Penn State Nittany Lions (2-1 SU, 1-2 ATS) vs. Michigan Wolverines (3-0 SU, 2-1 ATS)
College Football Week 4
Date/Time: Saturday, September 24 at 3:30pm ET
Where: Michigan Stadium
by Evergreen, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: PSU +18.5/MICH -18.5
Over/Under Total: 58.5
The non-conference season can be fun but I like the in-your-face style of game that comes when conference foes go after each other. The Big Ten season opens this week and one high profile tilt comes in Ann Arbor as Michigan hosts Penn State. The Wolverines are riding high as the 5th ranked team in the land and while the Nittany Lions are looking to pull the upset and move past their early season inconsistencies. It has been a long, strange ride for Penn State in recent years but this matchup calls to memory so many big and meaningful games from years past. A win for the Lions puts a major damper on the Michigan playoff hopes and blows the Big Ten East division wide open.
It has been pretty smooth sailing for Michigan thus far and the online betting sites have installed them as 18.5-point favorites. Penn State has not been kind to its betting fans with a 1-6 against the spread record in their last seven overall and just three ATS wins in their last eighteen games on the road. Michigan failed to cover for the first time last week but is 6-1 against the spread in the last seven games following an ATS loss. The home team is 5-2 ATS in the last seven meetings between the schools.
Penn State survived a 34-27 nail-biter to get the win against Temple last week but they allowed 286 passing yards. That wouldn’t be so troubling had they not given up 341 rushing yards the previous week en route to a 42-39 loss at Pitt. They allowed 150 rushing yards to Kent State in the opener so you have to wonder if Penn State has the ability to stop anyone on defense in either facet. Michigan has averaged 53 points in three wins this season and it could be a long day for the Lions if they can’t find a way to slow the Wolverines.
Michigan survived a scare with Colorado in town, eventually picking up a 45-28 win after trailing 21-7. Quarterback Wilton Speight was banged up during the game but came through with some big time plays and cemented his spot as a leader of this team. Speight is listed as questionable with a shoulder ding but it appears he will be ok for Saturday. Speight has been key in giving the Wolverines the balance they need to be successful on offense. He has completed nearly 65% of his passes and thrown for eight touchdowns against one pick. The Michigan ground game has been consistent if not flashy on the way to 197 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. Penn State enters the week just inside the top-100 in rush defense so another good performance from guys like De’Veon Smith and Chris Evans is likely.
Michigan got the better of this game last year, entering Happy Valley as 3.5 points favs and leaving with a 28-16 win. Amara Darboh and Jake Butt both caught a touchdown from then-QB Jake Rudock but the defense was the overall star, allowing just 207 total yards and holding Penn State to 3-of-14 on third down. The Wolverines held Christian Hackenberg to 13-of-32 passing and they will look to give the same treatment to Trace McSorley. McSorely has thrown the ball well in the early going, completing 65% of his passes and averaging 276 yards per contest. He has good legs as well and could make the Michigan defense work a little harder than they have had to in the first few games.
Penn State does not appear like they can simply line up and win a trench battle this week. The Lions average just 3.6 yards per rush through three weeks and that is not going to get it done against a Michigan defense that is stout across the line. Jabrill Peppers is inserting himself in the Heisman talk by adding some offensive and special teams impact to go along with his defensive prowess. Peppers racked up 180 return yards and a touchdown last week, ran the ball twice for 24 yards and added nine tackles for a tremendous all-around stat line. He might not have to do all of that every week but he is a big reason why teams have struggled to move the ball or score on Michigans defense. The big-boy matchup this week is Penn State through the air against Michigan’s pass defense. McSorley has spread it around so that four different receivers have at least 140 yards but Michigan is 16th in the nation against the pass. I think there will be some give and take here as the Penn State offense has talent but scoring is going to be tough on a defense that is giving up just 296 total yards per game.
This game opened with Penn State as 16.5 point dogs but that line moved to 18.5 in short order, popping up to 19 at many outlets. Michigan took an early shot against a fast-moving Colorado team last week but I think that helps them out ultimately. The Wolverines are oozing with talent all over the field and the production from Speight has made them dangerous. Jim Harbaugh has a tendency to wear out his welcome but he is just entering the sweet spot of his effectiveness and Michigan is looking better than nearly everyone predicted. I don’t think 18.5 is too much to lay with a team that is playing confidently and efficiently on both sides of the ball. McSorley doesn’t have a run game that is going to take the pressure off of him and eventually that Michigan D is going to be in his face. Penn State still has a long way to go and it shows this weekend. Michigan 44 Penn State 20
Evergreen’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Michigan
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