Michigan vs. Penn State: View from other side

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Penn State's Trace McSorley leads the Big Ten in passing yards per game (266.2).


John McGonigal, who covers Penn State for the Centre Daily Times, breaks down the Nittany Lions for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday night's Michigan-Penn State game. You can follow him on Twitter @jmcgonigal9.

Question: How special are Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley?

Answer: They really are special. The thing that intrigues me, everyone, whether you’re at the games or watching them on TV, they both have this chemistry on the field and they’re ridiculously talented. Trace had 15-straight completions against Northwestern, and Barkley was happy because it’s about whatever it takes to win. He admits it sounds cliché, but it’s how Saquon is wired and how Trace is wired. There’s no selfishness between those guys. Everyone has been talking about Saquon, and McSorley has been quietly playing well this season.”

More: Detroit News predictions: Michigan vs. Penn State

Q: How much are the Penn State players thinking about the 39-point loss at Michigan last year?

A: Personally, I think whatever they want to say — ‘We’re not focused on last year. We’re taking it one game at a time and each week is our Super Bowl,’ that game has to irk you. Putting aside that it’s the game that kept them out of the playoffs, it’s a game that embarrassed them. That was a low point for them, they were 2-2. To think they wouldn’t draw anything from that loss is naïve.”

Q: How is the Penn State offensive line?

A: Look, going into the season, I was among a good bit of the beat writers who thought this offensive line was not only going to be serviceable, it’s going to be above average and upper Big Ten. Four of the five (linemen) have been. The left tackle, guards, center have played well. Right tackle has been a real concern. Three different guys have started there over six games. The past couple games, Will Fries has finished up but has had a bum ankle. This unit was supposed to be so improved. To a degree it has, but they’re still letting up sacks. If Michigan fans are thinking that’s where we can win the game, I think they’re right.

Q: It’s a white out night game at Beaver Stadium. Does the white out factor into anything?

A: It’s such an intangible thing, but I think it does. Just seeing how the guys, not only on game day but throughout the week are amped up for white out week. It’s a real thing. They feed off of it. They do feed off the crowd and feed off the environment. Some Penn State fans might overstate it and say it’s good for 10 points, but they do get something. It’s a factor.

Q: Michigan has kicker Quinn Nordin, how does Penn State matchup?

A: Tyler Davis is an issue. The field goal unit as a whole is an issue. Two of the field goals have been blocked. He’s 6-of-13, and it’s not all on him. He hasn’t looked right. Quinn has been kicking so well for Michigan. If it comes down to field goal kicking, Penn State is in trouble. It’s been a problem since Week 1. At Northwestern, Tyler made one and they finally think they’re having a good week. The second team was driving in the fourth quarter and they put the field-goal unit on and he shanked a 31 yarder, and you could see the Penn State fans in the front row rolling their eyes.”


■ Saquon Barkley, RB: Barkley leads the FBS in all-purpose yards this season average 217 yards per game. So let’s start with his ability as a receiver. Barkley leads Penn State in both receptions (29) and receiving yards (395) this season and has Penn State’s career receiving yards record for a running back with 958 yards. He is about to break the program single-season record for running back receiving yards he set last year with 402 yards in 14 games. He already has 395 yards receiving in six games in 2017. Barkley has scored a touchdown in 13-straight games, tying him for the longest active streak in FBS. He currently ranks seventh on Penn State's career rushing yards list with 3,221 yards and is fourth on Penn State's career all-purpose charts with 4,511 yards.

■ Trace McSorley, QB: He leads the Big Ten in passing yards per game (266.2) and is among Big Ten passing leaders in multiple categories for a second consecutive season. He also ranks third with 1,597 total passing yards. McSorley is averaging 295.8 yards of total offense per game to rank third in the Big Ten (20th FBS) and his 13 passing touchdowns rank second in the Big Ten. He is responsible for 17.0 points per game, McSorley's .670 completion percentage ranks second (14th FBS). Against Northwestern, he completed 15-straight pass attempts from the first quarter through the third quarter breaking the program record for consecutive completions.

■ Shaka Toney, DE: Toney had the first multi-sack game of his career at Northwestern with two. He had his first career solo sack and second career forced fumble on a strip-sack of QB Clayton Thorson in the first quarter.  Toney's 2.0 sacks at Northwestern gives him the team lead with 3.0 sacks this season. Penn State has had a balanced pass rush as 14 different Nittany Lions have at least assisted on a sack. The Nittany Lions have totaled 17 sacks


GameDay in Happy Valley: This will be the sixth time ESPN’s College GameDay will originate from Penn State, but the first time since 2009. It’s also not the first time GameDay has been at Penn State when playing Michigan. The show originated from there in 1997 for what was called “Judgement Day.”

■ White out craziness:  The white-out tradition at Penn State goes back to a student section white out in 2004. This will be the 10th time for a full-stadium white out at Beaver Stadium, and Penn State is 4-5 in those games, including a 1-1 record against Michigan. This will be the fifth time Michigan has been part of a white out – two of them were student-section only in 2006 and 2010.

Big-time opponent:  Penn State is coming off a bye and the Nittany Lions boast their highest AP poll ranking — No. 2 — since 1999. Michigan upended Penn State last season in Ann Arbor, 49-10, but the Nittany Lions have won their last 14 regular season games and their last 12 games against Big Ten opponents since.