Penn State are heavy underdogs when they head to Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon. That is not a huge surprise, but it was just a season ago that the Nittany Lions crushed the Wolverines 42-13. It would be an upset, but Trace McSorley and company have the potential to get a big win at the Big House.
The Penn State defense has gotten better as this season progressed and Michigan will not have an easy time throwing the ball. Quarterback Shea Patterson has not been terribly effective this season and now he will likely face the best pass rush he has seen all year. If Penn State, led by Yetur Gross-Matos and Shareef Miller, can get consistent pressure on Patterson, Michigan will have to rely quite heavily on quick routes to tight end Zach Gentry and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. And, of course, Michigan will have to look deeper down the field to stretch out the defense a little bit.
But most of Michigan’s offense should come from Karan Higdon. The senior running back rushed for 144 yards on 33 carries against Michigan State and Coach Jim Harbaugh has proven that he is not afraid to stick with the run when it is working. That could be good news for Penn State. Containing Higdon and the Michigan ground game will not be easy, but if Penn State can force the Wolverines to have a one-dimensional offense, the upset is half way there.
Penn State will have to find a way to crack the tough Michigan defense too. If Trace McSorley is the only weapon Penn State can muster, the Nittany Lions offense will be one-dimensional too. And the Wolverines defense is way too good for McSorley to beat them on his own. Last season McSorley threw for 282 yards and rushed for 76 more and accounted for four total touchdowns against Michigan. But Saquon Barkley was a key contributor in that game too. The Nittany Lions do not have Barkley anymore though and now it will be up to Miles Sanders to provide the team with a consistent ground game. So far this season Sanders has been steady, rushing for 834 yards and eight scores on 136 carries. But he has not had many big games against big teams except a 162 yard effort against Michigan State.
If Penn State can force Michigan to try and move the ball through the air and they can get a big play or two from Sanders to go along with McSorley’s inevitable production through the air and on the ground, this could be a very interesting game. It is also Penn State’s last chance to stay in the Big Ten East title race and get a signature win to impress the committee enough to earn a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl.