Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Michigan

Get ready for another football Saturday at Beaver Stadium tomorrow evening as the Nittany Lions (3-2) are set to face the Michigan Wolverines (5-0). Penn State, coming off a tough loss in the Big Ten opener against Indiana, will try and contain Michigan’s prolific offense and get back on track with a victory. Kickoff is at 5:00 p.m. Let’s take a look at what our writers think about the game:

Zach Berger:

Michigan 31, Penn State 24

If Penn State’s defense has proven one thing, it’s that it can stop the run from time-to-time but couldn’t stop the pass if it had the offense’s play call. Devin Gardner certainly isn’t the best passer in the world, but he’s good enough to take advantage of the Nittany Lions’ secondary, especially with a solid receiver like Jeremy Gallon.

The Penn State front seven is good, but not great, and certainly not good enough to stop the Michigan run attack that combines Gardner and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. The Wolverines will move the ball on Penn State at will. I am somewhat optimistic that the defense can avoid a complete implosion, but it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if the Nittany Lions give up 40+ points for the second consecutive Saturday.

As for the offense, it all comes down to how well Christian Hackenberg plays and if he can protect the ball. He threw three touchdowns last week and avoided any turnovers, but he was lucky that Indiana defensive backs dropped multiple balls that would have been interceptions. Michigan’s secondary isn’t anything special, so there’s potential for Hackenberg, Allen Robinson, Brandon Felder, and the rest of the pass attack to have a field day. Michigan’s defensive line will limit the Penn State running back trio, but they’ll get yards. They always do.

Michigan leads for most of the game. Either Penn State’s offense falls short on a potential game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter or Penn State’s defense gives up a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. Either way, it will be a nighttime heartbreaker at Beaver Stadium.

Alex Robinson:

Michigan 31, Penn State 28.

I have no idea what is going to happen during this game. Both of these teams have played very well at certain points during the year and both have also been outright terrible at times.

The defense needs to key on just one man: Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner. The Wolverines’ offense goes as he goes. If Gardner can play relatively mistake-free football and not be affected by the White House crowd, Michigan will win. If he plays like he did against UConn and Akron where he turned the ball over a combined seven times, Penn State should have a good chance. The Deion Barnes-Taylor Lewan battle up front will likely determine how comfortable Gardner will be.

On offense, the one-on-one matchup to watch is Allen Robinson vs. Michigan cornerback Blake Countess. Robinson is coming off one of the best games of his career in a 12-catch, 173-yard performance against Indiana and is climbing the ranks of the best receivers in the country. He will likely go up against Countess, a corner with a nation-leading four interceptions on the year. If Christian Hackenberg isn’t careful, Countess could take advantage of the young quarterback’s inexperience.

Whoever turns the ball over last will lose this game, and I have a gut feeling that it will be Hackenberg. Penn State loses another heartbreaker to the Wolverines, and sends the White House crowd home with a loss for the fourth time in five years.

Bobby Chen: 

Michigan 31, Penn State 20

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, while dangerous, is far from a polished passer. With some good scheming and a little luck, he is beatable. (See: Michigan’s near upset by Akron at the Big House earlier this season).

Despite Gardner’s exploitable weaknesses, I don’t expect Penn State to keep pace with the Wolverines’ talented offense. Christian Hackenberg is beginning to cool off after his red-hot start to the season and I don’t think he’ll bounce back against a defense of Michigan’s caliber.

I can see a Penn State upset win, though, if the Nittany Lions commit to the ground-and-pound and keep the pressure off Hackenberg, while making just enough defensive plays to keep a victory within reach.

Greg Schlosser:

Penn State 37, Michigan 28

Offensively, I see Penn State getting back on track after struggling against Indiana. I fully expect Hackenberg to have a good game, as it’s only a matter of time for him to break out after struggling the past few weeks. I also expect the Nittany Lions to run the ball a lot more this week. O’Brien faced a lot of criticism for throwing the ball 55 times last week, so I expect to see both Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak to get a lot of carries early in the game.

Defensively, Penn State learned last Saturday that no week is an off week in Big Ten play. It was a tough lesson to learn, but I expect them to be ready to go this week against a much better offense. All it will take is one big play — like a Jordan Lucas interception — in front of a White Out crowd to get this defense back on track. Defending Devin Gardner and Fitz Toussaint won’t be easy, but holding them under 30 points should give Penn State a good chance to win this one.

