Michigan Wolverines (8-2 SU, 5-5 ATS) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-3 SU, 4-6 ATS)
College Football Week 12
Date/Time: Saturday, November 21, 2015 at 12PM EST
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pennsylvania
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MICH -4/PSU +4
Over/Under Total: 42.5
The Michigan Wolverines come into University Park on Saturday to face the Penn State Nittany Lions. Both teams have forged strong seasons, with the Wolverines 8-2 and the Nittany Lions at 7-3. A win here would be big, as each team tries to increase their bowl profile. On Saturday, Michigan barely escaped Indiana in overtime, needing to pull out all the stops to win on the road. They get their third road game in 4 weeks this Saturday against Penn State, who came up short last week in a tough 23-21 road loss at ranked Northwestern.
Michigan is a pretty strange team. They are likely one bizarre play away from being in the running for big things, with that crazy last-second loss to Michigan State. They have since registered three straight wins, two of them on the road. On Saturday, they needed a last-second TD to send the game to overtime. Each team scored a TD in the first overtime, with Michigan scoring a TD and an error preventing Indiana from doing the same. They deserve credit for winning a close game, but they were pretty fortunate to win and a similar performance could lead to a loss to Penn State this week.
On Saturday, the Michigan offense had to pull out all the stops to beat Indiana, with Jake Rudock throwing for an immense 440 yards and 6 touchdowns. He also added 64 yards on the ground. Receiver Jehu Chesson caught 10 balls for 207 yards and 4 touchdowns. Amara Darboh added 109 yards, with tight end Jake Butt adding 82 yards. It was good that Michigan can pick up the slack when the defense isnt doing its thing, but the D was supposed to be this teams lynchpin and it has tailed off in recent weeks.
We remember this is the same Michigan defense that was performing at an almost legendary level earlier in the season. They registered three straight shutouts, including two over ranked teams. Thats a far cry from a defense that gave up 41 points to the likes of Indiana on Saturday. While they established a standard that was probably unrealistic, they are now looking a bit ragged, after having given up an immense 238 yards on the ground to Hoosiers back Jordan Howard. So when you look at the defensive stats now, we see the Wolverines still ranked as the 2nd defense in the nation6th against the pass and 8th against the run, while allowing just over 14 points per game. In their last 4 games, however, theyve given up close to 27 a game. Theyre still good, but their high rankings are more a result of their shutdown play from earlier in the season. But we cant forget what the Wolverines looked like this time last year. Comparing that to how they look now, theyve really taken a quantum leap forward this season in Jim HArbaughs first season at the helm.
Penn State should look forward to being back at home, following a demanding stretch of games where they faced both Ohio State and Northwestern on the road. Its been a successful season for a Nittany Lions program that has fought hard to reclaim their footing. But their best wins this season are against San Diego State and some of the more middling teams in the Big Ten. These next two weeks represent a chance for Penn St. to notch a win over one of the conferences powers, with Michigan State on the road next week.
Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg hasnt had the season some though he would, with 54% completions and just 13 TD passes. He has only 3 picks and generally does a decent job in commandeering this Penn state offense. Its just that for the most part, the offense is a bit lukewarm. They average just 25.2 points per game and against the better Big Ten teams; they are often stuck in the mud. They have a good back in Saquon Barkley and a nice receiver in Chris Godwin. But its not the most-electric offense and theyll have to escalate their form in what should be a demanding game on Saturday.
Luckily for the Nittany Lions, they have a good defense to fall back on during times of offensive lapses. Theyve given up 23 points in their last two games. In five wins this season, the Nittany Lions defense has allowed 14 or fewer points. They allow an average of 17.7 points per game. And their pass-defense is ranked 2nd in all of college football, giving up an average of just 152 yards per game. Against Ohio State, they gave up 38 points and well see how they do against one of the better conference teams again this week.
For the purposes of betting on this game, Michigan is by far the higher-profile team. Unless youve been making a point of following Penn State, they havent been discussed much in the arena of big-time college football. It could set up this false image in our head that Michigan is far and away the superior team. They have been better this season, but the gap between them and Penn State may be narrower than some suspect. Even so, the Nittany Lions look to have gotten some respect in the point spread this week, listed as only 4-point dogs as of press time. While Michigan wasnt impressive last week, I see them putting forth a credible performance on Saturday as the light at the end of the tunnel is now in plain sight. Im taking the Wolverines.
Scotts Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Michigan Wolverines minus 4 points.
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