Friday, November 12, 2021

Preview: Michigan at Penn State


Michigan's rushing offense has dropped off somewhat dramatically from earlier in the year, which is saying something, since they're still #6 with 234 yards/game on the ground and #15 in rushing average. Hassan Haskins leads the team in carries (165), yardage (829 yards), and touchdowns (11). He may be relied on more heavily than normal. After a career-high 27 carries last week with Blake Corum missing all but one offensive play, Haskins is the only somewhat experienced back on the roster. I do not expect Corum (who was in a walking boot by the end of the game) to play and freshman Donovan Edwards missed last week due to injury, leaving Haskins and then . . . walk-on Leon Franklin and freshman fifth-stringer Tavierre Dunlap. Penn State is #50 in rush defense (137 yards allowed/game) and #31 in yards per carry allowed (3.56). With starting defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher out for the season, the Nittany Lions' rushing defense has fallen off; they gave up 357 yards on the ground to Illinois three weeks ago. Things have improved a little over the past couple weeks, but that may be due to playing Maryland, which is pretty inept on the ground. The leading tacklers are senior linebacker Ellis Brooks (6'1", 241 lbs.) and junior inside linebacker Brandon Smith (6'3", 241) with 68 and 61 stops, respectively. I think Michigan can pound the ball a little bit, but they need to be careful to keep Haskins fresh.
Advantage: Michigan

Hit the jump for more.

Michigan may need to rely on the passing game a little more this week to Corum's (expected) absence. They rank #81 in the country (217 yards/game) and #53 in passing efficiency. Starting quarterback Cade McNamara has completed 62.5% of his passes for 1,666 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Andrel Anthony had a short-lived breakout against MSU two games ago, but the leading receiver overall is Cornelius Johnson (28 catches, 456 yards, 3 touchowns). Johnson needs to start taking over as Michigan's #1 wideout a little more consistently. Michigan is #3 in sacks allowed with just 0.67 per week. Penn State is #45 in pass defense (214 yards allowed/game) and #8 in passing efficiency defense. They have allowed just 6 touchdowns while pulling in 10 interceptions, led by senior safety Ji'Ayir Brown (6'1", 205) with 4 picks and senior Jaquan Brisker (6'1", 200) with 2. Penn State is #85 in sacks despite having a solid pass rushing defensive end in senior Arnold Ebeketie (6'3", 256), who has 6.5 takedowns by himself. Michigan should also be wary of linebacker Brandon Smith, who has 8.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks; Smith has some ability as a blitzer and pass rusher. I would look for the Wolverines to come out with a balanced offense to keep PSU guessing, thus reducing the pounding on Haskins while taking advantage of a so-so pass rush.
Advantage: Penn State

Michigan is #31 in rush defense (125 yards allowed/game) and #47 in yards per carry allowed (3.74). Senior middle linebacker Josh Ross leads in tackles with 61, followed by junior safety Dax Hill with 48. Michigan defensive tackles Chris Hiinton and Mazi Smith had been playing better until they seemed to stagnate a little last week against Indiana, but I think Indiana's offensive line was more solid than what we'll see against the Nittany Lions. Penn State is #117 in the country in rushing (107 yards/game) and #119 in yards per carry (3.22). Senior Noah Cain (6'0", 220) leads the squad in attempts and yards, but the latter just barely; he averages just 3.15 yards per attempt. Sophomore Keyvone Lee (6'0", 239) had his coming out party against Michigan as a freshman in 2020 and hasn't had a game like that since, but he's averaging 5.13 yards per attempt this season. Penn State's interior line is just average, and the tackles might be worse. Michigan should win this battle, and I don't think Lee will have another career game. The X factor is quarterback Sean Clifford, who averaged 3.4+ yards per carry the past two seasons but is down to 2.1 this year, partly because of an injury suffered a couple weeks ago. If he's not willing or able to keep the ball and make plays with his feet, that makes PSU's rushing game largely ineffective.
Advantage: Michigan

Michigan is #9 in pass defense (173 yards allowed/game) and #10 in passer rating defense. They allow just 6.0 yards per attempt with 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Those numbers were helped by Michigan playing against a freshman backup for Indiana last week, who threw for 88 yards on 3.5 yards per attempt. The pass defense is hurt by the loss of cornerback Gemon Green, whom I also expect to miss this week after hurting his shoulder against the Hoosiers. Michigan is #63 in sacks overall, led by David Ojabo (8.0 sacks) and Aidan Hutchinson (7.0 sacks). Penn State is #25 in passing offense (277 yards/game) and #74 in passing efficiency. Clifford is completing 64% of his passes and has 16 touchdowns with 6 interceptions. Senior Jahan Dotson (5'11", 184) already has 71 catches for 932 yards and 9 touchdowns, which seems ridiculous, considering Michigan's leading receiver has 28 receptions. I just don't even know what an offense looks like that throws that many balls to its #1 receiver. Alongside Dotson is Parker Washington (5'10", 207) who has 43 catches for 498 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Nittany Lions are middle-of-the-pack at #67 in sacks allowed with 2.22 per game. If I were Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, I would plan to bracket Dotson with a corner and Brad Hawkins, and see if the other receivers and/or Penn State's running backs can beat me. However, I would not be surprised to see them try to stick Dax Hill on Dotson, man to man.
Advantage: Michigan


