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Staff Predictions: No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 10 Penn State

The MnB staff is back to chat some Michigan football heading into a pivotal Big Ten battle.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines return home to a Maize Out this weekend after a successful two-game road trip, taking on a Penn State team ranked No. 10 in the AP Poll.

The two programs enter this game undefeated, but haven’t been challenged by great competition this season. That all changes for both teams this weekend at the Big House.

The Maize n Brew staff got together to answer some questions about this huge matchup.

Last week, we opined on if Indiana would be a potential trap game for Michigan, with Penn State looming. Many of us said no. Do we now think there may have been a little bit of looking ahead, given Michigan’s performance on Saturday?

Von Lozon: Last week, I said the team would be fully focused on Indiana and would not take them lightly. Now, having seen the game play out last weekend, I think Mike Hart’s collapse had a whole heck of a lot to do with how the team played in the first half. They got things together in the second half and outscored the Hoosiers 21-0. If there’s one thing Harbaugh does, it’s prepare the team for the week ahead of them. Prayers up for coach Hart to be back with the team as soon as possible.

Andrew Bailey: Not at all. I think the sluggish first half was almost singularly because of Mike Hart’s medical emergency. After that, the team was distraught and disengaged, and I can’t blame them. Recovering from that with a dominant second half was as impressive as anything I have seen from the team all season.

Daniel Plocher: There may have been. But Michigan has a poor track record of starting slow on the road under Jim Harbaugh. Indiana always seems to be a team that gives Michigan troubles before the Wolverines inevitably pull away late. I’ll chalk it up to that more than looking ahead.

David Woelkers: It’s hard to say definitively, but I lean towards no — if only because we’ve seen these struggles already this season. We hear over and over again that the offense just needs to make a breakthrough but the deeper we get into the year, the more I question if that’s ever actually going to come.

Kellen Voss: I mean yeah probably, but I’d argue this was a game Michigan has been looking forward to all year long, considering the stakes and how this would probably be Michigan’s first true quality win from the College Football Playoff committee’s perspective.

This weekend is the Maize Out, which was a huge success last season against Washington. Last year’s game was a primetime night game. Do you have an issue with this year’s Maize Out being a noon kickoff, and do you think the environment can be as good as it was last year?

Von Lozon: I don’t have an issue with it, but I do think a night game environment is always better as far as the environment is concerned. The Big House crowd will be rockin’ with all the maize on and the maize pom-poms regardless, so I have no issue with this kicking off at noon. Plus, it gives us going to the game the ability to head home and flip on all the other great college football games that are on this weekend.

Andrew Bailey: At this point, “I’m a noon kickoff guy,” should go on my tombstone. After attending the Ohio State game last year in Ann Arbor, I have no concerns about whether the crowd can be electric or not. This is the biggest game of the season so far and if the crowd cannot get up for that — whether it be at night, noon or 2 a.m. on the moon— that’s on them.

Daniel Plocher: It’s always a White Out when Michigan goes to Happy Valley, so it’s no surprise the Wolverines wanted to return the favor. There is something about night games in the Big House that cause a ruckus, but I expect there to be a lot of juice at noon, too. We are in for a fun one on Saturday.

David Woelkers: As was keenly pointed out to me by someone, the problem isn’t the kickoff time, the problem is the weather. Besides the stray winter cap, Maize colored gear is largely aimed towards warm weather — t-shirts, lightweight long sleeves, etc. When fans have to choose between color and comfort, of course they’re gonna choose comfort. Given the forecast for Saturday, I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s not as roaring a success as it was last year.

Kellen Voss: Penn State’s White Out is a gimmick. Any time a stadium asks it’s fans to wear a specific color, it’s a gimmick. I’d argue the Big House is so loud they don’t need gimmick to rattle opposing teams. That said, it will be cool to see that bright Maize with the sun blazing down.

Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin have, for the most, part flip flopped wins and losses in this series. Penn State is coming off a bye, so the Nittany Lions are well-rested heading into this one. What do the Wolverines need to do to ensure victory this year?

Von Lozon: Keep doing what they’ve been doing — establish a solid ground game early and let the play action open up the passing game for McCarthy. According to PFF College, McCarthy has completed 22 of his 25 passes off play action this season for 395 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions with a perfect 158.3 passer rating. It, quite literally, doesn’t get better than that. Defensively, keep everything in front of you and don’t let true freshman running back Nick Singleton pop off big runs. If he is able to do that, that will set up Sean Clifford and the passing attack to do some damage.

Andrew Bailey: Since taking over in Happy Valley, Franklin is 3-5 (1-2 against Michigan) coming off a bye week. Perhaps, a little TOO rested historically. Offensively, the Wolverines need to establish the run and take care of the football. Manny Diaz’s defensive philosophy is centered around creating turnovers from third and longs. If Michigan can stay on schedule with the run game, everything will come easy for quarterback J.J. McCarthy and the offense. Defensively, it is about stopping the run and pressuring Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford with discipline. If the edges get too far up field, Clifford will easily evade and eat up Michigan with his legs. But a steady diet of structured pressure collapsing in on him will force Clifford into mistakes.

Daniel Plocher: Run the ball effectively. I know that answer will trigger all of the play calling haters in our comments, but it’s the Wolverines’ bread and butter. Three of the last four games in this series have been won by the team that ran the ball better. I expect a similar narrative on Saturday.

David Woelkers: 2020 aside, Penn State has been horrendous when they travel to Ann Arbor — or really any top-10 destination — under James Franklin. If the Wolverines limit their mistakes and stay patient, the Nittany Lions are more likely than not going to make significant errors of their own.

Kellen Voss: Stop the run and let Sean Clifford make mistakes. Better yet, make Sean Clifford panic and force him to continue to be the milk-toast quarterback he’s been all season long.

Give one bold prediction for tomorrow’s game.

Von Lozon: J.J. throws for 300-plus yards for the second game in a row and connects with Andrel Anthony for a huge touchdown...let’s say 40+ yards.

Andrew Bailey: Running back Blake Corum grew up just a few hours away from State College. Corum understandably did not have a great game last week and missed the Penn State game last year due to injury. Behind an offensive line with something to prove —Indiana might have been their worst performance as a unit this season — Corum is going for 200 yards and three scores, cementing his Heisman candidacy.

Daniel Plocher: Michigan gets ahead early and this one looks lopsided by the end. Blake Corum finishes with over 150 rushing yards and leads the team to a convincing win.

David Woelkers: The defense has their strongest performance of the season and racks up multiple turnovers.

Kellen Voss: The points totals for oddsmakers is 51.5 at the time of writing this. I think the over hits halfway through the third quarter.

The final score is...

Von Lozon: I think this will be a tight battle in the first half, but Michigan will pull away and put up some points in the second half. Michigan 34, Penn State 24.

Andrew Bailey: I have flip flopped so many times on this. My first prediction was 38-17. My second prediction was 23-10. My final prediction will be a combination of both: 31-13, Wolverines.

Daniel Plocher: 28-10, Michigan. The offensive line dominates the line of scrimmage and gives Corum a lot of room to run. The defense makes Sean Clifford play quarterback and mostly shuts down the run in the Big House.

David Woelkers: 31-17, Michigan — but the score is closer than the game ultimately feels.

Kellen Voss: 34-24. Michigan wins and earns a lot of respect from the committee.