Gameday breakdown | Penn State vs. No. 18 Michigan

October 12, 2013 

When: 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Beaver Stadium

Series: Michigan leads 10-6

Last meeting: Penn State won 41-31 at Beaver Stadium (Oct. 30, 2010)

Coaches: Michigan — Brady Hoke, 3rd season, 24-7 (71-57 overall); Penn State — Bill O’Brien, second season, 11-6 overall.

Television: ESPN (commentators: Joe Tessitore, Matt Millen, Maria Taylor)

Radio: WQWK 1450, WBUS 93.7 (Announcers: Steve Jones, Jack Ham)

The skinny: How good is Michigan? Is Penn State in trouble? The answers to those questions will be clearer after these two cross-division rivals square off. Michigan is 5-0 and coming off a shelling of Minnesota. Then, the Wolverines ran away with the game in the second half, outscoring the Golden Gophers 28-3 over the final two quarters. Before that, Michigan struggled to put away Akron and Connecticut, needing a desperate goal-line stand to stave off the Zips before a field-goal that capped a 17-point run prevented embarrassment to the Huskies. Penn State is looking for answers after losing to Indiana — a perennial Big Ten punching bag — for the first time last weekend. Both teams bring solid ground games into this tilt that will be contested in front of a sold-out crowd mostly clad in white. While the Nittany Lions are not eligible to play in a bowl game, they can still play spoiler and erase the sour tastes from their mouths from last week with their fourth-straight win over the Wolverines.

Wolverine player to watch: Devin Gardner is wearing No. 98 these days to honor Wolverine legend Tom Harmon. He will handle a heavy workload against a Nittany Lion defense. The dual-threat quarterback isn’t going to light teams up with his arm, as he’s averaged just 79 yards per game in 29 starts. But he’s throwing more than he ever has this season and his average through five games is 207 yards per game. Gardner does the most damage with his legs and adds versatility to an already potent rushing attack.

Nittany Lion to watch: Right after the Indiana game, Mike Hull estimated he’s nearing full health after an early season knee injury robbed him of a lot of his mobility. He’ll need to have a lot of it back if he and Glenn Carson and Co. can slow Gardner and the Michigan running game that is averaging a healthy 178 yards per game and has racked up 16 touchdowns.

Key matchup: Penn State’s offensive linemen got fewer and fewer opportunities to run block for its three talented tailbacks last weekend as the Nittany Lions passed the ball 55 times. That was good for a school record but not for production, as Penn State’s one-sided approach wasn’t enough to overcome the Hoosiers. Michigan’s run defense is stout and Penn State’s offensive line must gain an upper hand this time around. A hefty dose of Zach Zwinak early on, coupled with a strong offensive line thrust, will go a long way in softening a Michigan front loaded with experience, size and grit. If Penn State can’t run the ball with any effectiveness, it could be a long night for the Nittany Lions.

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