Three Things to Watch…
This stands to be a classic battle of running backs. Michigan’s Blake Corum 11 rushing touchdowns leads the Big Ten, and is second in the country. The Wolverines have used its rush to ease the pressure on its young quarterback J.J. McCarthy who’s attempting just 23 attempts-per-game in his five starts. While McCarthy comes off his first career 300 yard game over Indiana, Michigan is a run first offense and it faces on of the top run-stopping teams in college football. Penn State is fifth in rush defense in the nation and has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher. On the flip side, Michigan’s soft spot could be in it’s run defense. While it’s number on paper make it one of the top in the country, they’re largely inflated by it’s conference leading 22 sacks, which are statically kept as a rushing stat. When recording rush defense like the NFL, Michigan is just seventh best in the Big Ten in yards-per-game, allowing 3.9 yards-per-carry. It could be an opportunity for the Nittany Lions’ freshmen phenoms, Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
Big Game Sean Clifford is a real thing. While wins and loses won’t speak well for Penn State performance in big games, the numbers favor Sean Clifford. In six regular season games last season against top-25 teams, Clifford completed 65-percent of his passing, throwing for 259-yards-per-game. That’s 42 yards more and at 4-percent better than he has against his 11 non-ranked opponents since week one last season. While Penn State is just 2-4 in those matchups against ranked teams, Clifford has played well in big moments, just ask Purdue.
There is so much history between Penn State an Michigan. So much. Penn State has played Michigan 25 prior times, including 12 games in which both teams were ranked. Penn State is 5-7 in those games. But maybe it’s Penn State’s history against top-5 teams that is most intriguing. The Nittany Lions have played 24 games against top-5 opponents since 1994, going 3-21 in that time including losses at Iowa and Ohio State in 2021. Penn State’s last win on the road over a top-5 team came in 1994 when Penn State, off a bye, beat Michigan on October 15. Can history strike twice?