Michigan vs. Penn State preview: Snuff out big plays

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

The Detroit News' Angelique S. Chengelis breaks down Saturday's Michigan-Penn State at Michigan Stadium (3:30, ABC/WWJ)

Penn State's Saquon Barkley has a Big Ten-leading six rushing touchdowns this season.

Nittany Lions to watch

Saquon Barkley, RB: A sophomore, he ran for 68 yards against Temple last weekend and has 1,334 yards during his career. Barkley had a 55-yard TD run against Temple, the longest of his career, and his six rushing TDs the first three games are the most by a Penn State player since 2008 (Evan Royster, six in 2008). Barkley’s seven combined TDs are the most since Lydell Mitchell had eight in 1971. His six rushing TDs are the most in the Big Ten and are fifth nationally.

Trace McSorley, QB: He leads the Big Ten in passing yards (828), which is 20th nationally. McSorley has completed 64.4 percent of his passes and thrown for at least 209 yards in all three games — which are also his first three career starts. Against Temple last weekend, he had 287 yards (18-for-24).

Chris Godwin, WR: After a slow start (11 catches, no TDs in two games), Godwin had a breakout performance against Temple — seven catches for 117 yards, and moved into 10th on Penn State’s career receptions list with 112. It was Godwin’s seventh career 100-yard receiving game. He had a 52-yard TD reception.


Linebacker oUch: Penn State always will be known as Linebacker U, but that group has struggled with injuries. Nyeem Wartman-White suffered a season-ending injury last week — the second straight season he will miss — and LBs Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell have missed time. S Koa Farmer has moved to linebacker.

Stingy red zone: Opponents have not had tremendous scoring success against Michigan, which leads the country in third-down defense (10.5 percent). Opponents have had three drives result in plays in the red zone. Michigan is second nationally and tied for the Big Ten lead with Illinois.

Detroit News predictions: Michigan vs. Penn State

Peppers anyone? Jabrill Peppers is a three-way threat for the Wolverines. He made his offensive appearance last weekend against Colorado, with two carries for 24 yards. But he’s been a bigger threat on defense and leads the country averaging 3.2 tackles for loss. As a punt returner, he’s fourth nationally and No. 1 in the Big Ten, averaging 21.6 yards.

Looooong plays: Michigan’s defense, which has missed three of its top defensive players with injuries, has given up several big plays the last two weeks. Penn State’s no-huddle spread offense had such quick-strike success last week against Temple — Saquon Barkley had a 55-yard TD run, and QB Trace McSorley had pass completions of 52, 52 and 45 yards. Penn State is tied for 14th nationally with six plays of 40 yards or more.

Home sweet home: The Wolverines are in the midst of a five-game home streak to start the season — and this is the Big Ten opener. Michigan has won 26 of the past 27 home Big Ten openers (lost to Minnesota in 2014). Michigan is 6-3 against Penn State at home.

Facts and figures

■ Penn State opens its Big Ten season the road for the 15th time in its 24 seasons in the conference. The Nittany Lions are 7-7 and are opening against the Wolverines for the second time in program history (2007).

■ Some teams can be intimidated by Michigan Stadium and its sheer size. Not Penn State. The two have the largest stadiums in the country for a combined capacity of 214,173 (Michigan 107,601, Penn State 106,572).

■ This will be the 20th time Michigan has played Penn State. Michigan leads the series 12-7, including a nine-game winning streak.

■ Michigan is opening with five home games — it also opened 2011 with five straight home games.

■ Michigan has been ranked in the AP poll 13 of the 19 games against Penn State and is No. 4 heading into this meeting. Michigan is 9-4 record when ranked in the Top 25, and 2-1 against Penn State when ranked in the top five.