Michigan has faced Penn State 23 times during the schools’ storied football histories.
The 24th meeting could be the least anticipated matchup in the series. Both teams are struggling through shockingly poor seasons and they’ll bring a combined 2-8 record into Saturday’s game at Michigan Stadium.
The Wolverines (2-3, 2-3 Big Ten) ended a three-game skid on Saturday by surviving a 48-42, triple-overtime shootout with Rutgers, a program that has dropped 25 of its last 26 Big Ten games.
Their outlook looks rosy compared to the Nittany Lions, who have lost their first five games for the first time in the program’s 134-year history.
Perhaps the most positive development in Michigan’s win in New Jersey, other than breaking the losing streak, was that it may have found a starting quarterback. Sophomore Cade McNamara replaced starter Joe Milton late in the first half and threw four touchdown passes and 260 yards without a turnover. He also notched a rushing touchdown during the second overtime period.
Coach Jim Harbaugh refused to name McNamara as the starter against Penn State, though it would be surprising if he didn’t make a change. Milton was intercepted four times in the previous two games and the team went scoreless against Rutgers until McNamara provided the spark.
Harbaugh praised McNamara’s approach.
“His mindset is very good, very solid,” Harbaugh said. “He’s very good, confident. He’s got faith in his ability, works extremely hard and (is) tough, too. So really, good mindset in all those areas.”
The Wolverines also had struggled to run the ball since a season-opening victory at Minnesota. They may have found their No. 1 option against the Scarlet Knights. Hassan Haskins had 23 carries for 111 yards and the winning touchdown.
There’s a sense of relief around the Michigan locker room as it enters the final three weeks of the regular season. The Wolverines will host Maryland next Saturday before their annual showdown with arch-rival Ohio State.
“The mood is just, we’re happy, but we’re not content,” defensive tackle Donovan Jeter said. “Everybody is more upbeat, more energetic, but I think there’s a better vibe around the building. I still think we have that same mentality — we have to build on this win and just keep improving and getting better.”
The Nittany Lions have given up an average of 36 points this season. Penn State was no match for Iowa last Saturday, trailed by as much as 24 points in a 41-21 loss.
Turnovers have been a major factor in Penn State’s demise. Quarterback Sean Clifford has been picked off eight times and the Nittany Lions have also lost five fumbles. Their quarterbacks have been sacked 20 times.
“We have to protect the football on offense,” coach James Franklin said. “That is obviously going to be emphasized all week long.”
Will Levis started at quarterback against the Hawkeyes but was ineffective. Clifford replaced him and threw two touchdown passes, then was picked off twice. Franklin says he’ll continue to use both quarterbacks.
He insists that his players haven’t tuned him out.
“Obviously there’s disappointment, obviously there’s frustration,” he said. “But I see how our guys are in the locker room after the game, I see how our guys are at practice and I see how our guys have competed late in games.”
–Field Level Media