Jim Harbaugh cannot downplay the excitement surrounding the Penn State-Michigan Top 10 showdown in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
“Big, big, big game,” the Wolverines coach said during his Monday press conference. “If anybody was watching football yesterday on television, the pro games, seems like every commercial break there was an advertisement for the Michigan-Penn State game.
“So if anybody wasn’t realizing that this was a big game, there were constant reminders yesterday.”
The game features Big Ten powerhouses, two of the 15 remaining undefeated FBS teams. It marks the first time since 1997 that both the fifth-ranked Wolverines and 10th-ranked Nittany Lions have been in the Top 10 at the time of the game.
Michigan (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) is coming off a 31-10 road victory over Indiana. The game was tied at halftime but the Wolverines outscored the Hoosiers 21-0 in the second half.
“If you are going to reach the promised land, you need those unique games where the team has showed what it’s capable of doing,” Harbaugh said. “Defining moments in the second half of a ballgame.
“There’s a lot to keep us humble and things that we have to improve on. But it did also give us a glimpse of what we can do.”
Quarterback J.J. McCarthy had his best statistical outing since being named the starter after the second game of the season. He passed for a career-best 304 yards and three touchdowns, two to Cornelius Johnson.
“He’s shown no signs of going out there and being timid,” Harbaugh said in a radio interview. “He’s playing his game. Which is exactly what we want him to do. Keep being him and his preparation has been right on the mark.”
Blake Corum continues what has become a Heisman Trophy push with 124 rushing yards and his 11th touchdown of the season. The defense recorded seven sacks, increasing its season total to 22.
That pass rush becomes more fearsome when Michigan gets the lead.
“They’ve done a good job of making people one dimensional,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “People have gotten away from the run game because they’ve gotten down by too many points.”
The Wolverines’ pass rushers will be chasing a familiar foe. Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford passed for 205 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 45 yards in last season’s meeting, when Michigan prevailed 21-17. This season, Clifford has completed 62 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and only two interceptions.
He passed for just 140 yards against Northwestern last Saturday as the defense carried the team to a 17-7 victory. The Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0) held Northwestern to 31 rushing yards on 28 carries. Penn State has held four of its five opponents under 100 rushing yards, allowing 79.6 yards per game.
It will be tested by Corum on Saturday. Penn State will counter with a two-pronged rushing attack. Nicholas Singleton is averaging 7.3 yards a carry (with five TDs), while Kaytron Allen has averaged 5.3 yards and has three touchdowns. Clifford has four rushing touchdowns this season.
Michigan leads the all-time series between the schools 15-10. If the Wolverines can add to that win total, they have a good chance of being undefeated entering their last two games against Illinois (No. 24) and Ohio State (No. 2).
“It’s going to be a challenge.,” Franklin said. “This is why you come to a place like Penn State, to play in a game like this.”
–Field Level Media