Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst talks about the opportunity to place No. 2 Penn State. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — The Michigan Wolverines have tumbled in the national polls, but in their final six regular-season games, they will face three teams currently ranked in the top 10.
That starts Saturday night at No. 2 Penn State.
The Nittany Lions are 6-0, 3-0 Big Ten and coming off a bye, while Michigan, now ranked No. 19 after being as high as No. 7 two weeks ago, is 5-1, 2-1 and coming off an overtime win at Indiana. That followed a 14-10 loss at home to Michigan State.
“We’re playing the No. 2 team in the country,” senior Maurice Hurst said Monday. “What an opportunity for us to show ourselves, especially after two kind of tough games, losing to Michigan State and having that overtime win against Indiana.
“They were both really tough games, and (we) have that opportunity to redeem ourselves and keep ourselves in the talks for the playoff or for the Big Ten championship.”
Michigan has won three straight against Penn State, including a 49-10 victory last season, in which the Nittany Lions were without three linebackers, then a fourth was ejected in the first half for targeting and his replacement suffered a right knee injury in the game. Still, they beat Ohio State and went on win the Big Ten championship.
Hurst said the Wolverines know Penn State hasn’t forgotten about that loss.
Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst talks about playing Penn State at Happy Valley. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“They’re going to come out a little bit extra intense,” Hurst said. “I think they’re really going to bring it. That’s going to be what makes this such an exciting game is they have a lot of motivation from last year.
“They won the Big Ten championship, but we got the better of them last season. That’s definitely motivation for them for the week that you can’t really sleep on this Michigan team. I feel like they’re really going to come out ready to play.”
Quarterback John O’Korn will make his third start of the season in place of injured Wilton Speight. Michigan began the week as double-digit underdogs heading to Penn State.
“I think everybody is fired up,” O’Korn said. “We’re obviously the underdog in the game, nobody’s really giving us a chance, so we’re excited for the opportunity.”
Sophomore linebacker Devin Bush, however, doesn’t think much of Michigan being underdogs.
“What everybody says about being underdogs and going to play at their field and this and that, it means nothing to us,” Bush said. “It’s another game, another team we’ve got to beat.”
But Hurst said having the underdog chip will only add to their preparation this week as they get ready for their second of back-to-back road games. Michigan won 28-16 at penn State two years ago when the Wolverines were No. 15 and Penn State was unranked.
“You sort of have that underdog mentality,” Hurst said. “You can really use that to help us and I think that will be something that really pushes us throughout the week and gets the best out of us knowing we’re going into a hostile environment and we’re underdogs and we know we have the ability.”
UM head coach Jim Harbaugh talks about facing No. 2 Penn State in Happy Valley. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said the team is excited about going to face the nation’s No. 2-ranked team, but reminded that this isn’t the first time the Wolverines have been in a big game this year.
“They’ve been on the big stage already this year multiple times in big games and have another crack at it,” Harbaugh. “Knowing our guys the way I do, they’re competitors. I feel they’ll be excited.”
Hurst said his favorite place to play is Michigan Stadium, but Beaver Stadium is right up there. It will be a “white out” on Saturday night, and ESPN’s GameDay will be on campus.
“The crowd’s great, the atmosphere is great,” Hurst said. “It’s college football at its finest. I think it’s going to be one of the best games to watch, and I think it’s going to be really fun to play.”