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Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Michigan Wolverines: Complete Game Preview

Tim TolleyContributor IOctober 8, 2013

Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Michigan Wolverines: Complete Game Preview

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    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    Penn State looks to bounce back from their 44-28 loss to Indiana last week when they host the 19th ranked Michigan Wolverines. 

    Michigan is coming off of a 42-13 win over Minnesota in the "Battle for the Little Brown Jug."

    This will be the first contest between these two since Penn State defeated Michigan in 2010 by a score of 41-31 in front of a Beaver Stadium "White House."

    The crowd this weekend will be similar as the Nittany Lions have declared this sold-out contest, the homecoming game, a full stadium whiteout. 

     

    Time: 5 p.m. ET

    Place: Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.

    TV: ESPN

    Radio: Penn State Network Affiliates

    Spread: Michigan opened as a one point favorite, but the line quickly moved up to -3 Monday before settling at -2.5 on Tuesday, per VegasInsider.com.

Penn State Keys to Victory

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Get After the QB

    Seems easy enough but Penn State is just 11 sacks through five games and facing an All-American caliber tackle in Taylor Lewan won't make things any easier. Devin Gardner is prone to making mistakes, but if he's given time in the pocket, he'll pick this Penn State secondary apart. 

     

    Re-Establish the Run

    After rushing for 287 yards against Kent State, the Nittany Lions returned from the bye and laid an egg against Indiana with just 70 yards on the ground. Michigan has better athletes everywhere on defense, and if they make Penn State one-dimensional, Christian Hackenberg will be in for a long day against the best defense he's seen in his short career. 

     

    Don't let Indiana Beat You Twice

    A lot has been made this week about Penn State's first-ever loss to the Hoosiers. Hopefully that buzz doesn't exist inside the Lasch Building. This football team needs to move forward and work on getting ready for Michigan. If they spend any time sulking instead of preparing, they'll be on their heels quick Saturday evening. 

Michigan Keys to Victory

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Don't Play Down to the Competition

    The Wolverines looked impressive in their win over Notre Dame but then came back with consecutive duds against terrible teams in Akron and Connecticut. There's no denying Michigan is the more talented team, but if they try to sleepwalk on Saturday, they might not be as fortunate as they were in September. 

     

    Go Downfield

    Penn State has shown susceptibility to the big play this year, and Michigan would be wise to exploit that early. Gardner can sling it, and the Wolverines have the players needed to stretch the field. A big play early would go a long way toward deflating the hostile crowd. 

     

    Eliminate Turnovers

    Since the spring, everybody has been singing the praises of Devin Gardner, but his eight interceptions have left some experts shaking their heads. As a whole, the Wolverines have a -3 turnover margin on the year. 

Penn State Players to Watch

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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    QB Christian Hackenberg

    This is a pivotal game for the young phenom. Despite his 340 passing yards last week, Hackenberg didn't play particularly well. Facing the best defense he's seen at home in front of a sold out crowd, fans would like to see Hackenberg lead the Nittany Lions to a win. He's certainly capable of such a performance. 

     

    DT DaQuan Jones

    If Jones can get up the field against the interior of this Michigan offensive line, he can make Gardner uncomfortable and help the ends make some plays. He's been statistically quite lately, but he hasn't stopped being a disruptive force. 

     

    CB Trevor Williams

    The much-maligned defensive back hasn't received much positive attention since the Syracuse game, but I think he has been improving. He'll be tested this weekend and could emerge as a hero or a goat.

     

    WR Allen Robinson

    He's just fun to watch.

Michigan Players to Watch

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    TE Devin Funchess

    Probably the best tight end in the Big Ten, Funchess is averaging a huge 19.73 yards per catch and will keep the safeties occupied, creating one-on-one matchups with the corners. In a nutshell, that is the Michigan passing game.

     

    WR Jeremy Gallon

    Gallon and Funchess (24 and 15) are the only two Michigan players with more than seven receptions through the first five games. Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler would be wise to give these two extra attention, forcing Gardner out of his comfort zone. 

     

    LB Jake Ryan

    According to The Detroit News, Michigan's best linebacker has been medically cleared and could play on Saturday. That emotional spark alone would be a huge deal for a defense that already allows just 19.4 points per game. 

What They Are Saying

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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    Here are some snippets from Bill O'Brien's Tuesday press conference, from GOPSUSports.com:

    On the injuries:

    "Ryan Keiser is still questionable for the game. We're hoping to have him, but we'll know more probably by the end of the day tomorrow. We feel good about it, but I would say he's still questionable. Right now, Brandon Felder is full go for the game. Allen Robinson will be ready for the game."

     

    On the team's mindset:

    "We've moved on from Indiana. We're focused on Michigan. Our guys are very, very excited about the opportunity they have Saturday night against a great Michigan team, a 5 0 team coming in here, 108,000 fans. Our guys are very focused on Michigan, learning the game plan, studying Michigan and our guys are going to show up and play hard on Saturday night."

     

    On Michigan QB Devin Gardner:

    "He's a dangerous guy because he can run and throw, and there's a number of guys like that in this conference. I think the thing you've got to try to do is really try to keep him in the pocket. When he gets out of the pocket, he's very dangerous. Very dangerous. The other thing about Devin Gardner, from being around him at the Big Ten media day, he's a great kid, just a really nice kid who represents Michigan really well, and it's going to be a big challenge playing against him."

     

    On Penn State's turnover margin:

    "We do a lot of drills on that and coach it up, and whether it's ball drills, interception drills, strip drills, fumble recovery drills, blocked punt drills, we drill it, and we need to do a better job in that area, no doubt about it."

     

    On the atmosphere he expects for Saturday:

    "I mean, Penn State Michigan, ESPN, 5 o'clock, 108,000. We've got Nittanyville going crazy over here. I think it would be crazy to think this is just another game. I think this is a great opportunity for our team. Our kids are really excited. I love this time of year personally because the weather changes, it gets a little colder. It just reminds you of football, Big Ten football. This is a Big Ten game. It's a big game, and our kids are very excited about it. So we know it's a big rivalry and a big game."

     

Prediction

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Michigan comes in with a rushing offense ranked just 63rd in the country and a passing offense ranked 77th. Still, they manage to average 38.8 points per game and are 5-0 on the year.

    Wolverine cornerback Blake Countess has four interceptions on the year and will be shouldered with the task of following Allen Robinson around. 

    Both teams have been so hard to predict this year, and this game could end in a blowout either way or a game-winning touchdown on the last possession. 

    I like Penn State to bounce back from the loss to Indiana and give the sold-out crowd a good show. In the end, Michigan shows up to play and pulls out a squeaker.

    Prediction: Michigan 30 - Penn State 27

    All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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