MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (5-1)
at PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (6-0)
Beaver Stadium – State College PA
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Line: Penn State -9.5, Total: 45
A Saturday takedown of #2 Penn State would be Jim Harbaugh's biggest win as #19 Michigan head coach.
Last weekend, the college football world saw upsets of two top five teams and two more top ten teams. The number of unbeaten Power Five programs dwindled to six, with one of those teams being the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State is 6-0 (5-1 ATS), and is now coming off a bye week after having blown out two straight Big Ten opponents in Indiana and Northwestern. The week before that, the Nittany Lions narrowly escaped in an impossibly tight victory at Iowa. Penn State must now face what is a glaringly difficult three-game stretch on their schedule, beginning on Saturday night with a home bout against Michigan. The Wolverines are 5-1 (3-3 ATS), having suffered a 14-10 loss to Michigan State in brutal weather two weeks ago, and not looking much better last week in a 27-20 overtime win over Indiana. The team's offense has noticeably struggled, especially in recent weeks, as it has failed to hit 30 points since Week 2 against Cincinnati. Over the last 10 seasons, home favorites that have gone Under the total by 28 or more points in their last three games (PSU) are 83-42 ATS in matchups between two winning teams. In the same time frame, home teams coming off of a game in which they allowed no more than three points in the first half (PSU) are 41-14 Under against totals between 42.5 and 49 in games involving two teams that are outscoring opponents by 10+ PPG.
In a win over Purdue late last month, starting Michigan QB Wilton Speight went down with a back injury. Since, it has been established that he has three broken vertebrae, and is likely to miss the rest of the year. In for the Wolverines now is QB John O'Korn. While Speight was now big-time playmaker, the transition to O'Korn has seemingly been a significant downgrade. He had an awful outing against Michigan State, completing 16 of 35 passes for 198 yards and three interceptions, but he probably shouldn't have been throwing the ball at all in that weather. His stat line from last week looks even more brutal, as he completed 10 of 20 passes for a sad 58 yards in the near-loss to Indiana. It's difficult to imagine O'Korn leading this offense to enough points to topple Penn State, but his primary objective will have to be avoiding turnovers. Fortunately for the unit, RB Karan Higdon stepped up with an absolutely enormous day, carrying the ball 25 times for 200 yards and three scores against the Hoosiers. His previous high on the season for rushing yards was 65 against MSU, but he has posted strong per-carry averages in multiple games this season. RB Ty Isaac still figures to see a significant workload, as well. WR Grant Perry leads Wolverine receiver with 18 catches for 224 yards on the year, but didn't catch a single ball against Indiana. Highly touted freshman WR Donovan Peoples-Jones had four catches for 34 yards in that game--a breakout on his part would certainly help this weak offense.
Penn State RB Saquon Barkley is at the head of the Heisman Trophy race right now, and his stats make it easy to see why. Barkley has 649 rushing yards (6.4 YPC) and six rushing touchdowns, and also leads the Nittany Lions with 29 catches for 395 yards, and also has a couple receiving scores. Recent opponents Northwestern and Indiana have taken to stuffing the box to contain him and have done a decent job, all things considered. The problem is that they have left most of the field bare in doing so, enabling QB Trace McSorley to sling the ball around unencumbered. He completed 25 of 34 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown against Northwestern, and he topped 300 yards passing a week earlier against Indiana. Unlike those teams, Michigan has a dominant defensive line that doesn't figure to need excessive help in slowing down the run game, so McSorley will likely be throwing against more (and more talented) DBs than he's been used to. He's not quite the bombs-away deep threat he was last year now that he's without WR Chris Godwin, but he still stands out as the best quarterback in his conference. WR DaeSean Hamilton headlines a deep group of skilled receivers, which also includes WRs Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompson and Saeed Blacknall, plus TE Mike Gesicki.