Michigan vs. Penn State Picks, Predictions: Bettors Debate Week 7 Big Ten Spread (Saturday, October 15)
Ryan Collinsworth/Action Network.
- Michigan and Penn State meet for a Big Ten battle for the ages on Saturday.
- Our experts, Tanner McGrath and Mike Ianniello, broke down this spread and made their cases for both sides.
- Check out their arguments for the Michigan vs. Penn State spread below.
Michigan vs. Penn State Odds
-110 / -110
|Penn State Odds|
-110 / -110
Well, it is nice for Michigan to finally step up and play a real opponent after six games against the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Outside of Maryland, the Wolverines probably played the five worst offenses in the country, so it’s no surprise they have good defensive numbers. The one team that can actually complete a forward pass put up 27 points and almost 400 yards against them.
The big story in Happy Valley so far this season (besides beer finally being sold in Beaver Stadium) is the return of a balanced offensive attack. Sean Clifford is an experienced veteran who finally gets to run the same offense two years in a row.
Clifford is as tough as they come, and although he doesn’t put up elite numbers, he has consistently come up big when the team needs him.
He has quickly developed chemistry with Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Tinsley, who has three touchdowns on the season to give Penn State a great weapon to complement stud tight end Brenton Strange and leading receiver Parker Washington.
But the real headline for the Nittany Lions has been the return of the running game. True freshman Nick Singleton was the No. 1 ranked running back recruit in the country and has become an immediate star. He’s averaging 92.6 yards per game with five touchdowns and has gone for 7.4 yards per carry.
He’s a home-run threat every time he touches the football.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 17, 2022
Fellow freshman Kaytron Allen has been great too, averaging 60.6 yards per game with three touchdowns of his own. The breakout of the two backs has really opened up the RPO offense that Clifford excels in. Plus, the quarterback has used his legs for four touchdowns this year.
The knock against Penn State over the last two seasons has been the complete inability to run the football. With these two backs running all over the place, this offense is completely different now and allows Mike Yurcich to open up the playbook and Clifford to effectively operate the RPO game.
Michigan has faced a poor schedule so far, but it’s taken care of business. All the advanced statistics look good. The Wolverines beat down UConn and Hawaii by a combined 100 points, beat Iowa in Kinnick and then blew out Indiana in the second half in Bloomington.
The offensive line is one of the best in the nation. Blake Corum is doing Blake Corum things. JJ McCarthy has slid into the starting quarterback role seamlessly, completing an absurd 78.3% of his passes while bringing some explosiveness as a dual-threat.
MICHIGAN! JJ McCarthy to Cornelius Johnson for the 29 yard TD! That was a 98 yard scoring drive for the Wolverines! pic.twitter.com/xjTZcU7Zdv
— 𝗙𝗢𝗟𝗟𝗢𝗪 @𝗙𝗧𝗕𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗱𝟳 (@FTBeard7) October 8, 2022
Meanwhile, the defense is the top tackling unit in the nation, per PFF’s grades. Edge rusher Mike Morris has the highest pass-rush productivity grade of any defender in college football with at least 100 snaps.
Penn State is 5-0, but I haven’t seen it take care of business.
The Nittany Lons needed a Sean Clifford miracle to beat Purdue, and he’s recorded more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws since. This team was +8 in turnover differential against Auburn and Central Michigan — its only two convincing wins.
The offense managed just 17 points at home against Northwestern, and the defense ranks 114th in tackling, per PFF.
Penn State is an overvalued 5-0 team. We make this line -8, so I like Michigan at -7 or better. And it’s worth mentioning Jim Harbaugh is 5-2 against the spread playing Penn State during his time in Ann Arbor.
Let’s discuss it more.
Ianniello: Michigan’s offense has been successful, but it has played only one defense with a pulse. Iowa held it to 327 total yards and just 155 through the air. McCarthy has a high completion percentage, but this is the best secondary he will have faced.
Even after losing Jaquan Brisker to the NFL, Penn State leads the country with a ridiculous 51 passes broken up this year. The next closest team has just 39. Its 11.2 passes defended per game would be the most by any team since at least 2009. No other team has had more than eight per game.
Joey Porter Jr. leads the nation with 10 passes broken up, and Kalen King is right behind him with nine. Things are going to get very difficult for McCarthy, especially with the nation’s sixth-ranked pass rush breathing down his neck.
As is typical with a Manny Diaz defense, the Nittany Lions excel at creating Havoc. They rank third in the entire country in Havoc in their first year under Diaz.
I already talked about the passes defended, but the defense is also tied for second in fumbles forced per game. That’s a scary thought for McCarthy, who has already fumbled three times this year and has fumbled seven times on 42 career carries.
McGrath: I don’t know if I buy that the Penn State rushing game is back. The offensive line ranks 83rd in Line Yards, while the whole team is 72nd in Rush Success Rate. The offense ranks about 75th in both Stuff Rate and Power Success Rate.
