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Penn State Football: Five Things To Watch As The Nittany Lions Take On Michigan

by on November 03, 2018 10:30 AM

It's here: a chance for Penn State to pull off a massive upset, and a chance for the Nittany Lions to move their winning streak to three games, elevating their longshot playoff hopes in the process. It won't be easy. Penn State will need to play its most complete game of the season and most consistent game as well.

So what to watch? Well, everything. Big games come down to the fundamentals and the details. The mistakes and the momentum swings. Penn State will just need to be on the right end of the majority of them on Saturday in order to win. It isn't impossible, but it'll be an upset for a reason.

Here's what I'm watching.

Group Effort:

Penn State won't beat Michigan without a group effort from its receiving corps and that means somebody other than KJ Hamler will have to be in the business of big plays. In the very least, the Nittany Lions need to catch the catchable passes. If Juwan Johnson wants to hear his name called during the NFL Draft, an afternoon like this one can go a long way toward erasing some of his bumpy performances of the past few weeks.

So it's simple on paper. This needs to be a complete effort game from Penn State to win it. How close they get to that might dictate how close they get in the box score. It might not be so simple on the field if this season has been any guide. If Miles Sanders can hit 100 yards and three receivers have four or more catches, all bets are off.

Off The Field:

It's no secret that Penn State's defense has been on the field for an astronomical number of plays this season. If the Nittany Lions want to win on Saturday they will need to get off the field early and often on the defensive side of the ball. Similarly, Penn State's ability to move the chains on offense will go a long way toward this goal too. Michigan will win and win big if the Nittany Lions take a few drives off, so moving the ball and getting stops on third down will be key.

In a lot of ways this game isn't rocket science. Beating good teams means playing good football and the less Penn State's defense is on the field the better the chance it has of doing just that.

No Mistakes:

Duh, right? But Penn State can't beat Michigan if it's beating itself first. That means special teams can't pick a new way to make mistakes, the offense can't turn the ball over in the red zone and the defense can't lose guys in coverage. Big games often come down to which team makes the biggest errors along the way, and that doesn't bode well for a Penn State team that has made plenty this season in every phase.

Oh Hello:

Big games can so often become the opening act for a breakout player. There's no telling who that might be, although fans can expect to see more of Jahan Dotson at receiver Saturday, so he's as good of a guess as anyone in this department. A breakout player isn't required to pull off the upset, but it can sometimes be the difference when Michigan will be keying in on Penn State's usual suspects.

Keep it close:

It seems nearly impossible to picture Penn State going the 2016 season route in a game like this and pulling off a big comeback. The Nittany Lions don't need to be leading in this one most of the way to win it, but anything more than 14 points is asking for the wheels to come off. This is another one of those "duh" moments but the flow of the game will dictate a lot and Penn State can't afford to go down early and go down big.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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