight, it starts by winning this game.

Meanwhile, it has been a roller coaster of a year for the James Franklin-led Nittany Lions, who have three consecutive losses at the hands of Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State.

Let’s take a look at who got the Nittany Lions to their highest points and what it will take for the Wolverines if they get Penn State’s best shot.

Senior WR Jahan Dotson

Jahan Dotson may be the best receiver in the last 10 years to come out of Penn State. When you remember NFL names like K.J. Hamler, Chris Godwin and Allen Robinson were there in the last decade, that’s really saying something.

Dotson is coming off a historic performance where he put up 242 yards on 11 receptions and three scores. He had touchdowns of 38, 21, and 86 yards on the day and averaged 22 yards per reception. Dotson set a school record for the most yards in a single game in the contest thanks to plays like this:

He’s got great awareness and athleticism and has the speed to absolutely cook some secondary players. Because of this, Dotson already has 940 total yards and 10 total touchdowns on the season. He’s had either 100 yards or eight or more receptions in all but one win this season. And in 14 of the last 18 Penn State games over the past two seasons, Dotson has led the Nittany Lions in receiving yards. The superstar wideout is the clear X-factor within an offense that is otherwise mundane.

Luckily for the Wolverines, they have a bit of a speed demon themselves in their secondary with Daxton Hill. It could be Hill’s biggest test of the season and should be one of the most interesting matchups to watch on the field this Saturday, especially because Dotson lines up in the slot about 23% of the time (according to PFF).

Super Senior Safety Jaquan Brisker

Last week, Brisker was named a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player in college football. That’s because he is consistently in the right place at the right time. He’s one of the best coverage safeties in college football according to PFF, who ranks him at No. 6 in the nation.

Penn State loves to utilize him in a bunch of ways, putting him in the box more often than not, but he also has lined up in coverage on the slot and back as a free safety, too. He’s the heart and soul of this defense. If the Nittany Lions need a big play, it’s probably coming from Brisker.

Cade McNamara struggled a bit throwing the ball on Saturday against Indiana, and he is going to have to keep a keen eye on where Brisker is lined up at all times this coming weekend.

Redshirt Senior Arnold Ebiketie

Notice something familiar? Penn State’s two biggest defensive names are also guys who have been playing college football for quite some time. Ebiketie started his college career at Temple before transferring to Penn State and starting this season. He had 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks last season at Temple and was hoping to prove he could do the same thing in Happy Valley to maybe impress NFL teams.

The star defensive end has surely delivered on that. Ebiketie has 13.5 tackles for loss this season, which leads the Big Ten. Add 6.5 sacks on the year to that and he has quickly become one of the best defensive linemen in the conference. In short, Ebikiete is a disrupter who can play all over the defensive line with a high win rate that can cause offense’s fits.

Coming off a week where the Wolverines struggles to protect their quarterbacks, they will need to keep Ebikiete and the Penn State pass rush at bay if they want any hope of winning this game.