The No. 19 Michigan Wolverines (5-1, 2-1) narrowly escaped losing their second straight game at Indiana last Saturday. Having survived that contest, it’s time for what some will say is the maize and blue’s biggest test of the year; a trip to University Park, PA to face the No. 2 Penn State Nittany Lions.
Even when Penn State isn’t stellar, Beaver Stadium, their home field, is a hard place to play as Nittany Lion fans make a lot of noise to intimidate opponents. The teams will also be squaring off in primetime, which usually means it’ll get even louder.
Nowadays, the Nittany Lions (6-0, 3-0) are especially good and you can’t talk about why without bringing up Saquon Barkley. The junior running back has powered this team through the season with 649 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 102 carries. He also leads the team with 395 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 29 receptions.
However, Barkley isn’t the only one defenses should be concerned about. They should also keep their eyes on quarterback Trace McSorley. The junior has thrown for 1597 yards and 13 touchdowns and is second on the team with 178 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 72 carries.
The receivers don’t make things any easier as Penn State features six with at least 162 yards on the season and seven with at least one touchdown. Other than Barkley, the most notable receivers include senior DaeSean Hamilton and junior Juwan Johnson. The two have 366 and 303 yards, respectively.
The Nittany Lions also feature a defense that’s only allowed 54 points in its first six games as well as the 10th-fewest passing yards in college football.
Players to Watch
Following a loss to Michigan State in which O’Korn completed 16 of his 35 passes for 198 yards and three interceptions, fans didn’t think the fifth-year senior could do much worse. And yet he did. In Michigan’s win over Indiana, O’Korn completed just 10 of 20 passes for 58 yards.
While fans and others think he needs to do a lot to improve his game, O’Korn believes he just needs to pick up his play in order to get better. “Simple as that” he said on Monday.
Things only get harder for him against Penn State. Their defense features cornerbacks Amani Oruwariye and Grant Haley whose three and two interceptions are tied for first and third in the Big Ten, respectively. As a team, the Nittany Lions’ nine interceptions are tied with No. 5 Wisconsin for most in the conference.
If O’Korn can’t turn things around or get enough help from his offensive line and receivers, there’s plenty of reason to think it’ll be a long night for him.
If by chance John O’Korn can’t piece things together, Michigan may have no choice but to fight fire with fire.
Enter Karon Higdon.
The junior running back is coming off a career day in which he ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. He saw far more carries than any other running back and made the most of what he got.
If Michigan’s offensive line can put up a performance similar to what it did against Indiana, they might be able to give Higdon just what he needs to carry the offense and keep the Wolverines in this game.
Ever since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2015, Michigan’s defense has been one of the best in the nation. However, there’s a recurring theme for those teams who have been able to power past them and thus beat the maize and blue; they all ran the ball well.
In games they’ve lost under Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s defense has allowed an average of 176 rushing yards per game. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the Nittany Lions have what it takes and more to put up similar numbers come Saturday.
Not only will the front seven have to handle the sheer physicality and elusiveness of Saquon Barkley, but they’ll also have to find a way to contain Trace McSorley, who can hurt them as much on the ground as he can through the air.
Although they’re young and somewhat inexperienced, this Wolverines defense has been credited for both its physicality and speed. Those strengths will surely be put to the test against Penn State.
The game can be seen live on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.