After surviving a top 20 Iowa team, Kinnick Stadium at night, and the shenanigans of John O’Neill, Penn State is now 6-0 overall on the season and 3-0 in the Big Ten. Next up for James Franklin and company are the 5-1 Michigan Wolverines under the Beaver Stadium lights in front of a White Out crowd.
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Home Stadium: Michigan Stadium (107,061)
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (5th season, 43-15)
Conference: Big Ten
Conference Titles: 42 Big Ten
Overall Bowl Record: 21-26
The Penn State Nittany Lions and Michigan Wolverines have met 22 times, the first of which was a 21-13 Michigan victory in 1993. All-time, Michigan has won 14 of the 22 match ups between these two blue blood programs. In recent years, this series has been dominated by the home team. The home team has won each of the past three seasons, outscoring the visitor 133-30 in the process.
2018 was supposed to be the year for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines. They had one of the best defenses in the country, Harbaugh was supposed to finally have his quarterback in Shea Patterson, and they entered the final week of the regular season ranked in the top 4 in the College Football Playoff Rankings. Well, following a 62-39 shellacking at the hands of Ohio State in the regular season finale it was not the year for the Wolverines. They then capped their season by getting blasted 41-15 at the hands of the Florida Gators in the Peach Bowl.
During the offseason Michigan’s coach staff saw some major turnover. The biggest change was ex-Penn State wide receivers coach Josh Gattis being hired as the team’s new offensive coordinator. Gattis was hired to fill the offensive coordinator role that had previously been held by Pep Hamilton. Ben McDaniels was also promoted from an offensive assistant to being wide receivers coach.
The Wolverines also lost linebackers coach Al Washington to Ohio State. Defensive line coach Greg Mattison went with Washington to Columbus, where he became Ryan Day’s co-defensive coordinator. Harbaugh hired Shaun Nau away from Arizona State to replace Mattison as defensive line coach, and Anthony Campanile was hired away from Boston College to coach linebackers.
Michigan signed 26 players in their 2019 recruiting class. Highlighted by 5-star safety Daxton Hill and defensive tackle Chris Hinton, the Wolverines class rnaked 8th nationally according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings. The class also ranked as the best in the Big Ten.
Facing one of the worst Power 5 teams in the country in the Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan jumped out to a 28-0 lead and looked ready to cruise. Well, the Wolverines then decided to stop playing football and next thing they knew Illinois had cut their lead to 28-25 early in the 4th quarter.
The Wolverine offense, thanks in large part to a pair of Illinois fumbles, then scored the game’s final 14 points on their way to a 17-point victory. They were also able to put together a 7-play drive that allowed them to run out the final 5:17 of the game.
Michigan posted a season high in total yards (489) and rushing yards (295) in their victory over Illinois. While Jim Harbaugh, Josh Gattis and the Michigan offensive staff will point to this game as the Michigan offense finally getting on track, Illinois’ defense is one of the worst they will face all season. Their offense also struggled for much of the second half on Saturday afternoon. They also lost two fumbles, bringing their season total to nine fumbles lost.
As was discussed above, Michigan hired Gattis to be their offensive coordinator this past offseason. Head coach Jim Harbaugh announced he would be ready to hand the reigns to Gattis and give him the keys to the Wolverine offense in an effort to jump start a group that has struggled under Harbaugh. Well, thus far, the Gattis hire has not worked out.
Six games into the Gattis Era the Wolverines are averaging 30.7 points per game. However, that figure is greatly inflated by having played Rutgers and Illinois. Michigan has scored 94 of their 184 points this season against Rutgers and Illinois. Against teams not named Rutgers and Illinois, aka team’s with a pulse on defense, the Wolverines are averaging just 22 points per game.
Their passing attack currently ranks 73rd in the FBS, averaging 231.2 yards per game. As for their running game, Michigan is averaging 4.1 yards per carry this season. Freshman Zach Charbonnet has been their leading rusher this season with 376 yards and 5 touchdowns on 79 carries. As a team they are averaging 156.2 yards per game on the ground which ranks 78th in the FBS.
Michigan’s offense has also struggled to take care of the ball. They’ve fumbled the ball 17 times this season, losing 9 of them. Their quarterbacks have thrown 4 interceptions this season.
Under Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dom Brown, the Wolverines have been known for their stout defense. While their defense has been strong this season, it has not played as well as previous years.
Michigan is allowing just 17.5 points per game. However, in their two road contest they have allowed 60 points. Their PPG total is also aided by a shutout of a completely incompetent Rutgers team.
Surprisingly, Michigan has struggled some against the run. The Wolverines are allowing 123 rushing yards per game and were gashed by both Army and Wisconsin. Ricky Rahne and the Nittany Lion offense should be able to exploit the Wolverine defense with runs between the tackles.
Special teams have been an adventure for the Wolverines. While kickers Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin are a combined 21/21 on PATs, field goals have not gone as smoothly. While Moody is 5/6 on FG attempts, Nordin is 0/3. Heh. However, punter Will Hart is having a fine season averaging 46.5 yards per punt.
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