Home team has won the previous four meetings as Penn State travels to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan
The "2020 Dumpster Fire Bowl" takes place on Saturday between the Penn State Nittany Lions and Michigan Wolverines. With these teams entering this game sporting a combined 2-8 record, it's an understatement to say this season is not going the way either anticipated.
The Wolverines (2-3) needed three overtimes to get past an improving Rutgers squad last week, and the struggling Michigan defense allowed an astounding 486 yards of total offense to a team that it had previously outscored 256-37 in its last five meetings. If a bright spot came out of the game, it was the performance of redshirt freshman quarterback Cade McNamara, who replaced an ineffective Joe Milton to throw for 260 yards and four touchdowns in his first extended action of the season.
As bad as things have been for Michigan this season, it pales in comparison to a winless (0-5) Penn State team that has had the doors blown off by their opponents in the first halves of games this season, trailing at halftime by 10, 15, 21, 21 and 17 points. Despite a 42-11 record from 2016 to 2019 for head coach James Franklin, there are calls from local media for a coaching change and questions from the fan base about what a potential buyout might cost the school.
As rough as this early portion of the season has been for both schools, it will be a whole heck of a lot worse next week for the losing team on Saturday.
Penn State at Michigan
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Michigan -2
When Penn State Has the Ball
Chalking up a lost season due to notable absences on the roster isn't allowed for a school like Penn State, but the Nittany Lions are playing without a host of their top players, namely star linebacker Micah Parsons and their top two running backs entering the year. Last week against Iowa, Penn State was without tight end Pat Freiermuth, and the passing game struggled as a result, finding success only in the second half when the result had already been decided.
Will Levis got the starting nod at quarterback for the Nittany Lions but was replaced by former starter Sean Clifford, who did throw two touchdowns in Penn State's second-half comeback attempt. However, a pair of interceptions late killed any hopes of that. While there hasn't been any consistency from the Penn State quarterbacks this season, they haven't been getting any help from an anemic ground game that has failed to top 100 yards in three out of the last four games.
If there was ever a time to right the ship on offense, this Michigan defense will provide the paddles, as the Wolverines have been atrocious on all fronts, allowing 163.8 rushing yards, 274.0 passing yards, and 36.0 points per game.
When Michigan Has the Ball
The same question that is being asked today is the one that was we all asked after the Week 1 win vs. Minnesota — has Michigan finally found its quarterback? Things are a bit less optimistic now with McNamara than it was with Joe Milton considering he was just the backup prior to last week, but it's hard to overlook a four-touchdown performance in his first extended action of the season. The spark McNamara gave the entire offense was noticeable as the Wolverines finished the game with just under 500 yards.
Using a rotation a running back for most of the season, Michigan relied on junior Hassan Haskins for much of the game in the backfield. He leads all Wolverine backs with 111 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. No other running back had more than six attempts in a game, though the coaching staff noted this week that they will continue to rotate a number of guys in the backfield. Sophomore receiver Cornelius Johnson had a breakout performance with 105 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions. Seven different receivers had four or more catches on the night.
Saturday will present the Wolverines with an opportunity to keep the offensive momentum headed in the right direction when they take on a Penn State defense that is giving up 36.0 points per game — coincidentally tied with the Wolverines for 12th in the conference.
The home team has won each of the last four meetings in this series. That's about as much analysis as this game deserves. Wolverines edge out a narrow victory in the fourth quarter, and neither team goes home happy.
Prediction: Michigan 30, Penn State 28
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— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.