Michigan tasked with withstanding emotional day in Happy Valley
Who: No. 12 Michigan vs. Penn State
When: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
Where: Beaver Stadium, Penn State
Spread: Michigan -3.5
Matchup to watch: Saquon Barkley vs. Michigan front seven
Last week, we saw Michigan experience something it hadn’t experienced all year. It was gashed in the running game. Jordan Howard ran for 238 yards against a unit that hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all year. That wasn’t all on the loss of Ryan Glasgow, but it was an alarming sight for the Wolverines because it isn’t getting any easier. Barkley is every bit as capable of going off as Howard. It’ll be gut-check time for the Wolverine veterans like Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan. Arm tackles on Barkley don’t work. Even going at his legs might not work. Barkley can stop on a dime, hurdle or run past even the best defenders. If Michigan doesn’t have its run-stopping issues figured out, Barkley will make it a long afternoon.
Thing I’m excited to see: Jabrill Peppers against an elite defense
This category was basically invented for Peppers. We’ve seen what Peppers can do against the likes of Indiana, Minnesota and Rutgers. If you want, you can throw the Michigan State game in there, though his work was limited. We’ve seen what he can do against lesser competition. We actually didn’t see much of him last week because Jake Rudock and Jehu Chesson provided all the offense Michigan needed. But what will happen this week if and when Michigan’s base offense struggles? It could be a tough afternoon running the ball against Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson. It could also be a tough afternoon throwing the ball against the nation’s sack leader in Carl Nassib. Jim Harbaugh might have to get creative with his redshirt freshman sensation. That hasn’t been a problem before.
Number to remember: 6
That’s how many Joe Paterno-recruited seniors will play in their final home game. For Kyle Carter, Ben Kline, Angelo Mangiro, Carl Nassib, Matt Zanellato, and Anthony Zettel, Saturday is more than a game against a good team. There should be some extra juice from a group that’s endured more than they ever could’ve imagined when they came to State College in 2011. Michigan is likely going to see an inspired bunch, similar to what it saw following Jerry Kill’s retirement at Minnesota. For the Wolverines to keep their B1G East title hopes alive, they have to withstand the same sort of fire they did in Minneapolis.
Prediction: Michigan 24, Penn State 21
For the record, I predicted early in the preseason that Harbaugh would get his first signature win in Happy Valley. You could argue whether or not destroying BYU or Northwestern would count as that, or whether or not beating the unranked Lions is a “signature win.” Either way, I see this game having a very similar feel to the Minnesota-Michigan game three weeks ago. I think Penn State might even outplay Michigan and control the line of scrimmage. But, as the Wolverines have learned how to do in the last month, they’ll find a way to get the defensive stop they need late to pull out another nail-biter.