Mike Reisman:

Michigan 31, Penn State 21

I could see this game going a few ways. Penn State has seemed to play much better against better opponents since the sanctions came down (i.e. Northwestern, Wisconsin last year), probably because these games provide bowl-like atmospheres. This, combined with Michigan’s inconsistency, could lead to a Penn State win. They have the talent to keep up with the Wolverines and a serious home-field advantage.

However, just like Michigan, Penn State has proven to be very inconsistent this year. The secondary, and really the defense as a whole, has been average at best. Unfortunately, I see it being close early, with Penn State either going three-and-out or losing the ball on one possession, Michigan getting a two-possession lead and never looking back. But if the Nittany Lions can keep it close going into the fourth quarter, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the magic of the White Out give Penn State a victory.

David Abruzzese: 

Penn State: 21, Michigan: 17

This may not seem possible in any way, shape, or form if you watched last week’s debacle. However, there is still a chance that Penn State could pull this one out. Christian Hackenberg needs to be sharp, with little to no mental mistakes against the Wolverines secondary. If he can get in a groove early, the offense should be able to click. Allen Robinson will do what Allen Robinson does as usual, and hopefully he can carry this offense.

The true test will be for this defense and their ability to slow down Gardner and keep the passing game in check. The other key will be for the defensive line to get some pressure on the quarterback and for the linebackers to avoid getting washed down easily.

The can’t miss matchup to watch this weekend will be Deion Barnes vs. Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan. Lewan is a top NFL prospect and could be a first round pick next April and should provide Barnes with his toughest matchup yet. If the stars align Saturday night, Penn State could emerge victorious.

Kyle Lucas:

Michigan 37, Penn State 24

Offensively, Penn State will need a strong performance by its offensive line in helping to establish the running game. Penn State should look to pound the ball with running backs Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch. The return of receiver Brandon Felder will help bolster the passing game and give Hackenberg another option other than Allen Robinson to throw too.

Penn State’s defense will have its hands full Saturday with Devin Gardner, the Wolverines quarterback. Gardner isn’t the best passer but he will try and exploit our weakness in the secondary. However, it will be the play of the defensive line that is key. The game will come down to Penn State’s ability to pressure the dual-threat quarterback but keep him in the pocket.

Bill DiFilippo:

Michigan 34, Penn State 21

After last week’s game against Indiana, there’s no way I can pick Penn State without looking like a massive homer. I get that Michigan has been inconsistent across the board this year, and that anything can happen when Penn State has a night game, but come on. Christian Hackenberg has taken a small step back, tons of guys (especially on the offensive line) are banged up, and after last week, how can anyone have any confidence in the defense?

Words can’t describe how badly I hope I’m wrong, but I think Michigan runs all over Penn State, Devin Gardner shreds the team’s secondary, and the Wolverines walk out of Happy Valley with a convincing win.

CJ Doon:

Michigan 27 Penn State 21

If last week’s horror show against Indiana taught us anything, it’s that this year’s squad is anything but predictable. Heading into last Saturday’s game against the Hoosiers – a team Penn State had never lost to in sixteen games – the Lions seemed poised and confident to deliver a quality road win. Instead, Nate Sudfeld & Co. shredded the hapless Penn State defense, compiling 486 total yards en route to a 44-24 victory.

No matter what the coaches or experts say, the confidence of this team is shaken after last week’s loss. There’s no doubt about it. For Penn State to have any chance at defeating the unbeaten Wolverines, they need to start fast, keep the sellout Whitehouse crowd loud, and minimize their mistakes.

Michigan is vulnerable. Akron and UConn, two of the worst teams in the FBS, pushed the Wolverines to their breaking point, with Michigan narrowly avoiding defeat in both contests. Akron, a 1-5 team with losses to Louisiana Lafayette and Bowling Green was one play away from knocking off Michigan in the Big House. One. Play. Do the 5-0 Wolverines still sound so scary?

Yes, Devin Gardner is a great player. He is one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the B1G, let alone the nation. And yes, Michigan has a great coach in Brady Hoke, an excellent running back in Fitzgerald Toussaint, and a talented receiver in Jeremy Gallon. And while sloppy at times, they also possess a talented defense.

I think Penn State delivers one of its best games of the year Saturday evening, but its just not quite enough to upset the Wolverines. The Lions get the running game back on track with a solid contributions from Zwinak, Belton, and Lynch, while Hackenberg continues to impress with another stellar performance. However, Michigan’s potent offense proves to be too much to handle for Penn State’s struggling defense, spoiling Homecoming night in Happy Valley.

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