Last season the Nittany Lions got off to a 14-0 start, which stoked a frenzied White Out crowd to max lit before a young Michigan team found its footing. This season the Wolverines could use a similar quick start, if for no other reason than to stop Penn State from having any confidence it can hang around and steal this one with play-making quarterback Trace McSorley--perhaps the best quarterback the school has ever had.
Reverse the Run
Last season the Nittany Lions out-rushed Michigan by 121 yards, including three rushing touchdowns from McSorley. It would go a long way towards winning the game on Saturday for the Wolverines to reverse that statistic. Penn State is actually averaging about 20 yards more rushing per game than the Wolverines this season, but has only faced one team ranked in the top 30 nationally in rushing defense thus far. That was last week against Iowa (3rd), and the Hawkeyes held Penn State a full 100 yards below its season rushing average in Happy Valley. Meanwhile, Michigan is 9th nationally in rush defense, and has already faced 3 of the top 30 rush offenses in the country. And that trio averaged only 123 yards rushing/game against Michigan, which was well below their gaudy season averages.
Close the Gap
Last season McSorley's QBR for the game was almost 60 points better than Michigan starter John O'Korn's. That's an insurmountable margin. Off the top of my head and without researching it, I'd guess since the Big Ten largely installed modern passing offenses in the mid-1980s, the list of games Michigan has won with a 60-point QBR deficit is a very small one. And that's probably true of every other college football program as well, unless they're running the triple-option. Shea Patterson doesn't have to be the best quarterback on the field Saturday for Michigan to win the game, but at the very least he needs to close this gap.
Play Actual Football
The first three keys to victory are direct reversals of last year's humiliating loss in State College. This final one is a direct continuation of what we've seen so far this year. The Wolverines are the better football team on both sides of the line of scrimmage. They're the more balanced team. They're better at complementary football. The Nittany Lions cannot win this game if it's a football game. However, if it becomes street ball, then McSorley is still more than capable of making enough big plays to steal this one road. Or at the very least make Michigan sweat this one out.
Prediction: Michigan 28, Penn State 14