That was definitely not fun. It’s always weird when Penn State plays Iowa in Kinnick at night and nothing changed this past Saturday. But, for all the pain we suffered during that game Saturday night, we were rewarded. Penn State defeated Iowa 17-12 and now has moved to 6-0 on the season. Penn State’s offense, especially Sean Clifford, struggled mightily in this game against the stout Iowa defense. But through the ashes rose one man to save us all, Noah Cain. Cain carried the offense on his back as he averaged 4.6 yards per carry, ran for 102 yards and scored the crucial touchdown that would seal the win for the Nittany Lions. He proved that he is a big-time player and established himself as the best running back on this Penn State roster.
This game was never going to be won by offense and the Penn State defense delivered big-time. The Penn State front seven held Iowa to only 70 rushing yards and only allowed one touchdown late into the game. The secondary struggled a bit. They bent but they never broke. Robert Windsor stepped up big for the Nittany Lions in this game. The fifth-year senior accumulated 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. He, along with Shaka Toney and Yetur Gross-Matos, disrupted Nate Stanley all game and stifled Iowa’s rushing attack.
Also, a shout-out to John O’Neil and his crews’ masterful
screwjob referring performance on Saturday night. Penn State had 8 penalties for 80 yards, a lot of them were ghost calls, compared to Iowa’s one penalty for five yards. The best part of the night came on Pat Friermuth’s no-touchdown call. Only John O’Neil would masterfully change the ruling of an obvious touchdown against Penn State. It’s not like he’s screwed Penn State against Nebraska in 2012 or against Ohio State in 2014 and 2017. He did overturn an obvious targeting call against Shaka Toney in the fourth quarter, so let’s not be so hard on him. All love towards John O’Neil; may your life as a Big Ten official be short long and plentiful.
Now that that gong show of a game is behind us, it’s time. It’s been circled on the calendar since it was announced. It’s the game of the week in college football, the game of the season at Beaver Stadium. Whiteout conditions are expected. It’s time to look at the Wolverines from the University of Michigan.
At First Glance…
Coaching titan Jim Haurbauh has his Wolverines entering this game against the Nittany Lions at a decent 5-1 record. Their schedule so far has been dotted with some good teams and not so very good teams. Michigan started the season playing against Middle Tennessee and Army. Both games saw a concerning trend start to appear, a lackluster offense. The opening game against Middle Tennessee, even though Michigan won 40-21, was closer then the score made it out to be. Then came the Army game. The main lesson from this game was that no one in his right mind should schedule the triple-option, hard-hitting Army as a non-conference opponent. Army had multiple chances to win it, including a last-second regulation field goal that they missed. It would take a Michigan takeaway in double overtime to secure a close 24-21 victory over Army.
Michigan’s only loss of the season came in Week 3 against Wisconsin. The 35-14 scoreline was not an indication of the game, as the score made the game closer than it appeared. Wisconsin ran all over Michigan with Jonathan Taylor torching the Wolverine defense in a monster performance. On top of that, Michigan had a horrendous offensive performance, one that saw quarterback Shea Patterson replaced. The slaughter at Camp Randall was an embarrassment for Michigan and really showed all of the flaws that this Michigan team has.
The last three weeks have also be concerning for Michigan, outside of the Rutgers game in Week 4. Michigan played Iowa Week 5 and only won 10-3. We saw this past weekend how good the Iowa defense is, but that game between Iowa and Michigan was even more unwatchable then Iowa vs. Penn State. Michigan then travelled to a bad Illinois team this past Saturday and jumped out to a 28-0 lead. Lovie Smith’s Fighting Illini crawled almost all the way back, as they scored 25 unanswered points on Michigan before the Wolverines pulled away to win 42-25. Michigan’s season has been a turbulent one, but they have pulled wins out of the bag and enter this game at a respectable 5-1.
A Deeper Look …
As I talked about before, the Michigan offense is subpar and that’s being nice. The man under center for the Wolverines is one of the most polarizing players in college football, Shea Patterson. When Patterson is on, he’s on, but when he’s off, he’s really off. He has thrown for 1,246 yards for 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He has also rushed for 4 touchdowns. Patterson’s numbers show that he has been average, but his season has been up and down. Patterson’s best game came against the lowly Rutgers. He threw for one touchdown, but ran for three. His worst games have come against ranked opponents Iowa and Wisconsin. His performance was so bad against Wisconsin that Harbaugh took out his star man and tried to get a look at other quarterback options. Patterson has shown at times his ability as a dangerous dual-threat quarterback, but he has also showed he has the ability of junior-year Christian Hackenberg.
