The Michigan Wolverines are scheduled to face their biggest test of the season so far when Penn State comes to Ann Arbor this Saturday. Under the guidance of head coach James Franklin — now in his ninth season at the helm — the Nittany Lions are undefeated and ranked No. 10 in the country.
Franklin addressed the media Tuesday afternoon ahead of Saturday’s highly anticipated matchup with the Wolverines. But before he turned his attention to football, Franklin offered his sympathies to Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart.
“First of all, I’d like to lead with sending our thoughts and prayers to Mike Hart and his family. He’s Big Ten through and through as a player and a coach both at Indiana and Michigan,” Franklin said. “Obviously, you don’t ever like to see anything like that. We truly wish his family, Mike, as well as the running backs and players at the University of Michigan, our thoughts. Hopefully he’ll be healthy enough to be involved in the game on Saturday. I hope I get a chance to see him before the game. If not, wish him nothing but the best.”
Focusing on Michigan’s offense, Franklin was very complimentary of every facet and singled out several players.
“Got a ton of respect for what they’re doing, how they’re doing it. Extremely efficient. I think they do a great job of staying on schedule. First down is obviously a huge factor for them in their offense. It’s going to be a challenge. They’re able to run it. They’re able to throw it. Their offensive line was considered to be the best offensive line in all of college football last year. On top of that, they’ve got maybe the most productive back in college football over the last couple years.
“They’ve got wide receivers that can make plays, tight ends that can make plays, and a young and talented quarterback that’s leading the nation in completion percentage.”
“We have know all about Blake Corum [...] Ronnie Bell has been doing it for a while and been successful for a while at wide receiver there. J.J. McCarthy is obviously the new face but extremely talented. Kind of already talked about him. They’re similar to us. Got a deep and talented tight end room. Although they’ve had some injuries there, No. 86, (Luke) Schoonmaker is playing really well for them.”
Turning his attention to the defense, Franklin continued the same pattern of praise and name recognition.
“It starts up front with Mazi Smith, who is a guy we recruited extremely hard. Kind of to me, anchors their defense. Their middle linebacker, No. 25 (Junior Colson) — we’re really impressed with the production of Mike Morris, defensive end, playing at a high level. Then their corner, DJ Turner.”
He mentioned Morris, who leads the team in sacks this season, but also spoke about how productive the defensive line has been despite losing Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.
“With the departure of the two defensive ends last year that were so well thought of, for them to be able to pressure and sack the quarterback at the rate they’ve been able to do it after losing those guys has been impressive,” Franklin said. “It will be a challenge. Multiple fronts. Talented secondary as well. They do a really good job scheme-wise of putting their players in position to be successful.”
One player who will play against Penn State for the first time is quarterback J.J. McCarthy. Even though he got a lot of run last year, he did not earn a single snap against the Nittany Lions last season. Franklin, however, is well aware of the threat he brings to their defense.
“Yeah, I think it would be different if they were playing both quarterbacks all the time,” Franklin said, when asked about when Michigan played both McCarthy and Cade McNamara. “It was really one game, the guy played the majority of the reps, then the next game the guy played the majority of the reps. You had a good sample size of who those guys were, especially the other quarterback who played an entire season.
“But this quarterback, I’ve been impressed with his poise. He is very poised back there. Obviously, he’s been very accurate. He can make all the throws on the field. He’s got a very strong arm. He’s got real good, what people describe as arm talent. That confidence that comes from his accuracy, that confidence that comes from his athleticism, and that confidence that comes from staying ahead of the sticks, is I think what makes him and their offense challenging.”