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Previewing The Enemy: Michigan Wolverines

After snapping a three-game losing streak last week, Penn State football hopes to get rolling.

Still not ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Nittany Lions still have a long way to go to get where they want to be by season’s end. Up first is a tough home matchup with No. 6 Michigan.

The Wolverines boast an 8-1 record following a 37-33 loss to in-state rival Michigan State. Most recently, Michigan beat Indiana 29-7 in Ann Arbor last week. Before the two teams face off this weekend, let’s look at what Michigan has to offer.

The Team

Seventh-year head coach Jim Harbaugh has his team currently in third place in the Big Ten East with a 5-1 conference record. The Wolverines ripped off seven straight wins to start the season. Despite narrowly escaping with wins over Rutgers and Nebraska, Michigan, for the most part, rolled through those first seven games leading up to its marquee matchup with Michigan State.

The Spartans handed Michigan its only loss of the season two weeks ago when they came back from 16 points down in the second half to beat the Wolverines in East Lansing.

Michigan bounced back last week thanks to a solid all-around performance. Star running back Hassan Haskins totaled 168 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while signal-caller Cade McNamara tossed two touchdowns to breeze past the Hoosiers.

The Wolverines’ defense played well in that matchup with the Hoosiers, as it has all year. Michigan’s defense has allowed the sixth-fewest yards per game in the nation, as well as the 12th-fewest yards per play.

In case you forgot, after starting 0-5 last season, Penn State’s first win of the season came over Michigan. The 2020 season was also one to forget for the Wolverines, as they finished with an ugly 2-4 record in the pandemic-shortened campaign.

Offense

While McNamara has done a good job managing games, it’s no secret Michigan’s offense relies on its rushing attack. The Wolverines rank No. 6 in the nation in rushing yards per game with 234.1.

Michigan boasts a two-headed monster in its backfield with Haskins and Blake Corum. Haskins has run the ball 165 times for 829 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, while Corum has totaled 130 carries for 778 yards and 11 touchdowns (10 rushing, one receiving).

Corum’s status for Saturday is currently unclear due to an undisclosed injury, as is backup running back Donovan Edwards’ status as well. The Wolverines may be dinged up in the backfield, but Haskins himself presents the Nittany Lions with a challenge.

Haskins ranks No. 4 in the Big Ten in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards per game (92.1). Not only does he dominate on the ground with chunk plays, but he takes care of the football. Haskins, and Corum for that matter, have not fumbled the ball all season.

Penn State should know Haskins well, as the running back totaled 101 yards and two touchdowns against Brent Pry’s defense just a year ago.

Like previously mentioned, McNamara has done his job well this year. The signal-caller has completed 62.5% of his passes for 1,666 yards and nine touchdowns. The numbers aren’t flashy, but he’s also only thrown two interceptions, which is exactly what the doctor ordered in the run-heavy offense.

Michigan has some playmakers through the air, most notably wideout Cornelius Johnson. He leads Wolverine pass-catchers with 28 catches, 456 yards, and three touchdowns. Johnson is averaging 16.3 yards per catch, proving to be an explosive weapon for Michigan’s offense and a guy Penn State’s defense will need to focus on.

Other than Johnson, the group is headlined by tight end Erick All and wide receiver Mike Sainristil. All has totaled 26 catches for 255 yards, while Sainristil has hauled in 15 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown.

Corum actually ranks third on the team with 20 catches, so with his status up in the air, the Wolverines could miss out on one of their top pass-catchers, too.

Defense

Michigan’s defense has complemented its run-heavy offense quite well this season. The team has given up the second-fewest yards per game in the Big Ten with 297.3 yards. Additionally, the Wolverines’ defense has given up the fourth-fewest touchdowns in the conference with 18 and has allowed the fourth-fewest yards per play in the Big Ten (4.8).

Lately, Michigan’s defense has played well besides the group’s poor performance against Michigan State that saw it allow 197 yards and five touchdowns on the ground to Kenneth Walker III. In last week’s win over Indiana, Michigan allowed just seven points, the same number it allowed three weeks ago against Northwestern.

The anchor of Michigan’s defense is linebacker Josh Ross. He leads the team with 61 tackles, and he’s totaled 4.5 tackles for loss. The fifth-year senior has also added two passes defended in nine games played.

The Wolverines offer a dangerous pass rush led by defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson and linebacker David Ojabo. Ojabo’s eight sacks lead the Big Ten, while Hutchinson’s six also rank toward the top of the conference. Ojabo comes into this game with three sacks in his last two games, while Hutchinson has tallied 1.5 sacks in his last three games.

Ojabo also paces the Wolverines with four forced fumbles, which also leads the Big Ten.

Michigan’s pass defense has allowed just 173.4 yards per game, which is the second-best mark in the Big Ten and the eighth-best mark in the nation.

In the secondary, the Wolverines are led by safety Daxton Hill. Hill has put together quite the season with 48 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, a team-leading two interceptions, and six passes defended. The safety is the complete package at 6’0″, 192 pounds.

Cornerback Vincent Gray has totaled 23 tackles and five passes defended, while safety RJ Moten has tallied 23 stops and an interception. Fellow safety Brad Hawkins is second on the team with two forced fumbles, and he’s totaled four pass deflections and 33 tackles, too.

Special Teams

Kicker Jake Moody has been a consistent piece on Michigan’s special teams this season. He’s drilled all 33 of his extra points, and he’s a smooth 21-for-23 on field-goal attempts, good for 91.3%. Moody has accounted for 96 Michigan points this season.

Brad Robbins is set to handle the punting for the Wolverines this Saturday. Robbins has attempted 28 punts this season for an average of 44.8 yards per punt. For comparison sake, Penn State punter Jordan Stout has punted it 47 times this year for an average of 46.7 yards per punt.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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