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Penn State Nittany Lions

Know Your Foe Week 10: No. 5 Michigan Wolverines

  • Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Enrollment: 44,718 (undergraduates and post graduates)
  • Home Stadium: Michigan Stadium (Capacity 107,601)
  • Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh, fourth season, 35-12 (.745)
  • Conference: Big Ten (East Division)
  • Overall Bowl Record: 21-25 (.457)
  • Conference Titles: 42
  • Claimed National Titles: 11
  • First Game: October 16. 1933 (Michigan won, 21-13)
  • Last Game: October 21, 2017 (Penn State won, 42-13)
  • Overall: Michigan leads, 13-8
  • Current Streak: 1, Penn State

Michigan started off their 2017 season inn a big way, traveling to Italy for a week in April for training and sightseeing and even a meeting with the Pope. Sadly, the meeting with the Pontiff didn’t result in a fully blessed season, as the Wolverines went 8-5 overall (and 5-4 in the conference).

The Wolverines won their first four games of 2017 against No.17 Florida, Cincinnati, Air Force and Purdue, then lost to little brother Michigan State at home. Bouncing back briefly, Michigan went on to defeat Indiana before losing to No. 2 Penn State at Beaver Stadium by nearly 30 points. Michigan went on to win their next three matchups against Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland then lost back-to-back games against No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 8 Ohio State. Still, their season was enough to garner an invite to the New Year’s Day Outback Bowl, but Michigan lost 26-19 to South Carolina.

The Michigan Wolverines’ 2018 class ranks as the nation’s 22nd recruiting class (third in the Big Ten) as compared to Penn State’s 2018 class, ranked at sixth in the nation and second in the Big Ten (per 247 Sports).

Michigan, now No. 5, had a bye week last week after defeating little brother Michigan State 21-7. Michigan (now 7-1 overall, losing only to Notre Dame, and 5-0 in the conference) started the game with Devin Bush stomping on the Spartan logo in mid field, tearing up the turf. Bush was chippy after Michigan State players entered Spartan Stadium with linked arms from one end zone to another, clotheslining one of the Michigan players. The Big Ten fined Michigan State $10,000 for violating the conference’s sportsmanship policy and issued public reprimands to Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan linebacker Devin Bush for their behavior.

But what happened in the game? Well, after an hour or so delay due to weather concerns, the game finally started with the teams scoreless in the first quarter. The Wolverines scored first in the second quarter, and the Spartans answered in the third for a 7-7 tie. After that, Michigan scored two more times and it was over for the Spartans.

The Michigan defense yielded just 94 yards and seven points. The seven points scored by Michigan State were the fewest for the Spartans in this rivalry since 2002.

Wolverine quarterback Shea Patterson completed 14-of-25 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones had a 79-yard touchdown reception, the longest reception of his career. Running back Karan Higdon recorded his sixth consecutive appearance with a 100-yard rushing effort, finishing the game with 144 yards on career-high 33 carries.

Michigan’s offense has been one of the nation’s most efficient at passing this fall, at second in the Big Ten and 20th nationally in pass efficiency (154.86 rating). They’re now 51st in total offense (sixth in conference), 27th in scoring offense (third in the conference) and 33rd in rush offense (sixth in the conference).

After struggling against Notre Dame in their first matchup (where the offensive line could only allow offensive gains of 58 yards rushing on 33 carries and had their quarterback sacked three times) the Michigan offensive line has improved over the season.

That’s due in large part to the Wolverines returning four of five experienced players on the line: sophomore center Cesar Ruiz, formerly rated as the nation’s top center prospect, junior left guard Ben Bredeson (watch list for Outland Trophy), senior right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, and junior right guard Michael Onbwenu. Joining the returners is left tackle Jon Runyan.

