Detroit News predictions: Michigan vs. Penn State

The Detroit News

Angelique S. Chengelis, Matt Charboneau, John Niyo and Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News offer their predictions on the outcome of Saturday’s Michigan vs. Penn State game at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania. (7:30 p.m., ABC/950).

Michigan and Penn State will tangle Saturday night in Happy Valley, trading blowing victories the past two seasons.

Angelique S. Chengelis: White out, night game, College GameDay, Beaver Stadium and No. 7 Penn State. That's a tough, tough combination in college football, and it’s Michigan’s next hurdle. The Wolverines were smoked in Happy Valley, 42-13, two years ago in nearly the exact circumstances and then reversed the beatdown last year, 42-7, at Michigan Stadium. But this is the real test, of course, whether Jim Harbaugh can take his team on the road in a hostile, intimidating environment and win. Is this team much different than the one that lost 35-14 after spotting a 35-0 lead at Wisconsin a month ago?

The defense has made improvements, most notably an eight-sack performance against Iowa, which was credited with one yard rushing. But clearly the Wolverines need more from the offense. Speaking of which, Penn State has an unflappable quarterback in Sean Clifford and a running back rotation that features Noah Cain. Clifford and Cain need to be Michigan’s focus from the defensive side, but Penn State’s defense can be menacing, as well. The Nittany Lions are tied for second nationally in sacks and third in tackles for loss. They have some vulnerability when it comes to defending the deep pass, so this is when quarterback Shea Patterson and his receivers, especially Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins, presuming he’s back after missing the game at Illinois last Saturday, need to be completely meshed. And, last but not least, to be filed under “Master of the Obvious," Michigan can’t afford turnovers. Penn State 24, Michigan 17

Matt Charboneau: While Ohio State and Wisconsin have been getting all of the attention in the Big Ten, Penn State has quietly remained unbeaten while piling up 42 points a game behind quarterback Sean Clifford, who leads the conference by throwing for 260 yards a game. On top of that, the Nittany Lions have been dominant on defense, allowing just 8.2 points a game. None of that bodes well for the Wolverines, who got crushed the last time they played on the road against a top-10 team. The offense still hasn’t gotten rolling and turning that around in Happy Valley will be too tall of a task. Penn State 34, Michigan 17.

John Niyo: It's now or never for this Michigan team to make a statement on the road. Penn State might have just made its last weekend at Iowa. But that game also showed what pressure can do to Penn State's offense, and if Don Brown manages to dial up pressure without giving up too many big plays — easier said than done — there's a decent chance for an upset here. Unless the offense keeps fumbling away opportunities, that is. Michigan 24, Penn State 21

Bob Wojnowski: Unlike recent blowouts between these teams, this will be a low-scoring slugfest, and it might come down to the legs of the quarterbacks. Shea Patterson hasn’t run as much as expected, but he’s healthy now, and so is backup Dylan McCaffrey. Sophomore Sean Clifford is Penn State’s second-leading rusher and a decent passer. Both defenses are tough, and the Nittany Lions are second in the nation in sacks. A sack or two in the fourth quarter will be the difference. Penn State 16, Michigan 13