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Previewing The Enemy: Michigan Wolverines

Penn State football is desperate for a win entering week six.

The Nittany Lions are 0-5 for the first time in program history as they head to the Big House. Penn State hasn’t won at Michigan Stadium since 2009, but it hasn’t been a great year for the Wolverines so far, either.

Jim Harbaugh’s squad is currently 2-3 on the year with only two victories coming against Rutgers and Minnesota.

With that in mind, Saturday’s contest between two struggling Big Ten East squads could be ugly. Here’s what you need to know about Penn State’s sixth opponent of the 2020 season:

The Team

Harbaugh’s team started off 2020 strong with a 49-24 win over Minnesota in week one but proceeded to drop its next three contests. Those included a three-point defeat to Michigan State, a loss to Indiana, and a blowout against Wisconsin.

Michigan bounced back with its victory over Rutgers last week, but keep in mind it took a trip to overtime for the Wolverines to pull out the six-point victory. The Scarlet Knights are currently 1-4 on the year, so it’s not exactly an ideal way to get a win in Piscataway.

Now in his sixth season as Michigan’s head coach, Harbaugh has yet to hit his stride considering the lofty expectations. He hasn’t won a bowl game since the Citrus Bowl back in 2015, and a 2-3 start to this season isn’t a great sign for the former Michigan quarterback.

Saturday’s game will feature two highly paid head coaches who need wins badly.

Offense

Michigan boasts the sixth-best overall offense in the Big Ten, as it averages 401 yards per game and a solid 30.6 points.

Joe Milton opened the season as the Wolverines’ starter and looked strong, as he threw for 225 yards and a score in the season opener against Minnesota, and even threw for 300 yards in the week two loss to Michigan State.

Things changed in the following weeks, however, as Milton threw two picks in both losses to Indiana and Wisconsin. During that ugly week four loss to the Badgers, Milton was pulled for Cade McNamara, who proceeded to see the majority of time under center last week against Rutgers.

McNamara, a sophomore, hit on 27 of 36 pass attempts in a comeback victory against the Scarlet Knights and finished his day with 260 yards and four scores through the air. The Wolverines have yet to name another starting quarterback for Saturday’s game, but don’t be surprised if it’s McNamara based on last week’s performance.

While there’s some controversy at quarterback, the Nittany Lions can certainly expect to see a heavy dose of Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet. After a fairly quiet start to the year, Haskins woke up against Rutgers for a season-high 23 rushes worth 111 yards and a score.

Charbonnet, on the other hand, has struggled to get into a groove in 2020. After a strong campaign last fall, the sophomore running back has earned just 19 attempts on the season, with his best game coming against Minnesota in which he rushed for 70 yards.

Michigan’s air attack is led by Ronnie Bell and Cornelius Johnson. Bell leads the team with 22 catches worth 361 yards and a score, while Johnson has 14 grabs and three touchdowns. Johnson had a big day against Rutgers with five catches for a season-high 105 yards and two touchdowns, while Bell has been a rock-solid target for the Wolverines all year.

Defense

While the offense has been middle of the road in the Big Ten, the Wolverines’ defensive unit hasn’t done much to help. They’re currently giving up an ugly 437.8 yards per game, along with a second-worst in the Big Ten 36 points.

Despite that, Michigan does have some talent on the defensive side of the ball at a few positions. Senior linebacker Josh Ross leads the team with 41 total tackles, a sack, and even an interception on the year. Defensive linemen Carlo Kemp and Kwity Paye are both tied for a team-high two sacks, but the Wolverines have managed just a mediocre eight total sacks on the year.

Michigan also only has two interceptions on the year, which is good news for a Penn State team that has struggled with turnovers, but defensive backs Brad Hawkins and Daxton Hill have both played well. Hawkins is second on the team with 39 total tackles along with two passes defended, while Hill has added 36 tackles, a pick, and three passes defended.

Despite that talent, it’s been a disappointing year overall for Don Brown’s unit after an overall successful 2019 campaign. The Wolverines allowed an embarrassing 486 total yards to Rutgers last week, including 381 yards through the air. Before that, the unit was gashed for 341 yards on the ground against Wisconsin.

While multiple linebackers have played well, including Ross and Cameron McGrone, Michigan has yet to put it together on the defensive side of the ball. With that in mind, however, the group is facing a Nittany Lion offense that has yet to play a full game more than halfway through the season.

It’s already been said, but things could get ugly on Saturday, folks.

Special Teams

Michigan’s kicking situation hasn’t been great thus far. Former Penn State commit Quinn Nordin has made all 12 of his extra points, but he’s only hit two of his five field-goal attempts. Jake Moody has also gotten some reps at kicker, but he’s missed on all three of his attempts this year. In fact, two of Moody’s misses have been inside of 40 yards.

As for punting, senior Brad Robbins has gotten the majority of the time. He’s averaging a solid 45.91 yards per attempt and even booted a 66-yard bomb against Indiana in week three. He’s also pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line on seven occasions this season.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a junior majoring in digital and print journalism and is Onward State's sports editor. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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