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The Press Box Sports

Penn State Nittany Lions vs Michigan Wolverines Football Preview

NCAA Football Penn State Football Michigan Football

The No. 2 Penn State Nittany Lions are all set to host the No. 19 Michigan Wolverines in what could be one of the best NCAA football matchups this week. Nearly 110,000 die-hard, loud and wild fans will pack Beaver Stadium to watch the Nittany Lions face their first test in a brutal, three game stretch of their college football schedule. The game should be a defensive battle as both teams haven’t given up a lot of yards or points this season. Penn State will try to avenge last year’s 49-10 beating in Ann Arbor. A loss that in all likelihood, cost them a shot at the college football playoff. It’s going to be a wild day in Happy Valley. While Penn State is in the thick of the college football playoff race, this game is crucial to both teams for the Big Ten Conference standings.

History of the Whiteout:

The Nittany Lions have announced this game as a “Whiteout.” It’s spectacular watching 100,000 fans in a sea of white pack into the stadium on a Saturday evening. This will be the 14th official Whiteout game for Penn State since 2004. In that time, they have posted a 6-7 record during these special games. This will be the 5th Whiteout against the Wolverines and the Nittany Lions are 2-2 in those games. The records have no meaning in this game, just a couple of little interesting facts.

Defense, Defense, Defense:

Both teams are dynamic on the defensive side of the ball. Penn State leads the NCAA, giving up an average 9 points per game. At home, they are only giving up 7 points per game. The Nittany Lions are just allowing 285 yards of total offense per game (7th FBS) and giving up only 167.8 yards through the air to teams this season. Defensive end, Shareef Miller leads the team with 3 sacks and will be pivotal in stopping both the passing and running game against Michigan. As a team, Penn State has 11 interceptions this season and features a great secondary unit that is led by Amani Oruwariye. The corners can shut receivers down as good as anyone.

Don’t count out the Wolverines with their stout defense though. Michigan is only giving up an NCAA leading 223.8 yards per game. They are actually even a little better away from Ann Arbor, giving up only 219.7 yards on the road. The Wolverines have the task of stopping Barkley and certainly have the capabilities to do so. Linebacker, Devin Bush, is excellent at stopping running backs at the line. He can also get into the backfield quickly, as he’s tied for a team-leading 5 sacks this season. Chase Winovich is the anchor on the defensive line. He can play anywhere; which helps the defense mix it up with their schemes. At 5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss this season, he has been a monster for the Wolverines on the defensive front.

The secondary will challenge Penn State in the passing game. This is a unit that only allows 138 yards per game (2nd FBS) and teams are only completing 44.12 percent (1st FBS) of their passes against Michigan. Lavert Hill, Khaleke Hudson, and Tyree Kinnel make this a unit that gives quarterbacks nightmares. The trio has combined for 5 interceptions and 10 deflections, with Kinnel and Hill having a pick six each.

Unleash the Beast in Barkley

If there’s one thing you can say about Saquon Barkley for Penn State its that he can flat-out get it done on offense. The Heisman front-runner leads the team in both rushing and receiving yards. He has the size and strength to break through the d-line and the speed to break away out in the open. The junior from Bronx, NY leads all of NCAA football with 217 all-purpose yards per game. The Nittany Lions will use his 6.4 yards per carry in the ground game to wear down the Michigan defensive front.

Quarterback Trace McSorley is no slouch either. The red-shirt junior is completing 67 percent of his passes for 1,597 yards, and 13 touchdowns. His 154.7 qb rating ranks among the top-20 in college football. While not considered mobile, McSorley will run when he has to. He averages 2.5 yards per carry, but has scored four times on the ground this season. Receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson are also big-time contributors on an offense that averages 456 yards per game. The duo has combined for 671 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. Look for Penn State to struggle a little against a solid Michigan defense, but they definitely have the skill set to pour it on later in the game.

Michigan Needs to Be Aggressive Offensively:

Losing starting quarterback Wilton Speight to a back injury has been devastating to the Wolverine offense. John O’Korn has struggled since taking over as the play caller. The Houston transfer has completed 54 percent of his passes, 563 yards, and a touchdown. Averaging a pick every 20 passing attempts, O’Korn has to be more accurate through the air. Michigan will need to step up their ground game to open opportunities in the passing game. Karan Higdon and Ty Isaac have been a solid running back tandem that helps the offense average 185 rushing yards per game. Higdon has 401 yards and 5 touchdowns, while Isaac has 403 yards and a touchdown to his resume. Coach Harbaugh needs these two to be the workhorses for Michigan if they are going to be successful on offense.

The key to that success will be more aggressiveness on offense. The Wolverines rank 107th in FBS football, converting just 31.8 percent of third downs per game. That is the biggest flaw with this team. They stall out on drives and miss out on important scoring opportunities. If Michigan is going to win this game, they have to do better on third downs and keep the offense on the field.

Game time is set for 7:30pm ET at Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA. The game will be aired on ABC. You can read a full game recap after the game here at Press Box Sports. In the comments, tell us your thoughts on the game.

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