Penn State is good outside of the tackles because of its superstar (I will admit that) running backs. But Michigan is the top tackling team in the country. The defensive backs have missed, like, two tackles in over 500 snaps.
If your offensive game plan is to create missed tackles against the Wolverines, good luck.
Clifford is going to be put into passing downs. I don’t trust him there, especially since he hasn’t recorded more than one big-time throw in a game since Week 1 — and especially since his offensive line has fallen outside the top 50 in PFF’s pass-blocking grades.
Michigan’s defense is going to eat up all this RPO nonsene Mike is throwing out there. I’m not expecting Penn State’s offense to travel well in Ann Arbor considering this game script, and that’ll make it plenty easy for McCarthy and Corum to cover just a touchdown.
Ianniello: Both of these defenses are very good. They’re both in the top 25 in yards per play allowed and do a good job of limiting Success Rate. So, I think we can both agree that it might be difficult for either to move the ball consistently.
But the biggest mismatch in this game comes in the form of explosiveness. Penn State ranks 13th in the country in explosiveness on offense. Singleton has five rushes over 30 yards — the most in the country — and Washington is a home-run threat at receiver.
Well, Michigan ranks just 116th in explosiveness on offense. Its offense is as slow as they come, and it just doesn't pick up chunk plays. That isn’t going to change against this Penn State secondary. Moving the ball consistently will be hard to come by against this unit.
PJ Mustipher returning on the defensive line was huge for the Nittany Lions. He leads a front seven that ranks in the top 10 in Stuff Rate and Line Yards. He didn’t play in last year’s matchup, which was a big loss for PSU up front.
Penn State’s defense ranks 11th in the country on standard downs. Michigan ranks outside of the top 25. If the Nittany Lions can force the Wolverines into passing situations, where they’re unable to pick up explosive plays, that’s a recipe for a lot of three-and-outs.
McGrath: Allow me to rebut Mike’s rebuttals, one by one:
- The Iowa defense has held every offense to nothing. In fact, Iowa opponents are averaging 265 offensive yards per game. So, Michigan’s 327 yards are probably in the 99th percentile.
- That’s all great about the Penn State defense, but who have the Nittany Lions played? They’ve played two MAC teams, Northwestern, TJ Finley and Aidan O’Connell. The “They haven’t played anyone!” argument goes both ways, pal.
- You’re not going to force Havoc against Michigan. Even when they played a “real schedule” in 2021, the Wolverines were second in Havoc Allowed on offense, trailing only Air Force’s triple-option attack.
- McCarthy was clean against Indiana. He’ll be fine.
Mustipher, Mustafar, Mufasa, Mary Poppins, Michael…. Blah, blah, blah. Michigan by 20.
Ianniello: Bet Penn State +7
Say what you want about Clifford, but he’s 2-1 against Michigan in his career and has already gone into Ann Arbor and beaten the Wolverines once before.
Tanner and I do this Spread Option debate piece every week, usually with me winning. But I would trade all of those wins for this one, because this one is personal for us.
I am a proud Penn State alum. I spent the four best years of my life at Penn State. I met my wife there. I met my best friends there. I bleed blue and white. And I hate Michigan. Tanner is a Michigan fan for some reason, most likely because he went to a fake college in Canada, and Michigan is basically in Ontario, eh.
Losing to Michigan and losing to Tanner will ruin my weekend and just cannot happen. In a matchup between two top-10 teams, both with great defenses, seven is too many points. Give me the points and the Nittany Lions. We Are!
McGrath: Bet Michigan -7
The story is always the same with Clifford and Penn State. They’ll create explosive plays — last year it was with Jahan Dotson, this year it’s with Mitchell Tinsley — but they’ll fail to move the ball on a consistent basis. They get behind the chains and rely on the Clifford and Whoever connection to bail them out.
Do you really want to back Clifford on the road in the Big House? He’s always liable to make some huge mistake given Penn State’s game plan. Clifford is extra liable considering his offensive line is trending down.
Michigan has a million more ways to move the ball than Penn State, especially with McCarthy replacing Cade McNamara under center. I’d much rather lay the points with the McCarthy and Corum duo.
And I just want to reiterate my opening arguments.
Penn State is an overvalued 5-0 team with a rather unimpressive resume against rather unimpressive teams. Michigan’s schedule has been Charmin soft. But outside of a slip up against Maryland, the Wolverines have taken care of business.
I have no doubt Michigan takes care of business against Penn State. We make this line -8, which still gives us value on the Wolverines. Harbaugh is still 5-2 ATS against Penn State in his coaching career.
And by the way — my mother’s side of my family is from Ann Arbor. By the time I was 12, I had been to the Big House more times than beers you have drank at Beaver Stadium. Do not slander me (or the Great White North).