ANN ARBOR — Could a third consecutive blowout in the Michigan-Penn State series be in near future? It feels like a distinct possibility.
Michigan beat Penn State 49-10 in 2016. The Nittany Lions returned the favor last year in a 42-13 thumping. This year, No. 5 Michigan (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) enters the game on a roll and is expected by many to win comfortably.
No one is questioning whether the Wolverines are for real or not, but Saturday in the Big House will go a long way in continuing to shove aside notions they can’t win the big one. A victory against 14th-ranked Penn State (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) would represent the third consecutive win against a ranked opponent and virtually assure Michigan of traveling to Columbus with a 10-1 record and a College Football Playoff berth on the line.
1) Can UM’s offensive momentum continue? Don’t be surprised if the Wolverines are rusty. A seven-game win streak and consecutive wins against ranked opponents sent Michigan into the off week overflowing with confidence. Everyone and everything has been on the same page since the Notre Dame game — Shea Patterson and the receivers, Patterson and the offensive line, the offensive line and running back Karan Higdon. It’s been an amalgam of intelligence and production. Penn State’s defense ranks in the middle of the pack nationally and shouldn’t be a difficult riddle to solve.
2) Michigan’s defense is in payback mode. There’s no other way to describe it — the Nittany Lions completely embarrassed the Wolverines last season. Michigan wants retribution. Defensive coordinator Don Brown mentioned he’s still haunted by it, and the performance is without question a motivating factor for the Wolverines. Saquon Barkley is gone, but Penn State’s offense isn’t without playmakers. Quarterback Trace McSorley continues to cause headaches and Barkley’s replacement, Miles Sanders, is averaging more than six yards per carry. One also can’t forget speedy freshman receiver K.J. Hamler, who will be a problem for Big Ten teams for at least three seasons.
3) Will Rashan Gary play? This might be the biggest mystery of all. Is Gary, a preseason All-America defensive end, actively attempting to return or is he holding out to avoid aggravating a shoulder injury? Forgoing his final season of eligibility is a certainty, so theories abound about his motives. Jim Harbaugh and Brown have said Gary wants to play. If he’s out of action again for this one, the chances of a return seem to shrink more.
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