Penn State's Offense Vs. Michigan's Defense Is Key Matchup In White Out Affair

By Kaitlyn Dividock on October 18, 2017 at 8:00 am
Oct 14, 2017; Bloomington, IN, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive linemen Rashan Gary (3) reacts to Michigan sacking the Indiana Hoosiers quarterback at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sport
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sport

It's no secret that No. 16 Michigan's defense is one of the most difficult to play against in the nation.

With a lacking offense that's missing quarterback Wilton Speight to injury via three fractured vertebrae, it’s basically been the only thing keeping the Wolverines in both winning contention, and, perhaps more importantly, locked in the AP Top 25.

They're allowing an average of only 14.7 points a game, which is a significantly smaller number than the average points we're used to Penn State putting up on its opponents week-to-week. That being said, the Nittany Lions won't be tallying 40-plus points this time around, even with good Heisman boy Saquon Barkley leading the charge.

Michigan's defense is playing at a national championship level. The Wolverines hold the eighth-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing only 10 total touchdowns and six field goals against in six games. They also possess the second best defensive S&P, one that's only topped by No. 1 Alabama. Moreover, not only do they have a brilliant front seven to explode through the trenches, the Wolverines boast one of the best linebacker cores in Division I football, highlighted by the speedy Devin Bush Jr.

The key matchup in Saturday's bout really comes down to how well Penn State's offense can fair against an incredibly tough Michigan defense. As highly ranked in the S&P as it is (currently 13th), the Lions' offense is unfortunately one the Wolverines can stop. Everyone will be looking at how well Barkley can do, but against Michigan's aforementioned front seven, Penn State's offensive line will most likely struggle, just as it did against Northwestern.

It's currently ranked 87th in adjusted line yards, 11th in adjusted sack rate, 118th in stuff rate, and 127th in power success rate. Opportunity rate is really the only place where this unit succeeds. And taking all of this into consideration, what Barkley has managed to do against opposing teams all season is pretty remarkable. He's been able to take nothing and turn it into a jaw-dropping highlight clip on his 2017 Heisman reel.

What's concerning is that alongside its front seven being stellar, Michigan also has the fourth best unit in rushing success rate. It won't be surprising if Barkley gets shut down the same way he was shut down in last year in Ann Arbor. He only garnered 59 yards on 15 rushes. Of course, it's best to keep our eyes forward rather than remembering the past. The Nittany Lions did play lights out after they were embarrassed that game, so who's to say it'll happen again?

This is where Trace McSoreley needs to shut up all the naysayers and guide his team to a prime time victory. Joe Moorhead can try and disrupt Michigan's defensive line with a lot of run-pass options (RPOs), but it really comes down to how well McSoreley can complete passes when they're needed the most. Let's just forget the fact that the Wolverines also have the best pass defense in the nation too...

It's important to note that No. 2 Penn State is coasting into this White Out game high off the coattails of a very lucrative bye week, moving up in the polls without having to do any real work. Hopefully the team hasn't become lethargic in that 14-day stretch. Michigan, however, is coming off an OT victory against Indiana, and I doubt its happy about how close that final score ended up being.

It goes without saying that Saturday won't be a cake walk like the beginning of the season was. Let's hope Penn State's offense can piggy-back off the White Out atmosphere and prove all the advanced statisticians wrong.

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