Behind them is junior quarterback Shea Patterson, who’s gone 123 of 184 for a 66.8% completion percentage for 18th in the NCAA. Patterson is second in the conference and 22nd nationally in pass efficiency (155.48 rating) and has 1523 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He’s also rushed 40 times for 145 yards and one score. With these stats, it’s obvious why he’s up for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Patterson’s top targets in the air are tight end Zach Gentry (watch list for the Mackey Award) who leads the team with 23 receptions for 332 yards and one touchdown. The other Wolverine tight end, Sean McKeon, also on the watch list for the Mackey award, has caught 11 passes for 108 yards and one score. Receivers Nico Collins, third on the team in receptions with 21 for 320 yards and two scores, and Grant Perry with 16 receptions for 119 yards, have both had solid play.

Donovan Peoples-Jones is second on the team in receptions with 22 for 326 yards and leads the Wolverines with seven touchdowns (including one punt return).

In the running back corps, Karan Higdon, on the watch list for the Maxwell and Doak Walker awards, leads Michigan with 831 yards on 153 attempts for six scores, placing him eighth nationally and second in the Big Ten in rushing this season. Chris Evans with 38 attempts for 184 yards and two scores and Tru Wilson with 32 attempts for 217 yards and one score round out the running back unit. Fullback Ben Mason has hit six rushing touchdowns this season.

Michigan, leading the nation in total defense, leads the conference in five key stats: total defense, pass defense, pass efficiency first downs allowed and third down defense – and is second in scoring defense. The Wolverines lead the nation in pass defense, are second in pass efficiency defense and are ninth in rush defense. But Penn State defeated a tough Iowa defense and nearly defeated Michigan State’s stellar defense, so what’s another top Big Ten defensive unit?

This one’s different.

First of all, the line returns senior defensive end Chase Winovich, up for the Nagursky and a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik award, who ranks fifth in the conference and 31st nationally in tackles for loss per contest. He’s third on the Wolverines te4am with 43 tackles, 11 TFLs this season. Junior defensive end Rashan Gary returns, a preseason All-American selection and on the watch list for the Walter Camp Player of the Year and Bednarik and Nagurski awards. He’s sixth on the team with 22 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks this season even after missing several games due to injury. It’s unclear if he’ll play against the Nittany Lions this week so it’s likely that defensive End Kwitty Paye will fill in for Gary.

Senior defensive tackle Bryan Mone and junior defensive tackle Carlo Kemp round out the starting line.

In the linebacker unit, Michigan returns junior Devin Bush, up for the Walter Camp Player of the Year along with the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski awards. So far this year Bush leads the team with 49 tackles, seven TFLs, 4.5 sacks and two pass breakups. Junior Khaleke Hudson, also on the watch list for the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski awards is second in the conference and 19th in the NCAA for tackles for loss (1.3 average) and second in the conference and 33rd nationally in sacks (0.62 average). The other starter, Devin Gil, contributed 17 tackles, 1.5 TFLs and .5 sacks this season.

Cornerback David Long and Lavert Hill bring experience and talent to the Wolverines. Hill is one of 14 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award; only other Big Ten player is PSU’s Amani Oruwariye. Hill was named to watch list for the Nagurski Award as well. This year he’s contributed 10 tackles, one TFL and one interception and is second on the Wolverines with six PBUs this fall. David Long has tallied 11 tackles and a team-high seven pass breakups.

Safety Josh Metellus leads the team with three interceptions (placing him third in the conference and 26th nationally). Safety Tyree Kinnell lists second on the team with 44 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one pass breakup for 2018.

The Wolverines’ special teams unit has scored two touchdowns this season: Ambry Thomas with a 99-yard kickoff return against Notre Dame, and Donovan Peoples-Jones with a 60-yard punt return for a score against Nebraska.

Kicker Quinn Nordin, a junior and a 2018 Lou Groza Award candidate, has converted 33-of-34 extra points and 11-of-15 field goals. He leads the conference and is 16th nationally in total points scored (66). 16 of Punter Will Hart, on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, has had 16 of his 28 punts for 50 yards or more this season.

Check out the Michigan SB Nation blog Maize N Brew for more on Wolverines’ football.

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