Friday, November 2, 2018

Green’s five things to watch for in Saturday’s Penn State/Michigan game

Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller- Getty Images

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen 

The month of November has arrived and the stretch run of the college football season is here. This edition of five things to watch for presents a critical Big Ten east showdown between the No. 14 Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) and the No. 5 MichiganWolverines (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) at Michigan Stadium on Saturday.

1) The Wolverines’ revenge tour:

Despite an 8-5 mark last season, four of Michigan’s losses came against Big Ten powers Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. After a season-opening loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 1, Michigan has rattled off seven straight wins, highlighted by statements over Wisconsin and Michigan State. No. 14 Penn State comes calling and gave Michigan a 42-13 beatdown in Happy Valley last season.

One weakness that appears to have been addressed from last season’s loss is a legit dual threat at the quarterback spot in Shea Patterson. The Ole Miss transfer has taken the Big Ten by storm with a 66.8 completion percentage and will look to make Penn State the latest victim on a quest for its ultimate target— Ohio State on Nov. 24.

2) In Trace we trust:

With players such as Saquon Barkley and Chris Godwin long gone and enjoying National Football League success, Trace McSorley has had to shoulder the bulk of Penn State’s offense this season and has responded.

Through eight games, the senior quarterback has averaged 280.8 yards per game, to go along with 21 touchdowns. McSorley proved to be the main catalyst in picking apart Michigan’s defense last season on the ground with three rushing touchdowns.

3) Running for Miles:

Living up to the lofty standards of a running back like Barkley can be daunting, but Miles Sanders has managed to create a path of his own as the top guy on the Nittany Lions’ depth chart.

Sanders has amassed 834 yards on 136 carries, to go along with eight touchdowns. Despite finishing under 100 yards on the ground in each of the last two games, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin has implemented Sanders more into the passing game as he caught six passes for 54 yards in a 33-28 win over Indiana on Oct. 20.

Look for Sanders to be as active in all facets of Penn State’s offense as Michigan’s front seven looks to take aim on the junior sensation.

4) Don’s dirty defense:

The blueprint of the Wolverines’ defense runs through the blood vessels of third-year defensive coordinator Don Brown. Sans a pair of poor starts at Notre Dame and Northwestern, Michigan’s defense has been as pristine as a New England India Pale Ale with the top spot in the FBS in total (220) and passing yards (122.9) allowed.

Saturday’s game against Penn State serves as a litmus test for Brown and his defense as they gave up 506 total yards on 8.3 yards per play in last season’s loss. The Wolverines’ stout defense has yet to give up over 300 total yards in any game this season.

5) Potential College Football Playoff/New Year’s Six hopes at stake:

Barring a ton of shakeups in the top 10 in the last month, Penn State’s window ceiling will be a spot in the New Year’s Six as an at-large given its two losses in Big Ten play. A big payday is in no way a failure, although it would be their third straight season in that spot. In order for any of those hopes to come to fruition, the Nittany Lions must handle their business against the Wolverines first and the remaining schedule (vs Wisconsin, Rutgers and Maryland).

The Wolverines find themselves in a similar spot from two seasons ago— in charge of their own fate. Win out and earn a trip to the College Football Playoff, but it is easier said than done.