Michigan hurdle up next for Nittany Lions
By Cory Giger
Five things to look for as Penn State tries to upset Michigan and pick up its biggest win of the season in front of a whiteout crowd on senior day.
No. 1: Confidence
Michigan has the No. 2 defense in the country, and this is not a strong Penn State offense. That’s a bad formula.
It’s important for the Nittany Lions to get some early first downs and build confidence that they can move the ball. That’s not going to happen with the overly conservative playcalling we’ve seen most of the season.
This is probably going to be Christian Hackenberg’s final home game. He knows it, too, so he’s going to be fired up ready to make plays. James Franklin and John Donovan need to let the quarterback do just that – make some plays.
Give Hackenberg chances to make throws he likes making – deep shots, long outs, shallow crosses, etc. – instead of a bunch of horizontal screens that typically don’t go anywhere.
In the running game, Saquon Barkley could have a good day, but it probably won’t be running inside the tackles. Michigan stacks the line of scrimmage with five defenders, and PSU’s offensive line still isn’t strong, so give Barkley some opportunities to run wide and turn the corner.
No. 2: Adjustments
As good as its defense has been, Michigan gave up giant chunks of yards last week to Indiana in a 48-41 double-OT win. How the Wolverines respond to that will be a big factor today.
So, just like the Lions need a good start offensively to build confidence, the Wolverines can get a big boost with a couple of early defensive stops.
Look for Michigan to do what everyone does against PSU, which is load up to stop the run and count on its defensive backs to hold their own in man-to-man coverage.
No. 3: Special teams
A lot of coaches at a lot of levels like to play a conservative approach, keep the game close, rely on a strong defense and win in the fourth quarter. That’s Football 101, and Joe Paterno did it for decades.
The problem with that philosophy is that when a team has poor special teams play, it’s harder to win tight games against quality competition because, at some point, a special teams mistake becomes greatly magnified.
Penn State usually gets burned at least once a game by its special teams, either with a missed field goal or PAT, bad punt or long return. If any of those things happen today against an opponent with this good of a defense, the Lions probably won’t be able to overcome it.
SUBHD: No. 4: PSU secondary
There’s a major question of whether the Lions’ defensive backs are good enough to handle a good passing team with a hot quarterback. That’s now an even bigger concern with safety Jordan Lucas out for the season.
Cornerbacks Grant Haley and Trevor Williams will be challenged by receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh, who have combined for 11 receiving TDs.
The linebackers also will have to help out on tight end Jake Butt, who has 38 catches.
Of course, if PSU’s defensive line can get pressure on quarterback Jake Rudock, that would help the guys in coverage.
SUBHD: No. 5: Players to watch
Penn State: It would be great to see Christian Hackenberg have a big day in his likely home finale. He will need to, as well, if the Lions are to have a chance to win.
Michigan: Quarterback Jake Rudock is not as good as he looked in superb performances against Rutgers’ and Indiana’s terrible defenses. But he is plenty good enough and has enough weapons at his disposal to give PSU fits in the passing game.
Prediction: Michigan 23, Penn State 17
Follow @CoryGiger on Twitter for live updates and analysis during today’s game.