top of page

Michigan at Penn State - Are the Nittany Lions Facing the Nation’s Best Team?

by Emmet Mahon

Photo courtesy of University of Michigan Athletics.

The Ohio State-Michigan annual meatgrinder has been the killing fields for the dreams of Penn State fans and playoff contention for years. One, if not both programs, have consistently prevented the Nittany Lions from reaching the Big Ten title game and a berth in the College Football Playoff. Ohio State has already dented those hopes with their 20-12 victory on October 21 in Columbus. Penn State’s faint hopes of avoiding history repeating itself lies on beating the most talented and balanced roster this season, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines.

The rivalry between the two schools is relatively new. The first game was played in 1993. Michigan leads the all-time series 16-10, largely due to a string of nine consecutive victories between 1997 and 2006. Even last year’s 41-17 win in Ann Arbor is deceiving. The Nittany Lions led at halftime 17-16. Michigan’s depth and superior talent wore down Penn State in the second half and ended in the lopsided score. Of the two heavyweights perpetually in Penn State’s path, they have been more competitive against the Maize and Blue than the Scarlet and Grey.

This Saturday’s match up will feature two of the nation’s best defenses. For Penn State to walk away the victors, it will have to overcome a program that may have close to 20 players selected in the 2024 NFL Draft held in the Wolverines backyard of Detroit.

Overview: #3 Michigan (9-0, 6-0) #10 Penn State (8-1, 5-1)

PPG: 40.7 40.2

Opponent PPG: 6.7 11.9

Rushing YPG: 167.1 173.2

Opponents Rushing YPG: 90.1 58.8

Passing YPG: 257.1 220.8

Opponents Passing YPG: 141.3 175.7

Time of Possession: 32:30 33:59

Opponents Time of 27:30 26:01


Michigan Players on National Watchlists (courtesy of

John Mackey Award semi-finalist (Nations Top Tight End): DJ Barner

Ray Guy Award semi-finalist (Nations Top Punter): Tommy Doman

Chuck Bednarik semi-finalist (Best Defensive Player): LB Mike Sainristil

Burlsworth Trophy (Best former walk on): TE Max Bredeson

Davey O’Brien Great 8 (Top College Quarterback): J.J. McCarthy

Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (Top Senior College Quarterback): J.J. McCarthy

Comeback Player of the Year: RB Blake Corum

Michigan injury report:

Out: QB Davis Warren, CB Keshaun Harris, RB C.J. Stokes

Questionable: RB Kalel Mullings, CB Amorion Walker, CB D.J. Waller, Jr.

Notable Michigan Players (all rankings courtesy of Top 400):

#21 QB J.J. McCarthy, 156-206, 75.7%, 2,134 yards, 18 TDs, 3 INT

McCarthy has the misfortune of being a senior quarterback in one of the deepest quarterback classes in recent memory. In other years, he might be in contention to be a high 1st round selection. He is strong armed and accurate, although inconsistent with placement at times. He has sufficient mobility to keep plays alive and to move well in the pocket. However, he does not always sense danger in time to avoid it. He benefits from an exceptional rushing game that allows him to exploit opposing defenses when they key the run. He understands the game very well. He has some funky delivery issues that need to be cleaned up before moving to the professional ranks.

#44 DL Kris Jenkins, 20 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT

Jenkins has been a consistent tackler since becoming a starter in his sophomore season of 2021. Strong defender with strong hands and core, Jenkins fends off blockers well and makes sure the opposition is brought to the ground. Plays stout against the run and fights through blocks. Reads plays in an above average manner and finds the ball carrier in tight zones. More of a run plugger than pass rusher, but his complimentary style allows for teammates to get to the quarterback. Hustle over speed.

#70 RB Blake Corum, 126-649, 5.2 YPC, 16 TDs, 10-63, 6.3 YPR

Corum has shown no ill effects of the knee injury he sustained last November against Illinois. He and Donovan Edwards provide perhaps the nation’s top rushing duo. The one-two punch is the engine that drives the prolific Michigan offense. Corum is extremely athletic and intelligent. Very reliable rushing and receiving. Not quite proficient in pass protection. Patient enough to wait for holes to develop and explosive enough to burst through them when they do. Once in the secondary, he can break long runs. He has all the ability and intangibles to be among the first running backs selected next spring. If he can improve pass blocking, he can be a three down back.

#82 OT Zak Zinter

Zinter has positioned himself to be the next Michigan road grader in the pros. Zinter has steadily contributed to the Wolverines since his freshman year. Aggressive and nasty, he will win more battles one on one than he will lose. He is more of a mauler than a tactician. He stays balanced on his feet and does not overreach. He has played both guard and tackle and might have to move inside if he is to succeed in the NFL.

