The Michigan football will face its first Big Ten road test when they travel to face off against Penn State on Saturday. Michigan (5-0, 1-0 B1G) will come in following a victory over Minnesota by a score of 42-13. Penn State (3-2, 0-1) comes in at the other end of the spectrum following an embarrassing loss to Indiana, 44-24. The game will kick off at 5 p.m. EST on ESPN.
After struggling in its previous two games, Michigan finally came through with a solid victory over the Golden Gophers last week. The shakeup in the offensive line — inserting Chris Bryant at left guard and moving Graham Glasgow to center — proved to work out pretty well as the Wolverines played a lot better. Expect to see that same offensive front out there again, paving the way for the Michigan offense.
Michigan has had a problem with turnovers this season, but Devin Gardner and company were able to avoid turning the ball over for the first time since 2011.
Gardner turned in a pretty solid performance overall, passing for 235 yards and completed 13 of his 17 passes. This can be attributed to having a bye week prior to the game as well as the offensive line limiting the pressure on Gardner.
While the line was able to protect the quarterback pretty well, the running game wasn’t quite as successful as it should be. Michigan managed just 113 yards on 35 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per carry. However, Fitzgerald Toussaint turned in a gutty performance, averaging 4.6 yards on each of his 17 carries, good for a game high 78 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Sophomore tight end Devin Funchess broke out in a big way against Minnesota. It was in the gameplan to get Funchess more involved and in a number of positions. We saw Funchess catch a career high 7 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. He lined up at tight end, as well as out wide and in the slot. At 6’5″ with good speed, Funchess is a mismatch for any linebacker, corner or safety that attempts to defend him. I hope to see Michigan go to him more and maybe even move him to the wide receiver position permanently. Funchess would give Gardner another weapon along with Jeremy Gallon and Jehu Chesson. The emergence of Jake Butt and A.J. Williams at tight end will make for a much smoother transition for the offense.
The Michigan offense will line up against a Penn State defense that has actually been decent before last week’s game against Indiana. Indiana racked up 486 yards of total offense against the Nittany Lions on their way to its first defeat of Penn State in school history. On the season, Penn State has held opponents to 325.2 yards per game, good for 20th best in the country.
The Michigan defense played pretty well against Minnesota, only allowing one touchdown in the contest. It could potentially get a boost as we could see Jake Ryan return to the field on Saturday. Ryan would add to an already solid defense, one that ranks 13th in the country in yards allowed. Blake Countess intercepted his fourth pass of the season, (which he returned for a touchdown) tied for the most in college football.
Pressuring the quarterback has been the major concern for the defense and it had just one sack a week ago. Mitch Leidner gave Michigan fits as he was able to scramble around to convert some big third downs early in the game. I expect to see Michigan use a variety of blitzes to pressure Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Hackenberg has performed well in his first college season, as he has already thrown for over 1,300 yards. His favorite target is All-Big Ten receiver Allen Robinson who has caught 38 passes for 621 yards and 5 touchdowns. This is a match-up Michigan should focus on heading into the game.
Michigan got two early-season wake-up games against weaker opponents. It might just prove to be exactly what it needed. They rebounded last week to finally play in a game that wasn’t stressful when they defeated Minnesota. I have no reason to believe they won’t continue this trend as the season progresses, especially if it gets Jake Ryan back soon. I’ve got Michigan winning on the road at State College 35-14. What do you think?
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