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Five Things Penn State Must Do To Beat Michigan

No. 14 Penn State will travel to Ann Arbor to take on No. 5 Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines are having a very strong season, losing only to Notre Dame — which currently sits at No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff ranking.

Penn State has seemingly been out-coached a few times this season. Late losses against Ohio State and Michigan State pointed out some clock management struggles and difficulties calling effective plays.

If Penn State is going to take down the Wolverines, it will need a rock solid game plan. Here are five things the Nittany Lions must do in order to leave the Big House with a win:

Contain Shea Patterson

Shea Patterson, the junior transfer from Ole Miss, has had a pretty solid year at the helm of the Wolverines’ offense. Patterson is a very mobile quarterback, even if he doesn’t tuck the ball and run as much as McSorley.

Michigan likes to call designed runs for Patterson in which he fakes a handoff and takes off in the opposite direction — against Wisconsin, this play led to an 81-yard run for the quarterback. The Michigan offense also called a similar play that led to a third-quarter touchdown to give the Wolverines a 20-7 lead over Wisconsin.

Forcing Patterson to throw out of the pocket is the way to go, as the shifty Louisiana native has a tendency to be careless with the ball while trying to escape pressure. Patterson lost a fumble against Notre Dame on Michigan’s final drive that sealed the victory for the Irish and was also sacked and fumbled the ball while dancing around the pocket against Wisconsin.

Don’t Worry About Defending The Deep Ball

Jim Harbaugh doesn’t really like to dial up the deep pass particularly often. The Wolverines are much more content to run misdirections or play-action passes for 5-10 yards at a time than taking chances through the air. 

Zach Gentry, Michigan’s leading receiver in 2018, has 23 receptions for 332 yards. KJ Hamler leads the Nittany Lions with 27 receptions for 497 yards. The Wolverines certainly have some talented receivers, like Donovan Peoples-Jones, but Michigan favors high-percentage out routes or streaks over deep passes.

Get The Ball To KJ Hamler

The Michigan defense has been rock solid this season. Even in the loss against Notre Dame, the Wolverines held Brandon Wimbush to 229 total yards. 

The S&P+ Rankings have Michigan sitting at No. 1 in the defensive rankings and Don Brown’s defense doesn’t have many weaknesses. Wisconsin, despite losing pretty handily, was able to break off some big rushes at the Big House. Sophomore wide receiver Kendric Pryor took a reverse 33 yards for a touchdown and receiver Danny Davis broke out for a 37-yard gain on a similar play.

Using KJ Hamler in the running game should be a great way to check the aggressiveness of Don Brown and force some of Michigan’s bigger defenders to tackle the speedy Hamler in space.

Get Rid Of The Ball Early

Don Brown’s defensive front is scary, even if last year’s beatdown at Beaver Stadium didn’t show it. Chase Winovich, Devin Bush, and Rashan Gary are as dangerous as it gets in terms of chasing down the quarterback.

This group is also hungry for revenge. Lavert Hill said the team felt disrespected by the blowout in 2017, and Brown said he personally feels responsible for the defensive debacle in front of the White Out.

Don’t expect Brown to sit back and let McSorley run through his progressions. He’ll send his guys on blitzes and Penn State must be ready with quick throws into vacated territory.

It’s going to be very important to take shots down field to test the man-coverage Michigan’s defensive backs will be playing, but there won’t be a whole lot of time to waste.

Play Like There’s Nothing To Lose

Watching this 2018 team play consistently brings me back to the 2016 Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin, only because they’re so different. Especially in that game, the 2016 squad played like it had absolutely nothing to lose. They took chances in every phase of the game and played such exciting football.

Penn State doesn’t have anything to lose after suffering two losses and entering a game against a team that has legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations. Why not run some trick plays or misdirections? Why not trust the receivers to make some catches? Isn’t it time to really get Tommy Stevens involved?

Playing in Ann Arbor against this Michigan team will not be easy, but the right game plan could spoil the Wolverines’ season.

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About the Author

Derek Bannister

Derek is a senior majoring in Economics and History. He is legally required to tell you that he's from right outside of Philly. Email Derek compliments and dad-jokes at [email protected]

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