Michigan is headed into its final away game of the season with Big Ten championship game hopes still alive. Of course, a few things need to happen in order for the Wolverines to get there. However, none of this is possible without U-M taking care of its own business first.
Enter Penn State.
Last Meeting: Michigan defeated Penn State 18-13 on October 11, 2014.
What a win means for Michigan: Coming away with a victory in State Colllege is no easy task. The stadium is loud and passionate for Penn State football.Walking away with a victory would be huge for Michigan on many fronts. First, the Wolverines would finish the season with a perfect conference road record, a feat that wasn't accomplished often in the past. Second, it sets up for another epic showdown against Ohio State if the Buckeyes can take care of business Saturday afternoon.
What a win means for Penn State: A victory over Michigan would be an excellent feather in the cap of head coach James Franklin. Coming off a tough loss against Northwestern and a bye week in between, they've been waiting for a chance to come out and fix its issues. Plus, like we've said many times, who doesn't want to play the role of spoiler?
Player(s) to Watch: It's easy to single out Christian Hackenberg as the player to watch today and it wouldn't be the wrong answer. However, considering Michigan has been quite thin on the defensive line as of late and struggled mightily against the run last week, a player like Saquan Barkley is one to watch. Granted, Penn State's offense is much easier to handle from a pace perspective compared to Indiana. They're slow and methodical and will try to establish the run.
Penn State has five players currently over 100 yards rushing for the season with Barkley leading the way with 836 yards and seven touchdowns. Expect Barkley to carry the load for the Nittany Lions and for the defense to put an emphasis on stopping the run.
Of course, Hackenberg is another player to watch on the offense. Throwing just under 2000 yards for the season, his touchdown to interception ratio has been efficient. Throwing 13 touchdowns and giving up only three interceptions, he doesn't make mistakes very often. This is a matchup where it's possible that someone like Jeremy Clark will be tested more with Jourdan Lewis shutting down half of the field.
What they're saying: Head coach, James Franklin (all quotes used from GoPSUSports.com)
- On the Michigan roster: " I think Michigan has been really playing well on defense all year long, either No. 1, 2, or 3 in the country in most categories. The offense is really starting to come on now. The defense has put them in really good positions with short fields and things like that, and their offense is gaining a lot of confidence.
One of the things that really jumps out, you look at starters for them, they have 18 senior starters. Eighteen senior starters. We have four. That was one of the things that really kind of jumped out when you look at their depth charts. They have a bunch of senior starters. They have a bunch of graduate transfers. They got a bunch of juniors. That's one of the things that jumped out.
They're big and physical on both fronts. I think some of those numbers are a little bit skewed whenever you're playing an overtime game. It skews the numbers a little bit. But, yeah, they are playing with a lot more confidence right now. They're much more explosive on offense. And they're doing a nice job.
The receivers are really coming on, making plays for them. The tight end, [Jake] Butt, is making plays for them. They protect really well, and they're going to try to run the ball, like they do every week.
It's going to be a tremendous challenge. There's no doubt about it. But I'm looking forward to being at home, where we've played pretty good, and we're gaining confidence with those things as well. So should be a great college game. It should be a great college atmosphere. Looking forward to it."
- On the Michigan defense: "A couple things. You're exactly right. They're in a five-man front all the time. They'll overload you in the box. They're going to play a lot of man coverage, press across the board, even more than usual. A lot of times, if you have two receivers on one side, one will be pressed. One will be off to stop pick routes and things like that, and they just say, no, we're going to cover you press man all the way across the board and make it really difficult to find yards. There are no yards in the box looking at it in the run game, and there are no yards on the perimeter that they're giving you. You're going to have to earn all of it.
So like I talked about, they're a veteran defense. They were good last year on defense and pretty much returned everybody as well. What Indiana was able to do is their back, who's having a heck of a year, he's 230 pounds, was able to break tackles and make people miss, and they wore them down.
Indiana, like we talked about when we played them, they're big on both fronts. They were able to match up size-wise, and they battled them, and they made just enough plays to kind of stay in the game. As the game went on, as the game went down, their O-line and their running back was able to kind of keep chipping away at them.
Obviously, that film, the Minnesota film was another good film for us as well. We watched those two games, games with similar formations, similar philosophies and things like that that are valuable for our guys to see. The Minnesota game, the thing that stood out about that game, probably differently than Indiana, they made plays. That's what really jumped out about Minnesota. They won a bunch of those one-on-one situations and came down with the ball. Indiana was different because they kind of wore them down with the run game and the big backs. So two different types of games. We're probably going to have to do a combination of both."
- On Jourdan Lewis: "He's really good. If you look at some of the analytics companies out there, there are people that say he's the most productive, best corner in the country. The amount of times that he's been targeted and the amount of pass break-ups and interceptions. Typically, the game plan with them is he's matched up with the best receiver. I read some things and listened to some things with some of the press conference notes where that's a big deal for him. He's not real happy if he's not matched up against what's considered to be their best wide receiver each week.
And he's done a really good job. He's done a really good job of that. So we're expecting to see some of those things this week as well. We have a lot of faith and confidence in our wide receivers the last half of the year. They've really made some big plays for us, been explosive. We're going to have to run the ball. It's not like we can just say we're going to load the box up and just throw it every down. We're going to have to stay with the run and be willing to take some shots down the field, probably very similar to a Maryland type game, where they kind of did the same thing. They loaded the box up and played man coverage and said, you consistently won't beat us enough times to win the game.
So we're going to have to look for ways to run the ball and be aggressive and not abandon that and stay balanced. Obviously, finding a way to have some success early on offense and defense to allow us to do that, because the last thing you want to do is get in a situation where you're down by some points, and now you feel like you have to throw the ball to get back in the game, and you become one-dimensional, which is the last thing you want to do against one of these types of teams.
So those things are going to be a challenge, but they're going to be important to our success."
- On Jabrill Peppers: "It's funny because I think Jabrill is a guy who we have a lot of respect for on tape and gets a lot of attention nationally and in the media, and from a recruiting standpoint when he came out of high school. On offense, he's in there. They're going to try to get his hands on the ball. Whether it's as a receiver or a running back, he's an explosive guy. You look at his 100-meter times in high school, he's obviously an explosive guy, and he's not built like a track guy. He's put together.
Same thing on special teams, as a returner, he's able to impact the game in that area. And then on defense they play him all over the place. They play him at safety. They play him at nickel. They play him at corner. They play him at outside linebacker. He plays all these different roles for them. That's kind of who they are on defense, they play a lot of different packages.
They match up. So if you're in 22 personnel, they're going to be in a four-four defense. They have four linebackers on the field and four down linemen. You're in 11 personnel, they're going to be in nickel. They match up a lot with what they do. They got a lot of different personnel packages. He's a part of almost all of them. But he's doing a nice job for them."