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Previewing The Enemy: Michigan Wolverines

No. 7 Penn State football (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) will host No. 16 Michigan (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) under White Out conditions on Saturday night.

Happy Valley will be the center of the college football world this weekend, as ESPN’s College GameDay is in town to celebrate this community’s annual display of unity and passion for the Nittany Lions. A crowd of more than 110,000 fans is expected to gather at Beaver Stadium for the game, which is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally on ABC.

Michigan entered this season as a favorite to win the Big Ten, but a few less-than-convincing performances — including a 35-14 loss at the hands of Wisconsin and a 10-3 win over Iowa — have created plenty of doubters in Ann Arbor.

The Team

Head coach Jim Harbaugh is six games into his fifth season at the helm of Michigan’s football program. Harbaugh has amassed a record of 43-15 as the Wolverines’ head coach, including 10-3 marks in three of his first four full seasons in charge of the team.

The Wolverines have gone 29-10 in conference play under the direction of Harbaugh, including a 3-1 record against James Franklin’s program. After beating Penn State 28-16 in the 2015 White Out game, Harbaugh and Franklin have traded blowout wins over one another. Michigan beat Penn State 49-10 and 42-7 at the Big House in 2016 and 2018, respectively, but the Nittany Lions won the 2017 match-up by a final score of 42-13.

Michigan’s defense hasn’t lived up to some of the sky-high expectations that some may have had for it, and the offense has struggled a bit under the direction of veteran quarterback Shea Patterson.

Offense

Michigan’s offense currently ranks No. 59 in the country with an average of 30.3 points per game and 83rd in the nation with 388 yards per game so far this year. The team was held to 10 and 14 points against admittedly-excellent Iowa and Wisconsin defenses, respectively, but it also put up 52 and 45 points against Illinois and Rutgers.

Shea Patterson currently isn’t on pace to match his 2,600-yard, 22-touchdown output from a season ago. He’s passed for 1,246 yards, nine scores, and three interceptions through the first half of the 2019 season. Patterson hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t truly stood out in any game aside from his team’s blowout of Rutgers at home.

Standout receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones was one of Patterson’s top targets last season when he finished with 612 yards on a team-leading 47 catches, but he just hasn’t been the same player this season. He’s only hauled in 12 balls for 129 yards and two touchdowns after missing the Wolverines’ season opener due to a nagging groin injury.

Nico Collins — Michigan’s leader in receiving yards last year with 632 — is still around, and he has huge big-play potential with 269 receiving yards and two scores on just 13 receptions. Ronnie Bell currently leads the Wolverines with 20 catches for 361 yards, but he hasn’t found the end zone yet in the passing game this season.

Meanwhile, Zach Charbonnet has spearheaded the Wolverines’ run game after the departure of 1,100-yard rusher Karan Higdon. Charbonnet has rushed for 379 yards so far this year and is coming off his best game of the season. He gained 116 yards and scored a touchdown on 18 carries against Illinois, but he’ll face a much more daunting test against Penn State’s defensive front seven.

Hassan Haskins — Charbonnet’s back-up at running back — also put on a show with 125 yards and a score against the Illini last week. That was his best performance of the season to date, but expect to see Charbonnet spearhead Michigan’s run game on Saturday.

Defense & Special Teams

Michigan’s defense has allowed 17.5 points per game so far this season, which currently ranks as the 15th-best total in the country. The team has allowed 283.4 yards per game — good enough for No. 14 in the country. When you consider some of the departures from last year’s squad, those numbers are quite impressive.

Star linebackers Devin Bush and Rashan Gary were selected No. 10 and No. 12 overall, respectively in the 2019 NFL Draft. Loud-mouthed defensive end Chase Winovich was selected in the third round along with cornerback David Long. That’s a lot of talent to lose in one offseason, and the departures of Gary and Bush, in particular, have hurt.

Linebacker Khaleke Hudson currently leads the Wolverines in tackles with 58 so far this year. He’s made two tackles for a loss of yardage and registered one sack through six games played. He’s joined by Jordan Glasgow — who’s made 47 stops and has four sacks this year — and Cameron McGrone in the starting lineup at linebacker.

The Wolverines’ front seven has allowed 123.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks 41st in FBS football, and the team has amassed 21 sacks through six games played. Defensive lineman Kwity Paye and linebacker Josh Uche currently lead the team in sacks with 4.5 each so far this year. In addition to Glasgow’s four sacks, McGrone and Aidan Hutchinson both have notched 2.5 sacks in 2019.

Perhaps one strength of the Michigan defense is its pass defense, which ranks ninth nationally with an average of 160.5 yards allowed per game. Noted Sour Boy ™ Lavert Hill is currently tied for the Michigan lead in interceptions with Thomas Ambry. Both players have picked off two passes so far this year. Fellow defensive back Josh Metellus has also intercepted a pass on top of 29 tackles so far this year.

Quinn Nordin, a former Penn State commit who had a sleepover slept with Jim Harbaugh during the recruiting process, has gone 15-for-15 on extra points and *checks notes* 0-for-3 on field-goal tries. Jake Moody has taken on the majority workload in the kicking game by drilling five of his six field-goal attempts this year.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

Mikey is a senior majoring in journalism and Onward State's Sports Editor. He grew up in Bedminster, NJ and is way too obnoxious about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is hard. If you're dying to see more hockey/golf content on your timeline, you can follow Mikey on Twitter @mikey_mandarino. Send all hate mail, death threats, and your vote for the best chicken parm in State College to [email protected]

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