Michigan’s offense is one similar to Iowa’s in that it lacks true game changers. Patterson’s most notable weapon is Donovan Peoples-Jones. The junior out of Detroit is an electric game-changer who is very dangerous on the big play. Peoples-Jones has struggled this year, though, only hauling in 12 catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns. He also missed the first two games of the season with a lingering groin injury. Michigan’s receiving core at the top has been a mixture of Ronnie Bell, Nico Collins, and Tarik Black. Nico Collins did not play vs. Illinois and his status is still up in the air for the game against Penn State. Still, expect to see all four of them split time and receptions against Penn State.
Michigan’s running attack has been lead by freshman running back Zach Charbonnet. The freshman has rushed for 376 yards and five touchdowns. As of Monday, October 14, Charbonnet is listed as questionable with an undisclosed injury he picked up during the Illinois game. He’s still expected to play vs. the Nittany Lions, but possibly in a limited role. Behind him is Hassan Haskins and Christian Turner. Both are capable backs and both may see more carries vs. Penn State due to Charbonnet’s injury.
Similar to Iowa, Michigan’s team boosts a lethal defensive unit. All three levels of the defense can match up to any other defense in the nation, including Penn State. Two of Michigan’s leaders on defense are junior defensive linemen Kwity Paye and senior cornerback Lavert Hill. Paye, the team’s sack leader, and Hill, the leading man in the secondary, both did not make the trip to Illinois last week due to undisclosed injuries. Jim Harbaugh declined to go in-depth during his press conference on October 14, but he said, “If I were to comment on it, it would be a positive comment.” Having both of those players in the game against Penn State will be crucial to the Wolverines’ effort in Happy Valley. Michigan is most dangerous in its linebacking core. Expect to see Khaleke Hudson, Jordan Glasgow and Cameron McGrone really disrupt the Nittany Lions’ offensive rhythm in this game.
Connor’s Keys to the Game
Michigan – Let it Fly
Michigan is coming in as an underdog this game and rightfully so. The Penn State defense and the whiteout environment will be Michigan’s biggest issues in this game. I can see Michigan having success in this game if Patterson and his receivers can establish the passing game. Michigan has an extremely talented receiving core and Penn State’s weakest link on defense has proved to be the secondary. Look for Shea Patterson to target Tariq Castro-Fields, who has struggled for Penn State, in one-on-one coverage, and youngsters like Keaton Ellis, in this game. Nothing shuts up a crowd like a big play through the air. If Michigan can establish offense through the air, especially early in this game, they may have a chance to come out of Happy Valley with a win.
Penn State – Find What Works
Penn State is into the nitty-gritty of the schedule and the time for experimenting is over. Michigan’s defense is very good, so Penn State needs to find what will work for them offensively. If it’s the run, then run the ball, and if it’s the pass, pass the ball. There’s no need to commit to one thing and force it down Michigan’s throat as in games earlier in the season. Let Clifford do what he’s comfortable with because if he’s in this game, Michigan will be in trouble. Expect to see a mixture of plays from this Penn State offense, with many different playmakers getting touches. Let Clifford get comfortable, get the ball to players like KJ Hamler, Pat Friermuth, and Noah Cain, and Penn State will put up points and win this game.
I could not be more excited for this game. Last week proved something about this Penn State team. It proved that this Penn State team is legit, especially on defense. To hold a ranked team to only 70 rushing yards on the road is nothing short of dominant. I’m expecting to see the Penn State defense feast on Shea Patterson and the Michigan offense. I don’t think it will be like the Iowa game, though. I expect Michigan to string together a couple drives and challenge the defense a little bit. Michigan needs to get its offensive playmakers the ball and that will rest on the shoulders of Shea Patterson.
The Penn State offense vs. the Michigan defense will be the biggest question mark. This season has shown Michigan can suffocate an offense, but it has also shown that it can be fragile. Expect Penn State’s superstars to step up big-time. Penn State’s offense will be on the shoulders of Sean Clifford, Noah Cain, and KJ Hamler. If they get going, Michigan is screwed.
The last couple iterations of this game have been blowouts back and forth, but don’t expect it this time. Both defenses are too good to let that happen. With that being said, I am confident in Penn State’s ability to suffocate the Michigan offense and put up enough points on the Michigan defense to win this game. Also, let’s not forget it’s a whiteout so Beaver Stadium will play a factor in this game.
Score Prediction: Penn State 35, Michigan 17
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 19, on ABC. Games like this are the reason you go to Penn State. This will be my third-ever whiteout game and it’s going to be electric. If you have the chance to be their Saturday, even if it’s just to tailgate, go. The experience of a whiteout game is unmatched in American sports. College Gameday will be rolling through town and I can say from experience it’s a place you need to stop by for at least a couple of minutes. Penn State comes in ranked No. 7 while Michigan comes in ranked No. 16. It will be a heavyweight battle and it will not disappoint. So as Coach James Franklin says, “It begins with I love you and ends with I love you.” Let’s make this a Saturday to remember. WE ARE!