Game Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Michigan Wolverines

By Matthew Filipovits on November 27, 2020 at 3:00 pm
Nov 21, 2020; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Cade McNamara (12) rolls out during the third quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at SHI Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
© Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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Well folks, we finally made it. Back in January, this was looked at as one of the most anticipated games of the year. Now, it's a game we all can't wait to be over.

  Penn State Michigan
2020 Record 0-5 2-3
Head Coaches James Franklin (80-43, 56-28 with Penn State) Jim Harbaugh (107-48, 49-21 with Michigan)
Kickoff 12:00 PM EDT 
Television ABC
Stream Watch Fox Sports
spread Michigan -2.0

Quarterback conundrum

Both the Nittany Lions and Wolverines have had quarterback problems this season. The Nittany Lions have bounced between Sean Clifford and Will Levis, while the Wolverines are figuring things with Joe Milton and Cade McNamara. It would not be unrealistic to see all four quarterbacks get extended run on Saturday, something which rarely makes for an enjoyable viewing experience.

James Franklin and Kirk Ciarrocca have to decide what they want their quarterback's focus to be, running the ball or still trying to figure things out in the passing game. If they choose the former, Levis is the guy. The latter means it's Clifford. Michigan has to choose between the big-armed Milton or the less-experienced McNamara, who impressed at Rutgers last week. Both offer unique challenges for a Penn State defense that's been getting picked apart each week.

The cure for the common offense

Michigan's defense is not great, tying with Penn State for No. 13 in the conference in points allowed per game (36.0). The Wolverines' pass defense has been abysmal, a very welcome sight for sputtering Penn State quarterback room. Don Brown's unit is allowing 274 yards per game through the air, most of any Big Ten team that's played five games. They've also mustered just two picks all season, tied for the fewest in the conference. If Penn State's passing attack is going to wake up this season, this is their best chance.

The Wolverines run defense isn't much better, allowing over 163 yards per game. With Devyn Ford's status up in the air, this will be the perfect test for Penn State's two freshman backs, Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee. Levis and Clifford could also run wild, with the duo being the best running quarterbacks the Wolverines have faced so far.

Start Strong

The Nittany Lions have been dreadful in first halves this season, often falling into insurmountable holes before the third quarter even begins. With the exception of the Indiana and Iowa games, they've mustered next to nothing on opening drives, and gradually imploded as the first half continues. They need to finally come out ready to play if they want to have any chance in this one.

With Pat Freiermuth and possibly Devyn Ford out, Jahan Dotson needs to be the skill guy who steps up and sets the tone. The offense is at its best when he's the focal point, which in turn frees up space for the other receivers like freshman standout Parker Washington. Dotson is approaching Barkley/Hamler-type levels of importance to their respective offenses and he needs to get the ball in his hands as often as possible.

maniacally laugh at Michigan's misfortune if...

  • Penn State doesn't turn the ball over. Believe it or not, Penn State is averaging 279 passing yards per game, fourth-most in the Big Ten, but turnovers are killing drives and confidence. If the Nittany Lions hold onto the football, they'll get their first win of the season.
  • The Nittany Lion defense forces Michigan to become one-dimensional. The Wolverines haven't rushed the ball all that well, mustering just 123 yards per game. The Nittany Lions need to bottle up the rushing attack and force the Wolverines to beat them through the air with one of their inexperienced quarterbacks.
  • The offensive line gives Sean Clifford or Will Levis time to throw. Both quarterbacks have shown happy feet at times, killing plays before they get a chance to develop. Penn State's new-look offensive line has been an improvement on the previous incarnation, but they need to bring their A-game against a well-coached front seven.

Start Preparing Yourself for a winless season if...

  • The playcalling doesn't evolve. If we're being honest, Kirk Ciarrocca's debut season has left a lot to be desired. He's been predictable in a lot of situations and you can believe Don Brown will have his guys knowing what's coming.
  • The linebackers have another rough afternoon. Brent Pry's linebackers have looked lost at times, especially early in games. Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa need to have big games and stay disciplined in order to allow the younger, more athletic options (Brandon Smith, Lance Dixon, Curtis Jacobs) to fly to the ball and make plays.
  • The secondary allows another quarterback to have a career day. Penn State has let pretty much every quarterback they've faced pick them apart. For a unit that was supposed to be a strength, everything has gone wrong. It's time for the guys back there to live up to their blue-chip billings.

Prediction in gif form

This one isn't going to be pretty.

The Nittany Lions are going to come out looking sluggish (a noon kick between two bad teams will do that to you) and get hit with a three-and-out. Continuing on his hot streak, McNamara will pick apart this Penn State secondary all afternoon, leading to an early 17-0 lead. He'll make a mistake late in the half and allow Penn State to muster a field goal heading into the break.

Ciarrocca will settle his guys down in the second half and the offense will start looking like they've figured some things out. They tie it up late in the third leading to the best/worst fourth quarter you've ever imagined. Penn State's defense falls into their old habits and allows some back-breaking plays, letting Michigan eke out a 27-20 win and sending Penn State further down in their tailspin.

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