#105 WR Roman Wilson, 36-589, 16.4 YPR, 10 TDs, 1-10, 10.0 YPC

Wilson is a fast receiver who can win 50/50 throws. However, too often drops catchable balls. He displays above average bursts and footwork that allows him to escape defenders. Needs to get stronger to prevent problems getting off the line of scrimmage and to be an asset in blocking downfield. He has a big play ability and needs a little refinement to his game to maximize his potential.

#109 LB Junior Colson, 42 tackles, 2 TFL

Colson is a fleet footed linebacker that covers lots of ground in Michigan’s defense. Attacks the ball and shows good instincts, however, he can get over aggressive and run past plays. Is a threat to get to the quarterback when blitzing. He needs to improve tackling certainty and shedding offensive linemen in the second level.

#129 RB Donovan Edwards, 74-232, 3.1 YPC, 2 TDs, 24-225, 9.4 YPR

If Corum is the flashy, home run hitter of the duo, Edwards is the blue collar grinder. He does not put-up eye-popping statistics like his colleague, but he is reliable in all facets of running back play. He squares up his shoulders and moves the pile. Very reliable in pass blocking. Plays a very aware and intelligent game. He will make solid gains past the line of scrimmage. Reads blocking schemes well and is patient enough to allow lanes to develop.

#131 S Rod Moore, 23 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 pass defensed

Moore is a safety with good coverage skills. He can be deployed against multi wide receiver formations. Reads formations well and reacts quickly to balls thrown in his area. Fast enough to stay with receivers but can get handsy if he begins to lose contact. Solid technique against the run, but he is not always aggressive to the tackle. He needs to get stronger to be a consistent contributor at the next level.

#155 CB Mike Sainristil, 21 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 3 INT, 2 TDs, 4 passes defensed

Versatile defensive back who can disrupt plays on pass defense, blitzing the quarterback, and aiding the run defense. Defends receivers with solid fundamentals. Considers the ball as much his as the opposition’s. Knows what to do with the ball when he gains possession. Gets good jam at the line of scrimmage. Tackling numbers can be improved with a more aggressive approach.

#209 OL Ladarius Henderson

Henderson has been a fixture of Michigan’s offensive line since his freshman campaign. He is not easily fooled by stunts or blitzes. Like many Michigan Men, he is versatile displaying both inside and outside ability. He is equally comfortable in both pass and run blocking. He displays adequate mobility against most defenders, but the quicker opponents can give him trouble.

#210 WR Cornelius Johnson, 24-422, 17.6 YPR, 1 TD, 2-40, 20.0 YPC

Reliable receiver with good hands who sometimes lets the ball get too close to his body. Strong enough to get past defensive backs at the line of scrimmage. He does not possess the high-end speed to take the top off the deep route. He runs his patterns well and his size makes him an easily identifiable target. He must improve his ability to sense gaps in zone coverage.

#313 OT Karsen Barnhart

The 2022 All Big Ten Honorable Mention, Barnhart is another Wolverine lineman with NFL potential. Has projectable size for the next level, but not the necessary quickness. Improved technique might be achieved with change in his body composition. He can move second level defenders well and displays an adeptness for pulling. Would have to move inside to be an effective professional.

#324 EDGE Jaylen Harrell, 19 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

Harrell thrives on blitzing the quarterback. He possesses enough strength to engage tackles. Plays intensely to the whistle. He has above average burst in pursuit of ball carriers, but he can have difficulty locating them. Currently, he does not have ideal coverage skills. He has enough potential and athletic ability to be a situational pass rusher at the next level. If he receives the right coaching, he has the potential to provide more assistance to the defense.

The Wolverines have great depth of talent on both sides of the ball, and it is reasonable to speculate that neither Penn State Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz nor Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich could get much sleep this week. This game will go a long way in determining the ultimate success of each team. The biggest question mark for Michigan will be how they respond to their first legitimate opponent. Harbaugh’s team has one of the lowest strength of schedules not only in the Big Ten, but nationally.

Notes: Due to Big Ten expansion and a new scheduling format, these teams will not face each other again until 2026 in Ann Arbor. Michigan holds the largest margin of victory, 49-10 in 2016. Penn State star DE Demeioun “Chop” Robinson is expected to play. Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff will be broadcast from Beaver Stadium. Saturday’s game is a noon start and will be carried by Fox affiliates. Fox will be using their top broadcast team of Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (analysis) and Jenny Taft (sideline reporting) for this game.

Emmet Mahon can be reached at

232 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page