Things haven't been going so well for the Wolverines this year, and while Penn State might still be 4-1 the season's only loss brought with it plenty of issues the Nittany Lions will need to fix.
So a Saturday night primetime clash between Michigan and Penn State will make for interesting television as both football team's attempt to get back on the right track.
The Wolverines are in the middle of a three game losing streak and the owners of a 2-4 overall season record. A loss to Penn State on Saturday would likely all but put the final nail in the coffin for head coach Brady Hoke. For the Nittany Lions, a victory would only increase the interest and hype surrounding Penn State's meeting with Ohio State in two weeks.
Plenty to gain, lots to lose.
Last Week: Michigan struggled to stop Rutgers' quarterback Gary Nova through the air en route to a 404 yard passing game and a 26-24 victory over the Wolverines. This is the same Gary Nova who threw five interceptions against Penn State only a few weeks ago.
A Devin Gardner led offense was effective against the Scarlet Knights' defense but couldn't string together enough drives at critical moments during the first three quarters. It wasn't very pretty football by either team and Rutgers almost gave it away at the end before blocking a field goal that could have led to a Michigan victory. Devin Funchess was a valuable asset for the Wolverine offense, pulling down 5 catches for 71 yards.
Michigan also lost leading rusher Derrick Green with a broken clavicle during the game (although the injury wasn't revealed publicly until later the next week).
The Good: After scoring only 24 total points in the previous three losses, Michigan's offense finally found something when it scored 24 in that losing effort against Rutgers. It might sound backwards to praise a losing score, but after doing next to nothing during that losing streak, any positive is a good thing for the Wolverines. Gardner is no Denard Robinson, but he has proven to be the quarterback Michigan needs to get the offense clicking. Turnovers have plagued Michigan but they only coughed the ball up once in a tight Rutgers game. Michigan had only three penalties all game and that helped the cause.
The Bad: Going 4-for-11 on third downs will usually make moving the ball a tough task and it was against Rutgers. Michigan's defense struggled to stop the pass and Rutgers' was able to negate an otherwise stout Michigan defensive line. Michigan isn't playing very good football right now but by all accounts the Wolverines aren't lacking talent. Sometimes good players playing bad football is worse than just being bad in the first place.
The Player To Watch: Devin Gardner's legs and arm will pose a dual-threat to Penn State's defense. Devin Funchess catching those passes will make him a key player to watch. Experienced and talented, Funchess can make big plays for a team otherwise struggling to move the ball. Gardner has to be contained, but his running ability isn't that of former Wolverine Denard Robinson. If Penn State can stop the run and make Michigan throw the ball, it could help the Nittany Lions come up with a victory. The key to all of that starts with containing Funchess.
Prediction: This game is probably the toughest one on the schedule to predict. Penn State is coming off a bad looking performance while Michigan is rolling through a bad looking season. This game will come down to which team makes fewer mistakes at key moments. Michigan has been the lesser team on paper in nearly every area but Penn State's offensive line hasn't given fans much reason to think things will go well against a strong defensive front. If Penn State can force a few turnovers to shorten the field it could be the difference between winning and losing.
If Christian Hackenberg spends more time running than he does throwing, that could spell trouble.
Overall though Penn State should be favored to win. The Nittany Lions have to overcome being average. Michigan has to overcome being bad and on a losing streak.
It's a toss up but Hackenberg will do what Hackenberg does and Penn State will win 21-17.