Michigan opens up Big Ten this week as the Wolverines welcome East divisional foe Penn State to Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines, 3-0, are looking to make a statement during the first week of conference play.
U-M is also looking to improve on a slow start against Colorado. Can the Wolverines get it all figured out on Saturday?
The Michigan Insider previews the game.
Last Meeting: Michigan defeated Penn State 28-16 in 2015.
What a win means for Michigan: A win for Michigan is another in a long string of victories the Wolverines hope to put together this fall. With Big Ten season officially beginning, a victory is another step in the right direction as its looking to make noise in the conference this season. All in all, a win for U-M means it took care of business once again.
What a win means for Penn State: A victory over Michigan would mean a lot to Penn State and James Franklin. Not only would it ruin the Wolverines bid for a perfect Big Ten season but it would turn Franklin's seat from warm to a simmer. A Nittany Lion victory should be considered a major, major upset.
Players to watch: On the offensive side of the ball, Saquon Barkley is the clear answer and one to watch on offense this week. Even behind a somewhat poor offensive line, Barkley has been able to make plays on the ground and, at times, carry a struggling PSU offense. So far in 2016, Barkley has 258 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Last season, despite all the success that he had, Barkley finished with seven touchdowns rushing. Look for Barkley to be involved early and often on Saturday.
On defense, free safety Marcus Allen is one to watch. Allen was all over the place last season and is looking to do the same this season. Despite not having any interceptions so far this season, he has 21 tackles and should find himself in the backfield .
What they're saying: Head coach James Franklin (All quotes used from GOPSUSports.com)
- On Michigan's speed on defense: "I think you do have to be aware of where Peppers is. You've pretty much got a good idea where he's going to play. The way we look at it, they really play with three safeties and they list him as an outside linebacker and nickel. But the way we look at it, they play with three safeties in a lot of ways and he's one of those guys. Yeah, I think their speed is a factor, but the biggest thing is how big and strong they are. We have 12 seniors on our team. They have 13 seniors on the two deep on defense, and 13 seniors on the two deep on offense. They're just a big, strong, physical, mature team, and then they do have some speed aspects. Jabrill does that for them on defense, special teams and offense. Their receivers do that as well as their tight end, (Jake) Butt. So it's a challenge, there's no doubt about it."
- On Michigan's passing game: "I think it really starts with stopping the run. What happens is when people are able to have success running the ball, you start to overcompensate to stop the run and people get out of position. And then they're put in conflict in play-action pass, whether it's safeties or what we call trap corners where they run support with corners in the cover two style defense or whether it's linebackers. Those guys are put in conflicts. So being able to stop the run and being physical across the defensive line and gap sound and things like that is going to be really, really important, because if they can establish the run and play-action pass you, they're really difficult to defend. And obviously when they have play makers like their two wideouts, big, long, athletic guys as well as their tight end who is a very gifted route runner and receiver, that causes some real challenges for you. So the biggest thing we'd like to do is make them one dimensional. They have a new quarterback who is starting for them. He's not a young player. He's been in the system now a couple of years. I think he's a junior. So you'd like to make him one dimensional and force him to drop back and throw the ball."
- On Michigan's defense: "Well, a couple things. They're very good on third down. I think a lot of it is because they're really good on first and second down, which is the complete opposite of us. If you look, again, with analytics and things like that, really your first downs should not come on third down. They should come on first and second down. We're doing a much better job of that. We've improved dramatically in that area. Now the next phase is obviously to be better on third down, we need to do a better job of that. We've also been pretty good on fourth down. So that's an area of emphasis for us. That's a focus point for us, getting to manageable third downs when we don't pick up a first down on first and second down. We've still got to get into a manageable third down situation, be more efficient. That's a focus point for us. But I think really first and second down kind of tells the story for both teams. Tells the story for their defense. Tells the story for our offense."
- On Michigan's offense: "Yeah, some of the stuff that we kind of visited on earlier was they're big and physical on the offensive line. They really are. They're experienced. I think what makes them difficult to defend is the combination of the big, fast wideouts that they have. (Jehu) Chesson and (Amara) Darboh have been really, really good, and (Jake) Butt as well. Those guys are big-time players that decided to come back this year and make a big impact for them and they have. So between the offensive line, the tight end and the receivers, I think they are special. And then they work in the tailbacks, they have big, physical tailbacks as well. And obviously Jabrill Peppers, being able to work him in, whether it's fly sweeps, running back or wildcat quarterback, it's a nice combination of big, physical, experienced players and then speed to be explosive and make big plays. And it's the combination of what I said earlier about being able to get the running game going and putting your safeties and linebackers in conflict with play-action pass."