Preview: Michigan at Penn State

Preview: Michigan at Penn State

November 12, 2021

Michigan’s rushing offense has dropped off somewhat dramatically from earlier in the year, which is saying something, since they’re still #6 with 234 yards/game on the ground and #15 in rushing average. Hassan Haskins leads the team in carries (165), yardage (829 yards), and touchdowns (11). He may be relied on more heavily than normal. After a career-high 27 carries last week with Blake Corum missing all but one offensive play, Haskins is the only somewhat experienced back on the roster. I do not expect Corum (who was in a walking boot by the end of the game) to play and freshman Donovan Edwards missed last week due to injury, leaving Haskins and then . . . walk-on Leon Franklin and freshman fifth-stringer Tavierre Dunlap. Penn State is #50 in rush defense (137 yards allowed/game) and #31 in yards per carry allowed (3.56). With starting defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher out for the season, the Nittany Lions’ rushing defense has fallen off; they gave up 357 yards on the ground to Illinois three weeks ago. Things have improved a little over the past couple weeks, but that may be due to playing Maryland, which is pretty inept on the ground. The leading tacklers are senior linebacker Ellis Brooks (6’1″, 241 lbs.) and junior inside linebacker Brandon Smith (6’3″, 241) with 68 and 61 stops, respectively. I think Michigan can pound the ball a little bit, but they need to be careful to keep Haskins fresh.
Advantage: Michigan

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Michigan may need to rely on the passing game a little more this week to Corum’s (expected) absence. They rank #81 in the country (217 yards/game) and #53 in passing efficiency. Starting quarterback Cade McNamara has completed 62.5% of his passes for 1,666 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Andrel Anthony had a short-lived breakout against MSU two games ago, but the leading receiver overall is Cornelius Johnson (28 catches, 456 yards, 3 touchowns). Johnson needs to start taking over as Michigan’s #1 wideout a little more consistently. Michigan is #3 in sacks allowed with just 0.67 per week. Penn State is #45 in pass defense (214 yards allowed/game) and #8 in passing efficiency defense. They have allowed just 6 touchdowns while pulling in 10 interceptions, led by senior safety Ji’Ayir Brown (6’1″, 205) with 4 picks and senior Jaquan Brisker (6’1″, 200) with 2. Penn State is #85 in sacks despite having a solid pass rushing defensive end in senior Arnold Ebeketie (6’3″, 256), who has 6.5 takedowns by himself. Michigan should also be wary of linebacker Brandon Smith, who has 8.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks; Smith has some ability as a blitzer and pass rusher. I would look for the Wolverines to come out with a balanced offense to keep PSU guessing, thus reducing the pounding on Haskins while taking advantage of a so-so pass rush.
Advantage: Penn State

Michigan is #31 in rush defense (125 yards allowed/game) and #47 in yards per carry allowed (3.74). Senior middle linebacker Josh Ross leads in tackles with 61, followed by junior safety Dax Hill with 48. Michigan defensive tackles Chris Hiinton and Mazi Smith had been playing better until they seemed to stagnate a little last week against Indiana, but I think Indiana’s offensive line was more solid than what we’ll see against the Nittany Lions. Penn State is #117 in the country in rushing (107 yards/game) and #119 in yards per carry (3.22). Senior Noah Cain (6’0″, 220) leads the squad in attempts and yards, but the latter just barely; he averages just 3.15 yards per attempt. Sophomore Keyvone Lee (6’0″, 239) had his coming out party against Michigan as a freshman in 2020 and hasn’t had a game like that since, but he’s averaging 5.13 yards per attempt this season. Penn State’s interior line is just average, and the tackles might be worse. Michigan should win this battle, and I don’t think Lee will have another career game. The X factor is quarterback Sean Clifford, who averaged 3.4+ yards per carry the past two seasons but is down to 2.1 this year, partly because of an injury suffered a couple weeks ago. If he’s not willing or able to keep the ball and make plays with his feet, that makes PSU’s rushing game largely ineffective.
Advantage: Michigan

Michigan is #9 in pass defense (173 yards allowed/game) and #10 in passer rating defense. They allow just 6.0 yards per attempt with 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Those numbers were helped by Michigan playing against a freshman backup for Indiana last week, who threw for 88 yards on 3.5 yards per attempt. The pass defense is hurt by the loss of cornerback Gemon Green, whom I also expect to miss this week after hurting his shoulder against the Hoosiers. Michigan is #63 in sacks overall, led by David Ojabo (8.0 sacks) and Aidan Hutchinson (7.0 sacks). Penn State is #25 in passing offense (277 yards/game) and #74 in passing efficiency. Clifford is completing 64% of his passes and has 16 touchdowns with 6 interceptions. Senior Jahan Dotson (5’11”, 184) already has 71 catches for 932 yards and 9 touchdowns, which seems ridiculous, considering Michigan’s leading receiver has 28 receptions. I just don’t even know what an offense looks like that throws that many balls to its #1 receiver. Alongside Dotson is Parker Washington (5’10”, 207) who has 43 catches for 498 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Nittany Lions are middle-of-the-pack at #67 in sacks allowed with 2.22 per game. If I were Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, I would plan to bracket Dotson with a corner and Brad Hawkins, and see if the other receivers and/or Penn State’s running backs can beat me. However, I would not be surprised to see them try to stick Dax Hill on Dotson, man to man.
Advantage: Michigan


  • Penn State players recruited by Michigan: LB Ellis Brooks, LB Jamari Buddin, RB Noah Cain, OL Jimmy Christ, WR Jahan Dotson, RB Devyn Ford, DT Fred Hansard, CB Daequan Hardy, DT Aeneas Hawkins, RB Caziah Holmes, DE Adisa Isaac, S Enzo Jennings, TE Theo Johnson, CB Kalen King, LB Kobe King, CB A.J. Lytton, DE Bryce Mostella, OL Juice Scruggs, LB Brandon Smith, S Jonathan Sutherland, OL Landon Tengwall, QB Christian Veilleux, OL Rasheed Walker
  • Penn State players from the State of Michigan: LB Jamari Buddin (Belleville), S Enzo Jennings (Oak Park), CB Kalen King (Cass Tech), LB Kobe King (Cass Tech), DE Bryce Mostella (East Kentwood), S Jaylen Reed (Detroit King)


  • On November 28, 2020, Penn State beat Michigan by a score of 27-17, the final game of Michigan’s 2020 season due to a COVID outbreak
  • QB Cade McNamara was 12/25 for 91 yards while dealing with a shoulder injury
  • RB Hassan Haskins ran 17 times for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns
  • Penn State RB Keyvone Lee ran 22 times for 134 yards and 1 touchdown
  • Penn State WR Parker Washington caught 9 passes for 93 yards


  • Michigan 24, Penn State 20

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