Michigan Wolverines vs. Penn State Nittany Lions

Next up for Michigan: Penn State

Matchup: No. 5 Michigan (7-1, 5-0) vs. No. 17 Penn State (6-2, 3-2)

When: 3:45 p.m., Saturday

Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor.

TV/radio: ESPN; WWJ-AM (950), WTKA-AM (1050).

Line: TBA.

More: Ask Nick: What Tarik Black’s return could do for Michigan football

More: Michigan football’s bond as a team beginning to shine through

Know the foe: Penn State’s gotten off the ground after back-to-back home losses against Ohio State and Michigan State earlier this season. But nothing’s been overly pretty. The Ohio State loss happened in the fourth quarter and was aided by some curious coaching decisions. The Michigan State loss was an offensive meltdown for four quarters. Trace McSorley slipped by Indiana on the road and Penn State needed a late interception on the goal line last week to stop Iowa at home. Offensively, this is all about Trace McSorley. He’s thrown for 1,628 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions while rushing for 617 yards and nine scores. Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton are gone. Miles Sanders is a talented back and K.J. Hamler (a Michigan native) can fly. But this is a young group. And defensively, there are holes, as the Nittany Lions have given up 424.4 yards per game in Big Ten play. 

Three things to watch

Rust off

Michigan entered its bye last week with plenty of momentum and confidence. The off week came at a good time as it allowed the Wolverines to get some rest and reset after eight straight weeks. Same time, there’s always some rust after a weekend off. Penn State’s a talented football team, but like Michigan a year ago, it’s a young group still trying to figure itself out. This is also a home game for Michigan, so in many ways, it feels like the best case scenario to move off a bye. You’re at home, you’re playing a quality opponent that’ll require great focus. We’ll see if there’s an adjustment period. 

Health situations

Rashan Gary’s shoulder injury, per his mother, is going to keep him on the sideline until it is fully healed. How long will that be? Depends on his shoulder. Michigan’s basically been without Gary now for a month, though, and continues to get solid production from the defensive end duo of Kwity Paye and Josh Uche. Either way, keeping McSorley inside and in front will be critical for all ends this week. Offensively, Saturday could be the long-awaited return of wide receiver Tarik Black, who dressed at Michigan State but did not play. Black hasn’t been on the field since last September and could add another layer for Michigan’s offense. Elsewhere, Juwann Bushell-Beatty said he’d be fine after the MSU game, but will see how his leg is doing. 

Title tour

Michigan dubbed this three-game stretch, which concludes this week, its “revenge tour.” But now, given the rest of the Big Ten landscape, the Wolverines are entering November on a title tour. If Michigan wins its final four games, it’ll be in Indianapolis playing for the Big Ten title and a shot at the College Football Playoff. It’s that simple. Championships are won in November, and the old cliche of “every week is a championship game” really starts to count now. Any slip-ups and things get complicated. Michigan has a golden opportunity here. And that process continues Saturday vs. Penn State.