(18) Michigan (5-0) at Penn State (3-2)
Saturday, October 12, 5 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Fresh off their eighth straight conference-opening win, the 18th- ranked Michigan Wolverines get right back to work as they take on the Penn State Nittany Lions in Happy Valley on Saturday evening.
Michigan is a perfect 5-0 on the season, and the team took out visiting Minnesota last Saturday, 42-13, to retain the Little Brown Jug. The win was the Wolverines' 18th in a row at home, which just so happens to be the longest home winning streak among all BCS conference teams.
After posting a couple of closer-than-expected wins over Akron and Connecticut, routing the Golden Gophers, while welcomed, was just the next in line for a Michigan team that has very high expectations this season.
Quarterback Devin Gardner spoke afterward, "We were thinking about Minnesota, and Minnesota was it. It was the first Big Ten game; you open up the Big Ten season. Like we always say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It's the Jug game, it's our homecoming game. There's a lot going on. This game will be behind us after tomorrow when we watch the film, so we're just looking forward to the opportunity to head to Happy Valley."
Penn State got a monster effort from wide receiver Allen Robinson, but came up short in their Big Ten opener at Indiana last weekend, 44-24. The loss was the Nittany Lions' first in 17 all-time meetings with the Hoosiers, and dropped them to 3-2 on the season.
While acknowledging his team didn't play well at Indiana, PSU head coach Bill O'Brien took the brunt of the blame.
"It starts with me. I have to do a much better job of coaching. Put these guys in better positions to make plays on both sides of the ball, and on special teams," He continued, "You know, we got a bunch of resilient kids in that room. But we didn't play well. Didn't coach well. We got a long way to go, but we'll get back to work on Monday."
Michigan leads the all-time series with Penn State, 10-6, which includes a 5-3 mark at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions have won the last three meetings, the most recent of which being a 41-31 decision on Oct. 30, 2010.
Devin Gardner was an efficient 13-of-17 for 235 yards against the Golden Gophers last week, hitting Devin Funchess seven times for a career-high 151 yards and a TD. The Michigan run game saw Fitzgerald Toussaint rumble his way to 78 yards and a pair of scores, and the team as a whole produced 348 yards compared to only 281 for the visitors.
As for the Michigan defense, it was paced by Desmond Morgan and his 10 tackles, while James Ross III was close behind with nine. Blake Countess picked off a pass in the waning moments of the contest and took it back 72 yards for a TD.
For the season, the Wolverines are averaging 38.8 points and 397.0 yards per contest, with near equal production coming from the run and pass. Toussaint and Gardner rank one-two on the team's rushing list with 397 and 318 yards, respectively, the duo combining for 13 of the club's 16 scores on the ground. Gardner has completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 1,036 yards, but his TD- to-INT ratio could certainly stand some improvement as he has the same number of each (eight). Jeremy Gallon heads the receiving corps with 24 grabs for 367 yards and four TDs.
Opponents are scoring just 19.4 ppg against the UM defense, and they've had all kinds of trouble trying to run the football (90.4 ypg). The Wolverines have yet to allow a rushing TD. Morgan spearheads the attack with 34 tackles, and he has an interception, 2.5 TFL and a pair of PBU to his credit. Ross III is close behind with 32 stops, while Cameron Gordon has three of the team's 10 sacks, and Countess has four picks (tied for the national lead).
In Penn State's loss at Indiana last week, Robinson caught a career-high 12 balls for 173 yards and two TDs, helping freshman Christian Hackenberg go 30- of-55 for 340 yards and three scores -- his attempts setting a new school record. Tight end Kyle Carter also had a productive day with six receptions for 79 yards. The Penn State run game accounted for only 70 net yards, with Zach Zwinak carrying the ball 17 times for 72 yards.
Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions had a difficult time trying to contain the Indiana offense, which gained 486 yards and scored the most points against PSU since Wisconsin put up 45 back in 2011. Glenn Carson and Mike Hull led the Lions with 10 tackles apiece, and the defense was credited with seven TFL, four sacks, but only one turnover.
The Penn State offense is being credited with 31.4 points and 451.0 yards per game, with the pass generating 279.4 ypg (third-best in the Big Ten). The unit ranks last in the conference in converting third-down opportunities (.297), and is near the bottom in terms of sacks allowed (11). Hackenberg has thrown for more than 1,300 yards with eight TDs and four INTs, but he is completing just 59.9 percent of his tosses. Fortunately, having a guy like Robinson at your disposal helps tremendously, and the standout receiver leads the Big Ten with 38 catches for 621 yards and five scores. Zwinak leads all Nittany Lions ground gainers with 369 yards, and he has found the end zone eight times -- the team scoring 11 rushing TDs on the season.
Penn State has done a decent job limiting the opposition to 20.4 points and 325.2 yards per contest, with its effort against both the run (111.4 ypg) and the pass (213.8 ypg) ranking in the upper half of the conference standings. The Lions are tied for third in the league in sacks with 11, and they rank fourth in third-down conversion allowance (.295) and first on fourth down (0- of-5). Carson is the club's leading tackler with 39, and DaQuan Jones has made 6.5 of his 30 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams have performed well in the secondary, combining for 13 PBU.
With two losses in its last three games, Penn State is a team searching for answers right now. Michigan is the better squad on paper, but the Lions will surely put forth maximum effort, hoping to pull off the upset. In the end, expect the Wolverines to prevail behind another solid defensive effort.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan 30, Penn State 20
10/09 10:35:46 ET