Michigan vs. Penn State: Each Team's Keys to Victory in Big Ten Showdown

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IIOctober 12, 2013

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 05: Sione Houma #39 Csont's York #81 and Reon Dawson #20 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrate a win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan defeated Minnesota 42-13.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

The No. 18 Michigan Wolverines will be taking on the Penn State Nittany Lions this Saturday, and each team must focus on a couple of things in order to come away with a win.

It's been a scary few weeks in Ann Arbor, but the Wolverines are still undefeated and looking to stay in contention for a BCS bowl this year.  Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions are playing for pride, as they will not be allowed to go to a bowl game this year.

Below are a couple of keys for each team on how they can win this Big Ten matchup on Saturday.  If either team can focus on these keys for all four quarters, then they will be in great shape to pull out this win.


Michigan Wolverines

Limit Turnovers

As talented as this team is, the Wolverines are often quite sloppy with the ball.  They've already turned the ball over 12 times, with nine interceptions and three fumbles.

Devin Gardner has been the biggest reason for these turnovers.  He's had 14 total touchdowns and over 1,300 total yards, but he's thrown eight interceptions, which leads the Big Ten.

Penn State has forced five interceptions this season, and they've held opposing quarterbacks to just a 56.9 completion percentage.  

Michigan needs to make sure that they can maintain possession throughout the game.  We know that they can put up points, averaging 38.8 per game, but they will be in big trouble if they turn the ball over and give Penn State ideal field position.


Stay Committed to the Ground Game

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 05: Fitzgerald Toussaint #28 of the Michigan Wolverines runs eight yards for a first quarter touchdown during the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by L
Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Wolverines are capable of making some big plays on the ground, but they need to make sure to stay committed to the run game, even if Penn State has success stopping them.

Fitzgerald Toussaint has been the Wolverines' leading rusher through the first five games.  He's ran for 397 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 4.1 yards per carry.  Gardner has continually made plays in the run game as well, running for 318 yards and six touchdowns.

They may have a couple of guys that can run the ball, but Penn State has done a good job of stopping the run so far.  They've held their opponents to 111.4 rushing yards per game and just 3.2 yards per carry.

If the Nittany Lions can stop the run and make Michigan a one-dimensional team, the Wolverines will be in big trouble.  Michigan needs to keep running the ball in order to stay balanced and open up the field in the passing game.


Penn State Nittany Lions

Don't Put All of the Pressure on Hackenberg

Oct 5, 2013; Bloomington, IN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) passes the ball against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

As a true freshman, Christian Hackenberg has enough pressure on him already as the starting quarterback for Penn State.  The Nittany Lions will need to make sure that they can take some of the pressure off of Hackenberg in order to keep him from collapsing late in the game.

The former five-star recruit is having a decent start to his college career.  He's completing 59.9 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,367 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions.  He had his best game of his short career last week in the loss to Indiana, throwing for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

The secondary for Michigan is no pushover, however, and they can take advantage of the young QB.  Blake Countess has been big for Michigan, grabbing four interceptions already this season, with one going for a touchdown.

Penn State must continue to run the ball and keep Hackenberg from passing the ball 55 times like he did last week.  They have some great running backs, and the team as a whole has already ran for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns.


Eat the Game Clock

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 10: Running back Zach Zwinak #28 of the Penn State Nittany Lions runs with the ball against  the Nebraska Cornhuskers defense during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 10, 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska beat Penn State
Eric Francis/Getty Images

With how explosive the Wolverines offense is, the best thing that Penn State can do is control the time of possession and eat up as much of the game clock as possible.

The Nittany Lions run 78 plays per game, which is quite a bit.  To put that in perspective, the Oregon Ducks run 77.2 plays every game.  

In order to keep eating clock, Penn State will have to rely on those talented running backs.  Zach Zwinak will be asked to take the majority of carries, and he's been having a very productive season, running for 369 yards and eight touchdowns.  

Bill Belton has been a nice change-of-pace back coming in.  He's shown some big-play potential, running for 284 yards and averaging 6.6 yards per carry while also scoring two touchdowns.

As long as the game is close for Penn State, they will need to focus on running the ball and picking high-percentage passing plays.  If they can run the clock down in a close game, they will be in position to pull off the big upset win.


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