  • Penn State players recruited by Michigan: LB Ellis Brooks, LB Jamari Buddin, RB Noah Cain, OL Jimmy Christ, WR Jahan Dotson, RB Devyn Ford, DT Fred Hansard, CB Daequan Hardy, DT Aeneas Hawkins, RB Caziah Holmes, DE Adisa Isaac, S Enzo Jennings, TE Theo Johnson, CB Kalen King, LB Kobe King, CB A.J. Lytton, DE Bryce Mostella, OL Juice Scruggs, LB Brandon Smith, S Jonathan Sutherland, OL Landon Tengwall, QB Christian Veilleux, OL Rasheed Walker
  • Penn State players from the State of Michigan: LB Jamari Buddin (Belleville), S Enzo Jennings (Oak Park), CB Kalen King (Cass Tech), LB Kobe King (Cass Tech), DE Bryce Mostella (East Kentwood), S Jaylen Reed (Detroit King)


  • On November 28, 2020, Penn State beat Michigan by a score of 27-17, the final game of Michigan's 2020 season due to a COVID outbreak
  • QB Cade McNamara was 12/25 for 91 yards while dealing with a shoulder injury
  • RB Hassan Haskins ran 17 times for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns
  • Penn State RB Keyvone Lee ran 22 times for 134 yards and 1 touchdown
  • Penn State WR Parker Washington caught 9 passes for 93 yards


  • Michigan 24, Penn State 20


  1. This is a tough call

    Who will cover Dotson? If we sell out to stop him, does their run game come alive - for the first time in a year?

    Can we pass on the lions? Losing Corum hurts, bad

    I have picked MICHIGAN in every game this year, but going into happy valley without Corum available is a big ask. 16-20, PennSt

  2. Thanks for the preview.

    Not a great game to miss Corum but we should be fine. Like Harbaugh said, no one will complain about more carries and Haskins is built for this. This is a chance to have a career-defining game, like Chris Perry vs MSU.

    Dunlap will get his shot too, on a smaller scale. I think he's ahead of Franklin - remember, he's a freshman so they probably would rather keep his red-shirt. No fumbling!

    It sounds like this is a game to lean into the run game, try to take the crowd out, and grind em. Corum or no Corum. Obviously some balance is needed, and hopefully we'll see a few more QB and WR runs sprinkled in, but this might be 30+ carries for HH.

    On the other side PSU would be wise to spread us out and try to hunt favorable matchups in the secondary. Someone was saying it would be too disruptive to the D to put Dax on Dotson. He's either played safety or slot so far, but we'll see. I'll be curious to see how Barrett is deployed this week.

    Big day for our star players like Hutchinson and Haskins and a chance for this team to affirm it's identity or... fall flat.

    Not clear how much is on the line here. OSU seems headed for the playoff so perhaps the Rose Bowl is there for us to take. Lose this one and Michigan's season still mostly comes down to OSU. Win this one and Michigan's season still mostly comes down to OSU. At least from the fan perspective... but no question 11-2 would be better than 10-3.

    Winning on the road is tough but this is one of those games that are why we pay attention to Michigan football all year long. Hopefully it's a fun ride. Go Blue!

    1. I'm not expecting to come out with a road victory against a top 15 caliber team (PSU's ranking by fancy stats). Expecting the calls to go the other way again. Our best chance is to run it down their throats but I think PSU knows that and will scheme accordingly.

    2. I believe in the Bill Belichick way of putting two so-so guys on the other team's best guy, which leaves your best guy to shadow their #2.

      So for example, you put Brad Hawkins/Vincent Gray (or Hawkins/Turner) on Dotson and then let Dax Hill play over Parker Washington.

  3. Endorse! It seems like the key for PSU might be if their TEs and depth receivers can beat Turner, Moten, Barrett and company. Not that we'll totally shut down Dotson and Parker but we should be able to contain them with that approach.

  4. Keys as usual between 2 good teams will come down to big plays & turnovers.............and then factor in that Harbaugh can't beat a good team on the road and Happy Valley is a tuff place to play. OH, and michigan kix tooo many field goals in the red zone and PSU makes a lot of stops ,defensively in the red zone.

    As far as OSU headed to playoffs?? Bama is the key here to who gets in and who doesn't. If bama wins out there will be 2 SEC teams in the playoffs.
    If Oklahoma & Oregon win out..........???????? And OSU wins the big 10; I'm thinkin OSU is out. IF Michigan wins out I think they get in ahead of Oregon. Personally I don't think OK beats both Baylor & OSU on the road. And I won't be surprised at all if Bama gets a 2nd loss.

    So with bama & ok out...........opens door for cincy & Michigan - IF both those teams win out.

    As I See It..............INTJohn

  5. I hope I am wrong but I think Penn State will win this game. I think Penn State defense will stifle Michigan's offense and Penn State will hit just enough big plays to win the game. Penn State 21-16

    Usually when the mgoblog crowd expresses high confidence in a Michigan victory while the Vegas line predicts an even game, I start to worry. Especially true for a game deep in the season.

  6. Defenseay have given up 4th Downs, but this unit was in shambles, with no immediate upgrade in talent. HUGE plays throughout the day, abusing PennSt OL & Sean Clifford

    Hats off to Hassan Haskins. Dude wants it more than anyone we've had on that side of the ball in a long time! Edwards, please hit the gym, HARD

    Play of the game has to be that Erik All TD. I'm so happy to be wrong about him. Dude just does everything for us. Would love to see him with improved QB play

    9-1, LFG!!!