Penn State and Michigan are set to face off in a top-10 matchup for only the second time. The last time was in 1994 when the third-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions beat the fifth-ranked Michigan Wolverines by a score of 31-24. While Michigan comes into this game as the higher-ranked team, Penn State has shown signs that they are ready to compete with anyone.
The First Big Ten Matchup with Seasons on the Line
Both teams are undefeated going into this game, yet they still find themselves on the outskirts of the potential Big Ten championship game. With Ohio State also starting the season undefeated, the Buckeyes remain the highest-ranked of the Big Ten schools at No. 2 in the AP Top 25. Michigan is ranked at No. 5, and Penn State is barely in the top ten at No. 10. Considered the better team by most, Michigan is going into the game on October 15 as seven-point favorites as of the publishing of this article.
As Big Ten Champions and a College Football Playoff team in 2021, there are big expectations for this year's Michigan team. Last year was the first time head coach Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines took down both Ohio State and Penn State,. Although they fell to Georgia in the Orange Bowl, it was everything Michigan fans had been waiting for since Harbaugh took over in 2015. With a resume like Harbaugh's, it was surprising how long it took his team to finally beat Ohio State and win a conference championship.
Now that the stigma surrounding his name is pretty much gone, the jury is still out on if a new Big Ten dynasty is in the works.
Penn State Has Nothing to Prove and Everything to Gain
While Michigan came into the season with a conference championship to defend, this Penn State team started the season with nothing to prove. This was precisely what the team needed, and proving everyone wrong was just an added chip on their shoulder. Also undefeated, the Nittany Lions have faced much harder opponents than Michigan and have still been able to show dominance in each contest.
Against Northwestern and Ohio, the Nittany Lions defense showed just how good they can be. Against Purdue and Auburn, they proved how explosive their offense is. With 35 points or more in three of their first five games, they look different than the previous teams fans had seen under quarterback Sean Clifford.
The bulk of Penn State's offensive success comes from the running back position. Freshmen Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen have made an immediate impact for the Nittany Lions So far this season, the pair has combined for 766 yards and eight touchdowns. This two-headed monster at running back is going to continue to be a problem for opposing defenses all year long.
Luckily for Michigan, run defense is one of their many specialties, and they only give up 81.7 rushing yards per game. This will be a great test for Penn State, as they are averaging more than double that per game on the ground.
Like Penn State, Michigan also relies on its run game for much of its offensive success. With a quarterback controversy stretching from the offseason until Week 1, it is no surprise that the Wolverines are running the ball more than they are throwing it. Unlike the Penn State rushing attack, Michigan relies on just one workhouse back. Through six weeks, starting running back Blake Corum is top-three in the country in both rushing yards and touchdowns. Against fellow Big Ten opponent Maryland in Week 4, Corum ran wild for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
Can the Nittany Lions Stop the Wolverines Offensive Line?
If the Penn State defense can find a way to stop Corum — and the dominant force that is the Michigan offensive line — they have a chance to win. The Penn State secondary is one of the better units in college football and can shut down the Wolverines' receivers. While quarterback J.J. McCarthy has played well since taking over the starting job, he is inexperienced and has had the luxury of a dominant rushing attack from day one.
Coming off of a bye week, Penn State should be better rested and more prepared than Michigan. If they are and can pull off the upset on the road, they will see themselves shoot up the rankings, giving themselves a chance at the Big Ten Championship and their first College Football Playoff berth.
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