Michigan vs. Penn State preview: Betting trends and advanced stats analysis
Michigan vs. Penn State is one of the most highly-anticipated games on the Big Ten calendar every year, and this season is no exception.
Both the Wolverines and Nittany Lions enter this game with their College Football Playoff hopes still intact. And as we’ll see later, both teams also have the sort of elite statistical profile that you’d expect to see from a CFP contender.
Let’s examine some betting trends, advanced stats and other useful info about these teams:
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Michigan vs. Penn State Betting Lines
Spread: Michigan -4.5 (DraftKings)
Total: Over/under 45 points (DraftKings)
Check out these top sports betting apps to get in on the action ahead of Saturday’s B1G East showdown.
Betting trends to know for Michigan
- Michigan is 4-4-1 against the spread this season
- Michigan is 4-1 ATS in its last 5 games
- The over is 4-3-1 in Michigan games this season
- This is the first time this season Michigan has been favored by fewer than 17.5 points
- Michigan is 3-0 on the road this season
Michigan opened the season with 3 consecutive losses and 1 push against the spread. Then, the Wolverines beat the number in their next 4 games by nearly 20 points per game. Last week, Michigan failed to cover once again in what was still a blowout win over Purdue. The Wolverines’ road record ATS has been impressive — 3-0 so far and beating the number by 22.3 points per game.
Betting trends to know for Penn State
- Penn State is 7-2 against the spread this season
- The over is 6-3 in Penn State games this season
- Penn State is 0-1 against the spread as an underdog this season
- Penn State is 4-1 against the spread at home this season
Penn State has been dominant overall ATS this season, but it has dropped 2 of its last 3 games against the number. The Nittany Lions also failed to cover in their only other game as an underdog this season (Ohio State). This will be the 9th meeting between James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh in this series. Franklin is just 2-8 against the spread vs. Harbaugh and the Wolverines.
- Michigan strength of schedule: 111th
- Penn State strength of schedule: 37th
- Michigan strength of record: 8th
- Penn State strength of record: 9th
Penn State has faced a much tougher schedule to this point in the season. In addition to having already played Ohio State, the Nittany Lions have also been tested by top-40 FPI teams such as Iowa, Maryland and West Virginia. According to FPI, the toughest team Michigan has faced so far this season is Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights rank 44th nationally, per FPI.
Advanced Stats preview
Success rate will be the primary tool referenced in this section. Whether or not a play is “successful” depends on the down and distance of a given play. Here’s a breakdown of how much yardage is necessary for a play to be deemed “successful”:
- 1st down: Teams must gain at least 50% of required yardage
- 2nd down: Teams must gain at least 70% of required yardage
- 3rd or 4th down: Teams must gain 100% of required yardage
Defensively, numbers are presented as what the defense allowed the offense to achieve. So on defense, a 35% success rate is better than a 40% success rate.
Let’s dig into what success rate says about this matchup:
Rushing Success Rate
- Michigan rushing offense success rate: 54% (96th percentile)
- Penn State rushing defense success rate: 29% (99th percentile)
These are two units that are clearly elite. Given the schedule that Penn State has faced, perhaps the Nittany Lions’ status in the 99th percentile is even more impressive. Penn State’s rush defense also showed up in a big way vs. Ohio State, limiting the Buckeyes to a 33.3% success rate on the ground.
- Penn State rushing offense success rate: 49% (87th percentile)
- Michigan rushing defense success rate: 26% (100th percentile)
This side of the ball also presents an elite rushing offense vs. a near-perfect rushing defense. But if we hold Penn State to the same standard of how it performed vs. Ohio State, it isn’t as pretty for the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s rushing offense was held to a success rate of just 27.3% in that game. It’s a small sample, but it’s also the closest thing to this Michigan defense that Penn State has faced all season.
