LAST WEEK RECAP
The Wolverines survived three OTs against Rutgers to win 48-42 on the road. The offense did a near-180 degree turnaround under Cade McNamara. The defense did not.
NEXT UP: vs. Penn State: 29th, 9.8
PREGAME SP+: Penn State by 1.0, Michigan Win Probability 48%
Michigan & Penn State both look radically different than anybody expected before the Big Ten kicked off in October. Michigan has underperformed SP+ expectations on defense allowing an average of 12.8 points more than SP+ projections. Penn State has underperformed on both sides of the ball. The Nittany Lion defense gives up an average of 11.2 more points than projections. Their offense has scored 6.6 points less than projected.
Michigan Offense (44th) vs. Penn State Defense (30th)
Michigan may have answered a couple big questions on offense. It looks like Hassan Haskins will get a larger share of the running back carries going forward. Also, Josh Gattis seemed to have more plays that use post-snap reads at his disposal once Cade McNamara took over at quarterback. Still, the largest question mark still looms: how healthy will the Wolverines’ offensive line be? We asked the same question headed into the Rutgers game, but lost center Andrew Vastardis to injury instead of regaining Jaylen Mayfield or Ryan Hayes at tackle. Regardless, this Penn State defense is also short handed and just gave up 34 points to Iowa (54th SP+ offense).
Michigan Defense (37th) vs. Penn State Offense (34th)
In my mind, this game will be decided in big moments while Penn State has the ball. First, it’s critical for Michigan to get off to a solid start. Penn State has yet to score more than 7 points in the first half in any game in 2020. That includes games against Maryland (67th SP+ defense, PSU 19 points) and against Nebraska (76th SP+ defense, PSU 23 points). Second, the Wolverines need to keep the Penn State quarterbacks uncomfortable. If Don Brown can get back to using havoc and confusion to create turnovers, then the defensive unit could give their offensive teammates a big boost. That may be too big an “IF” statement though, given the injuries stretching the defensive two deep perilously thin.
PREDICTION: Michigan should be able to string together successful offensive plays against this diminished Penn State defensive unit. If I was confident that Michigan would have their best 5 offensive linemen healthy, I would feel much more comfortable heading into Saturday. While we are starting to see a few playmakers emerge on offense, the Wolverines need some young defenders to step forward. I will be looking for DT Chris Hinton, LB Michael Barrett, and S Daxton Hill to be difference makers during crunch time in Ann Arbor.
Michigan 28 Penn State 27 (PRESEASON Michigan 27 Penn State 21)
MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (11/24/2020), 2-3
SP+ Overall: 40th (↓13), 6.8
SP+ Offense: 44th (↓9), 31.6
SP+ Defense: 37th (↓11), 24.7
SP+ Special Teams: 81st (↑2), -0.1
AP Poll: NR (same), 0
Coaches’ Poll: NR (same), 0
CFP Rank: NR