A new week brings a new matchup which brings a new opportunity for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines. This week, Michigan hosts the Nittany Lions. Let’s take a look at Penn State:
Penn State Nittany Lions
Overall Record: 2-1
Head Coach: James Franklin, third season at Penn State (0-2 vs. Michigan)
Key Wins: N/A
Key Losses: Pitt
Key Players: Trace McSorley(QB), Saquon Barkley(RB), Chris Godwin(WR), Tyler Davis (K)
Score vs. Michigan Last Season: 28-16, Michigan
What We Know
Saquon Barkley has the run game on lock
A lot of the talk surrounding the Penn State football team this offseason was centered around sophomore running back, Saquon Barkley. Rightfully so, Barkley tallied 1,076 yards on 182 carries with seven touchdowns, and added 20 receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown during his freshman campaign with the Nittany Lions. After rushing for just one yard on one carry in his first collegiate contest, Barkley burst onto the scene in his second game, carrying the ball for 115 yards and a score. He missed two games last year, but returned to face a stout Ohio State defense, where he would rush for 194 yards against the then ranked No. 1 Buckeyes. Barkley was named Big Ten Freshman of the week two different times last year, and was named Second Team All Big Ten. He isn’t a very big guy—standing 5’ 11” and weighing in at 222 pounds—but he is very, very talented. He’s also strong…and very shifty. Barkley isn’t a guy defenses can bring down with arm tackles. The Nittany Lions use him in a lot of different looks. He will be used at tailback, receiver and sometimes he’ll even line up as a quarterback in the wildcat formation. Saquon Barkley is a headache for defensive coordinators because of his size, speed and raw ability. If he sees any daylight, he can be in the end zone in no time. Penn State currently sits second to last among Big Ten teams when it comes to Rush Offense (111.7 yards per game). They definitely want to change that stat after they ranked third to last in the same category a season ago (133.9 yards per game). Look for Penn State to try and establish a run game early, but look for Michigan to key in on Barkley this weekend.
No more “Sack a Hack”
Penn State starts a new quarterback as Christian Hackenberg has graduated and moved on to life in the NFL. Sophomore Trace McSorley leads the helm for the Nittany Lions this season, and he is off to a great start. Penn State’s pass offense currently ranks second among Big Ten teams. McSorley has led the Nittany Lions to two victories, all while throwing for 828 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. McSorley made only six appearances at QB a season ago, tallying 185 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, Penn State was forced to lean on McSorley in the Taxslayer Bowl when Hackenberg went down with an injury in the second quarter. McSorley finished that game with 142 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 31 rushing yards. McSorley is off to a hot start, but I look for the Big House—and Michigan’s front seven—to rattle him. That’s a tough environment for anyone, let alone a sophomore in his fourth start.
Tyler Davis hasn’t missed a kick
Penn State has the best kicking game in the Big Ten currently, as junior kicker Tyler Davis has been perfect on the young season. Davis is five-for-five on field goals and eleven-for-eleven on extra points. His longest field goal is 40 yards this season, a mark he hit last week against Temple. Last season he was perfect on field goals (8) and extra points (5). If the Nittany Lions get down inside the 30-yard line, look for them to rely on their consistent kicker, Tyler Davis.
What We Will Learn
As the Wolverines host Penn State this weekend, I’ll be looking for two things:
How does the Michigan secondary bounce back after giving up so many big plays last weekend?
The Michigan secondary got torched on numerous big plays when they faced the Buffaloes last weekend. They gave up big plays of 37, 50, and 70 yards to the Buffs—ultimately allowing 261 yards through the air. Granted, Michigan was without Jourdan Lewis (who has yet to make an appearance this season), but nonetheless, the secondary has shown some weaknesses in the past two games. Penn State brings in a receiving corps that is primed for big play potential. Junior wide out Chris Godwin leads the Nittany Lions with 18 receptions for 220 yards and a touchdown. Godwin led the way for Penn State last November vs. the Wolverines when he had 3 catches for 51 yards, including a 38-yard pitch-and-catch. Penn State has connected on some big plays via the passing game already this year as they have season long totals of 52 (TD) ,40 (TD), 52, 45 and 43-yards, respectively. Look for Michigan’s secondary to come ready to defend those big plays this week.
How do Michigan’s receivers bounce back after being somewhat of non-factors versus Colorado?
Michigan’s receivers were definitely held in check last week, as Colorado was able to seemingly single cover Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and other Wolverine pass catchers. Darboh was held to just 2 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. Don’t let those numbers fool you though; Amara picked up 45 yards and a touchdown on just one play as he slipped behind the defense to put the Wolverines up with 33 seconds left in the first half (This was his final catch). Jehu Chesson tallied ZERO receptions, but was able to get involved in the rushing attack as he had three carries for 25 yards and a score. The bright spot for the Wolverines via the air? Jake Butt who had seven receptions for 87 yards. No other receiver had more than two receptions against the Buffs. Penn State brings in the second ranked pass defense in the Big Ten, and will look to shut down both Darboh and Chesson. Even if they do, Jake Butt Grant Perry could still have big games in the middle of the field.
I look forward to the beginning of Big Ten play, and a great game in the Big House on Saturday afternoon. Go Blue!