Passing Success Rate
- Michigan passing offense success rate: 58% (100th percentile)
- Penn State passing defense success rate: 33% (98th percentile)
Hopefully you’re sensing a theme by this point — both of these teams have produced elite results on both sides of the ball so far this season. JJ McCarthy has worked his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation by being one of the most consistent passers in the country. That’s evident by Michigan’s staggering 58% success rate through the air. Penn State’s pass defense has been elite vs. most of the Big Ten, but it was more pedestrian vs. Ohio State. Penn State’s secondary allowed Ohio State to have a 43% passing success rate. That’s below Ohio State’s season average of 50%, but also would be in the bottom-half nationally if extrapolated over a full season.
- Penn State passing offense success rate: 45% (64th percentile)
- Michigan pass defense success rate: 29% (100th percentile)
This is the area of the field where things could turn into a disaster for Penn State. Drew Allar has not been as good as some hoped in the preseason, resulting in a pretty pedestrian 45% passing success rate for the Nittany Lions. They’re about to go up against one of the most dominant passing defenses in the country on a down-to-down basis. Against Ohio State, Allar delivered a passing success rate of just 32.6%. This is a major concern for Penn State going into this weekend.
A havoc play is defined as a play where the defense records a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, an interception or a pass breakup.
For defenses, a higher havoc rate is good. Offensively, havoc rates are presented as what the offense allowed the defense to create. On that side of the ball, the lower the havoc rate, the better it is for your offense.
Here’s a breakdown of this matchup:
- Michigan offensive havoc rate: 11% (97th percentile)
- Penn State defensive havoc rate: 28% (100th percentile)
Penn State leads the Big Ten with an unbelievable 75 tackles for loss so far this season. That’s 15 more than the next-closest Big Ten team and 18 more than Michigan. On the other side, Michigan leads the Big Ten with only 29 tackles for loss allowed. However, as noted in the strength-of-schedule section, Michigan hasn’t faced anything close to this Penn State defense this year.
Penn State is also +16 in turnover margin this season, which is both incredibly impressive and likely unsustainable. Penn State has recovered 10 out of a possible 15 fumbles from its opponents this season — a recovery rate that also leads the Big Ten by a wide margin. If Penn State is going to pull off this upset, it will need to force a couple big turnovers.
- Michigan defensive havoc rate: 23% (97th percentile)
- Penn State offensive havoc rate: 11% (95th percentile)
Penn State does a great job of minimizing mistakes on the offensive side of the ball. It has just 4 giveaways all season and ranks No. 3 in the Big Ten in tackles for loss allowed. Michigan’s defense hasn’t been quite as effective at creating havoc as Penn State’s defense, but it’s not far off.
Points per opportunity
A scoring “opportunity” is defined as a possession in which the offense has a 1st down beyond the opponents’ 40-yard line. This stat measures how effective a team is at cashing on its scoring chances — or preventing them from their opponents.
- Michigan points scored per opportunity: 5.02 (96th percentile)
- Penn State points allowed per opportunity: 2.56 (97th percentile)
Whoever wins this tug-of-war will probably cover the spread, if not win outright.
- Penn State points scored per opportunity: 5.27 (99th percentile)
- Michigan points allowed per opportunity: 1.19 (100th percentile)
I’m going to let you behind the curtain a little bit — I laughed when I saw Michigan is only allowing 1.19 points per scoring opportunity this season. That is absurd. Basically, Michigan opponents who have a 1st down across the 40-yard line can expect to make a field goal on about one-third of those possessions (and basically never, ever score a touchdown). In 9 games this season, Michigan has allowed 1 touchdown and 4 field goals in 11 red zone opportunities.
Penn State is not going to have an enormous number of scoring opportunities in this game, but it can make things interesting if it converts the chances it does generate. Penn State’s mark of 5.27 points per scoring opportunity is legitimately impressive — even if Penn State’s offense might be too one-dimensional for a game like this.
- Michigan offense: 2nd
- Michigan defense: 1st
- Michigan special teams: 115th
- Penn State offense: 24th
- Penn State defense: 2nd
- Penn State special teams: 5th
- Michigan offense: 5th
- Michigan defense: 1st
- Michigan special teams: 5th
- Penn State offense: 21st
- Penn State defense: 4th
- Penn State special teams: 34th
Note: All advanced stats mentioned in this story are from CollegeFootballData.com unless otherwise noted. Betting trends are via the Sports Betting Dime database.