No. 16 Michigan begins a difficult couple of weeks with back-to-back games against Top 10 teams, starting with a trip to face No. 7 Penn State on Saturday. After facing the undefeated Nittany Lions, the Wolverines will return home to host No. 8 Notre Dame next Saturday.
The Nittany Lions are looking to improve to 7-0 on the season as well as keep pace in the Big Ten East with No. 4 Ohio State, which improved to 4-0 in league play on Friday night with a win over Northwestern. Penn State is 3-0 heading into this contest, while the Wolverines are 3-1 in Big Ten play, having taken a loss at Wisconsin a couple of weeks back.
The moneyline for this contest has the Michigan Wolverines +255 and the Penn State Nittany Lions -310. Penn State is favored by eight points at home, while the over/under for the game has been set at 46.5.
Needing A Perfect Run
If Michigan wants a chance at its first Big Ten Championship Game appearance, it can’t afford any more losses, especially to a team like Penn State, which sits ahead of it in the Big Ten East standings. To get a win in this one, Shea Patterson will need to have a big game. The senior signal-caller has thrown for 1,246 yards and nine touchdowns this season, though he’s only completing 57.1 percent of his pass attempts. Another key player for the Wolverines is freshman running back Zach Charbonnet, who leads Michigan with 376 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. He left last week’s game against Illinois briefly with an injury, but he returned later, finishing with 118 yards and a score.
Defensively, Michigan has been solid for much of the season, giving up 17.5 points per game, good for 15th in the nation. Over the last two games, the Wolverines’ front seven has been at another level, recording 25 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. Senior linebacker Josh Uche and junior defensive lineman Kwity Paye each have a team-high 4.5 sacks this season, with the duo also leading the team in tackles for loss with 6.5 and 7.5, respectively.
As good as Michigan has been defensively, Penn State has actually been better. The Nittany Lions have yet to give up even 14 points in a game this season, with opponents averaging just 8.2 points, which ranks second in the nation. The Nittany Lions also rank second in the country in sacks per game (4.5) and third in rushing defense, allowing just 53.8 yards per game. Junior defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos has been a star for the Lions so far, recording 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, while junior defensive end Shaka Toney also has 5.5 sacks as well as six tackles for loss.
The Penn State offense has been very balanced this season, with the Nittany Lions ranking in the top four in the Big Ten in both rushing and passing offense. Quarterback Sean Clifford has thrown for 1,560 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, with KJ Hamler (26 catches, 455 yards, five TDs) being his main target. Freshman running back Noah Cain has also been a key cog to the offense, leading the team with 310 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, though Penn State has four different players — including Clifford — with more than 200 yards rushing.
Penn State Pulls Out Close One
The Nittany Lions’ defense has been solid all season long, not allowing any opponent to get a rhythm for very long. Michigan has been an up-and-down team, as shown by last week’s game with Illinois in which the Wolverines took a 28-0 lead, then allowed the Illini to get back in it with 25 straight points. Having a letup like that against Penn State will be a killer, and Michigan hasn’t shown that it can put together a consistent 60-minute effort just yet. I’m taking Penn State -8 to stay unbeaten on the season.