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Breaking Down The Wolverines: Michigan Football Preview

For the first time since 2013, the Michigan Wolverines will head into Happy Valley to take on the Nittany Lions. In case you forgot, that last game went a little something like this:

The game turned out to be an instant classic for college football, and is still fresh in the minds of Penn State fans everywhere. Anytime you’re in Beaver Stadium the pre-game highlight reel of great Penn State moments over the years flashes, and it includes JoePa tributes, National Championships being hoisted, LaVarr Arrington’s leaping sacks, and of course this:

And don’t forget the signature sound bite from this epic 2013 matchup that rings out into Beaver Stadium “Touchdown Penn State!” every single game.

A lot has changed for both teams since this matchup. A few guys from both teams in that game are playing on Sundays in the NFL, and some have matured into full-blown stars (cough, Nassib, cough). The biggest change for the Wolverines and Nittany Lions has been coaching. The 2013 game was showdown between Bill O’Brien and Brady Hoke, and they’ve since been replaced by James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh.

Michigan comes into this game ranked as the nation’s No. 14 team, and rightfully so. It is headed by a football genius in Harbaugh, and has one of the best and most consistent defensive units in the country. Here’s an in-depth breakdown of each facet of the Michigan Wolverines football team.

Offense 

The Michigan offense is somewhere between good and okay. It scores enough points to win games and put opponents in tough positions, but it’s far from unstoppable. What is worrisome about the unit is the quarterback Jake Rudock. Labels of speedy, shifty, athletic, or mobile certainly aren’t accurate descriptors for Rudock, but he can run if he needs to, and Penn State absolutely struggles against even remotely mobile quarterbacks. Rudock boasts a nice 2,220 yards on a consistent 64% completion rate. The team doesn’t have just one lethal target at receiver, they actually have three. Amara Darboh, Jake Butt, and Jehu Chesson all have caught for over 460 yards, and two of the three (Butt and Darboh) have 500 and 567 receiving yards, respectively. Butt is a lethal 6’6″ behemoth who can not only go up and snag long balls, but can run the short route, and most importantly this top-tier tight end can block the best of opponents. The running back De’Veon Smith is a shifty, speedy back who can burn defenders but likely will not flourish against pressure from the Penn State defense. Simply put, the Michigan offense is consistent and will put points up against its opponents if the opposition plays soft or complacently. Penn State’s ability to shut down the offense will be the most integral key to a White Out victory Saturday.

Defense 

The Michigan defense will arguably be the best one Penn State will play this season. What makes the Michigan defense so difficult to handle is its smarts, consistency, and physicality. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Big Ten is arguably the best defensive conference in the country, and Michigan is one of the main reasons why. The linebacking corps of Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden lead the team in tackling, but they have also proven to be the team’s vocal leaders responding to new offensive sets on the fly. The defensive line is loaded with speed and power, and two of the big guys up front, Henry and Wormley, have combined for 10 sacks.

The secondary for the Wolverines has proven to be just as strong and consistent as its counterparts up front.Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers lead the secondary with, respectively, 18 pass breakups and two picks, and 32 tackles and seven pass breakups. Each part of this defense is like a cog in a machine, working together to create a consistent end product. Disciplined and led by a defensive minded coaching unit that heralds itself on tough defense, it hardly allows itself to make stupid mistakes or be outplayed in terms of effort. Scoring on the defense will be tough for the Nittany Lions, but don’t lose all faith yet.

Special Teams

The special teams for the Wolverines is solid, although has suffered some hiccups. Jabrill Peppers, the shifty Paramus Catholic (NJ) graduate, can light it up on special teams as a returner. He’s quick and shifty in tight spaces, fast on the breakaway, and powerful enough to lower his shoulder and take a tackler out. The Penn State special teams will have to shut him down, or he could capitalize on every opportunity. Kicker Kenny Allen has only made 14/18 field goal attempts this season, but hasn’t missed a single extra point. The punt game for the Wolverines has been a rollercoaster. They gave up one of the most heartbreaking and memorable losses in a game that will be talked about for years to come on this play against rival Michigan State:

Coaching 

Simply put, Harbaugh is a coaching genius. From handling the media to hyping the guys in the locker room to the X’s and O’s on a chalkboard, Harbaugh can flat-out lead his team on every front. He’s coached a Super Bowl game, and few college coaches can add anything remotely close to that on their resume. He took a 5-7 (3-5 B1G) team and turned it into one of the nation’s best programs at No. 14 in fewer than 365 days. It is scary to think how far Harbaugh can take Michigan in the coming years, as even after one year, Harbaugh has molded this team into one of the best in recent times.

Overall 

Michigan is very, very good. It tackles football with the simple mindset of limiting opponent points, and scoring more. With all of this being said, Michigan can be beat. Michigan State and Utah did it, and sure they’re two of the best teams in the nation, but just wait. Last week, Michigan slithered away from an upset bid by the Indiana Hoosiers in double overtime, and gave up 41 points in the process. Let’s not forget a few things here that any Penn State fan should know:

  • It’s a White Out in Beaver Stadium. There’s something electric in the air on White Out game days. On any given day Penn State can play incredible, and for the White Out crowd this will hold true. We’ve already talked about what happened last time the Wolverines visited in White Out conditions.
  • This (sadly) could be Hackenberg’s last game in Beaver Stadium. We don’t want to jump to conclusions, but he might be leaving. That means there is no chance that he will come out and lay down on Saturday in what could be his last White Out. He’s gotten better every game and he will deliver for his team, coaches, and fans on Saturday.
  • Any Given Day. If the Nittany Lions come out and compete physically and limit mental mistakes there will be a showdown in Beaver Stadium, no doubt. Erase the thoughts that come with No. 14 before Michigan and just remember that any given day, a team can fall. Watch out Wolverines.

Tune into ABC to see the game kick off at noon, or we’ll see you here at Beaver Stadium for the White Out in what we hope becomes another instant classic.

About the Author

Tim Reams

is the HR Strategic Partner for Onward State, but he's still churning out the good photos and stories occasionally. He's a junior majoring in Labor Employment Relations, minoring in one too many things, and he'll probably become the next Onward State schmuck to go to law school. Tim comes from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area (yes where the TV show the office is based off of) and was raised a die hard fan of all things Penn State. For any inquiries or spamming email [email protected], or feel free to sliiiiide into his DMs on twitter @TPReams.

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