(14) Michigan Wolverines (-4) at Penn State Nittany Lions
After watching lowly Indiana take Michigan to the brink last Saturday, the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) have a little extra reason to believe they can pull the upset when they host the Wolverines (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) this Saturday at Beaver Stadium (12:00 PM Eastern).
Michigan needed two overtimes to get by the Hoosiers (48-41), who are winless in conference play. Quarterback Jake Rudock had a huge day leading the offense; the senior completed 33 of 46 passes for 440 yards and a school-record six touchdowns, including a fourth-and-goal TD to senior wideout Jehu Chesson with two seconds left in regulation. Rudock hadn’t thrown more than two TDs in a game this season before torching the Hoosiers for a half-dozen.
New head coach Jim Harbaugh praised the poise of his star pivot after the game.
“If Jake doesn’t play the way he does, we don’t have a chance,” Harbaugh said to the Associated Press. “All those attributes — talk about his accuracy, talk about his arm strength, talk about his durability, his toughness, he’s intelligent — but I still go back to that one, he is just unflappable. It does not matter what the situation is.”
Harbaugh won’t be as thrilled with the performance put in by his defense. Indiana outgained Michigan on the ground by a huge margin (307 yards to 141), which is surprising given that the Wolverines rank top-ten in the nation against the run in both yards per game (103.2) and yards per attempt (3.1).
Penn State had last week off after dropping a tight 23-21 contest to Northwestern the week before. The loss to the Wildcats came on the heels of a dominant 29-7 win over Indiana.
The Nittany Lions are still searching for their first signature victory under head coach James Franklin and beating Michigan would be that type of win. Their defense, which sits 13th in scoring at 17.7 PPG, should give Rudock a few more problems than Indiana was able to.
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg will hope to show his skills on national television come Saturday. Hackenberg came into the season as a much-hyped NFL prospect; his name was even thrown around in no. 1 pick discussions. But the junior has had an up and down year, passing for 1,992 yards, 13 touchdowns, and three interceptions.
The bad Hackenberg showed up against Northwestern; he failed to find the end zone and passed for just 205 yards and a pick on 40 attempts. But the two games before that (wins over Maryland and Indiana) were arguably his two best of the season as he piled up nearly 600 yards through the air and five majors without committing a turnover.
The Wolverines are 2-5 ATS in their last seven road games, and 1-5 ATS in their last six as a road favorite. The Nittany Lions are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games as a home underdog of 3.5-10.0 points. Given how vulnerable Michigan looked on the road last week – and the fact that Hackenberg is trending up, on the whole – take the home Nittanies and the points.
Pick: Penn State +4.
(Photo credit: Peter R. Schlitt (flickr user One Raised Eyebrow) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)