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PSU set for primetime against Michigan

Published October 21. 2017 02:35AM

“The only thing I like more than Christmas is a white-out football game,” – James Franklin.

A report came out last week from several media outlets that Penn State is preparing for Texas A&M - yes, Texas A&M for some odd reason, to make a run at Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin. This is all of course depending on whether the Aggies decide to part ways with their current head coach Kevin Sumlin at the end of the season.

The whole situation seems a little odd, especially considering Franklin just signed an extension that will pay him 5.738 million dollars per year and will keep him in Happy Valley until 2022. Recruiting is tricky and sometimes a nasty business and when player battles between schools start to heat up, it’s not uncommon to see reports or rumors like this one get out there.

Franklin addressed the reports in a not so subtle tweet a couple days after it initially started to gain traction.

“Recruiting is a crazy business, people will do anything to create drama, 1. From PA, 2. #3 Ranked Team, 3. #3 Ranked recruiting Class.”

Long story short Nittany Lions’ faithful, your head coach isn’t going anywhere.

Now, onto more important things like Penn State’s (No. 2, 6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) primetime clash with Big Ten East rival Michigan. The Wolverines are the No. 19 ranked team in the country and are coming into Beaver Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC) looking for the upset later tonight.

Let’s delve right into this game and look at the key match-ups that will decide this one. It’s obvious that for Penn State to win this football game it has to be efficient in the passing game. The Wolverines (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) will do what most teams have done against Saquon Barkley and the Nittany Lions rushing attack and that’s stack eight or nine guys in the box and run blitz linebackers from both the outside and the inside. A lot of teams have been sending outside linebackers on timing blitzes because of Penn State’s read option scheme, so in turn Barkley hasn’t seen much daylight. I don’t think Franklin can depend on the offensive line to play much better (improved, but still need to be better) than they have up to this point in the season, especially against the ferocious front of the Wolverines, so it will be up to McSorley to make plays in the passing game.

When McSorley (1,597 yards, 13 TDs 4 INT) has had time, he’s looked good and Michigan tends to leave its corners on an island. If the Wolverines continue that aggressive defensive approach against Penn State I think it holds a distinctive advantage, there. Juwan Johnson, DaSean Hamilton, Mike Gesicki and others are tough to match-up with in man-to-man and with McSorley’s ability to step up in and throw outside the pocket I think he could have a big night through the air. The key question is, will he have the time?

The Michigan defense has proven to be stingy in both defending the run and the pass. The Wolverines are giving up just 85.5 rushing yards per game and 138 passing yards per game.

“Don (Brown) (Michigan defensive coordinator) is going to overload the box. A lot of guys are going to be on the line of scrimmage in blitz demeanor. The defensive backs are going to be pressed pretty much across the board. They’re going to try to take your run game away,” said Franklin. “They’re going to take all the easy throws away. It’s going to be press coverage, man coverage. Our guys are going to have to create space with the routes, and they’re going to have to make contested catches. That’s how he plays.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Penn State must continue to do what it has been doing. Which is create turnovers (17 turnovers) and keep the opposition out of the end zone (nation-leading nine points per game). As I noted in last week’s column, teams have not had good drive-start field position against the Nittany Lions defense and I think once again that will be a big factor this week.

Simply put, the Michigan offense just isn’t very explosive. The Wolverines average just 191.3 passing yards per game and while they do average 185 rushing yards per game, the long meticulous drives that are usually fueled by a consistent rushing attack haven’t been cashed in for touchdowns. The Wolverines average just 27.2 points per game, which won’t get it done in today’s game.

The Michigan passing game has been a problem as quarterbacks Wilton Speight and John O’Korn have combined for just four touchdowns and six interceptions. O’Korn will be the starter this week with Speight out with three broken vertebrae and he’s responsible for four of the six miscues.

The environment at Penn State will not be a comfortable one for any player wearing maze and blue, especially for the man who will be under center. Getting off to a good start offensively will be vital for Michigan to stay in this game and running on first and second down and then going to play action will just be too predictable against a good Penn State defense and a raucous crowd. The Wolverines will have to not only make plays in the passing game, they will need to make big game-breaking plays to steal momentum.

Las Vegas has Penn State as a 9.5-point favorite.

I think this is what you will see later tonight. I like Penn State’s defense and special teams to once again play exceptional. I think Michigan will struggle to get good field position throughout the game and I think they struggle to throw the football as well. A lot of third and long situations mean that Penn State can dial up the pressure at times and you’re going to see O’Korn make some mistakes.

Look for the Nittany Lions to come away with three-plus turnovers in this one and a 270-plus yard day and three touchdowns through the air for McSorley. Keep an eye on Barkley in the passing game this week.

My pick is Penn State 30, Michigan 13.

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