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- Hold the Home-Court Advantage
- Slow Down the Penn State Offense
- Win the Time of Possession Battle
- Make no Mistakes on Offense
On November 3, the Penn State Nittany Lions will travel to the Big House in Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines. Penn State has turned their program around under James Franklin and is once again a contender in the Big Ten. Michigan has begun to live up to some of the expectations that come with having a big-name coach such as Jim Harbaugh. Except for a season-opening loss to Notre Dame, Michigan has been downright dominant this season, winning its games by an average of over three touchdowns.
Michigan can undoubtedly beat Penn State in their head-to-head matchup. In general, Michigan is difficult to beat on its home field. Additionally. Michigan has a 13-8 edge in all-time Michigan vs Penn State series. The Nittany Lions prevailed in last year’s contest by a score of 42-13. Last season, Penn State entered the game in form, and it was not even close. For Michigan, this was an embarrassing loss that is still a topic of conversation in Ann Arbor.
Penn State started this year hot but has since dropped consecutive games to Ohio State and Michigan State. However, by the time the Michigan game rolls around, Penn State will have resumed their winning ways. Michigan is attempting to reach the College Football Playoffs. To do so, they will need to run the table in the Big Ten, which means winning this game. For Michigan, below are the keys to victory in this game.
Hold the Home-Court Advantage
Slow Down the Penn State Offense
The Nittany Lions offense is a powerful juggernaut this season. At the time of writing, Penn State is averaging 44 points per game. The Nittany Lions have a balanced offense that is led by quarterback Trace McSorley. Penn State has not lost a step after losing SaQuon Barkley to the pros in the offseason.
Michigan vs Penn State contests has not historically been barnburners. The Wolverines’ defense may be back on its heels for much of the game, but will it is still difficult to break. Under James Franklin, this is the most explosive Penn State offense perhaps ever, and defensive coordinator Don Brown will need to have the schemes to slow down this powerful offense.
Michigan will have to win the battle at the line of scrimmage against Penn State’s big and dominant offensive line. In addition, the Wolverines will need to keep a spy on McSorley at all times. McSorley can beat the Wolverines with his arm and legs, and he is getting more dangerous as a running threat as he gains more experience.
To date, Michigan has played a stifling defensive brand of football. It is the hallmark of a Jim Harbaugh-coached team. The Wolverines have been stout even against top opponents, and the defense will have to come up big against Penn State.
Win the Time of Possession Battle
Another way to slow down the Penn State offense is to keep it off of the field entirely. Michigan has been a great ball control offense all season long and, against Penn State, the Wolverines will have to continue that trend. Michigan controls the ball for 33 minutes per game, and if they maintain that same ratio against the Nittany Lions, they will absolutely win this game. The Wolverines do not necessarily run many more plays than their opponents, but they do excel at keeping their offense on the field.
The Wolverines are a great running team this season. They will have to have success running against a Penn State defense that is ordinarily not susceptible to being gashed on the ground. They will have to feed the ball to Karan Higdon early and often. Once Higdon gets going, the Wolverines are incredibly difficult to beat.
Make no Mistakes on Offense
Penn State came close to beating Ohio State on the strength of the turnovers forced by its defense. Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson is an efficient thrower who protects the football. Michigan has turned the ball over only five times this entire season, an average of less than one per game. If Michigan does not cough up the football at all, they will be well on the way to winning this game. All it takes against this Penn State squad is one turnover deep inside Michigan territory to give the Nittany Lions an opening.
Playing at home, Michigan will have an automatic advantage. With the Wolverines on a season-long hot streak, Penn State will be hard-pressed to come into Ann Arbor and pull off the win. However, Penn State does have the offense to match Michigan score for score. Michigan’s execution of its game plan and avoidance of errors will be key in deciding the outcome of the game.