Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.
Game details: at Michigan, noon kickoff, broadcast on ABC.
Venue: Michigan Stadium.
Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 46 degrees and sunny.
All-time series: Michigan leads 14-9.
Last meeting (2019): After a last-minute goal line stand, Penn State toppled Michigan 28-21 at Beaver Stadium.
Last week: Michigan outlasted Rutgers 48-42 in triple overtime, while Penn State dropped to 0-5 with a home loss to Iowa.
The lead: A pair of frustrating seasons collide Saturday in Ann Arbor, where Penn State and Michigan come in with a combined mark of 2-8. Add Pat Freiermuth to the list of players the Nittany Lions will be without for the rest of the year — he’s set to undergo season-ending surgery this week — and that increases the level of difficulty for a team that had genuine aspirations for the College Football Playoff following last season’s win in the Cotton Bowl.
Despite all the adversity the team has been facing this season, there are indications that the Nittany Lions will eventually breakthrough. James Franklin has talked about his players, and players generally, being resilient and able to bounce back from disappoint and setbacks.
Here’s what he said leading up to the game against Iowa about signs that his guys are showing resiliency:
“I think what I saw in the second half (against Nebraska). Now again, I know everybody wants four quarters. I do, too. Trust me. But I thought how we battled in the second half of our game this past week and gave ourselves a chance to win. I think we were (up) 17-3 in the second half. It’s obvious we’ve got to play better for four quarters, but I think that’s a sign. I think the feedback I get from the coaches and how the guys are in meetings, the things that I see, how are guys in the weight room, how they are in the locker room after games, how they are on the bus. All of it, with a lot of distractions.”
Part of those distractions, Franklin said, is the players’ inability to interact with their families as closely as they would be able to under non-COVID-19 circumstances. Normally, he said, players could kiss and hug their families before games and tailgate and celebrate with them after. None of that is possible this year, which increases the strain they’re all playing under.
Following the loss to Iowa, which dropped the team to its first 0-5 start in program history, standout receiver Jahan Dotson talked about having winning the week, winning the day, and winning the moment, breaking things down into a singular focus for whatever he and his teammates are facing.
“Whatever moment you’re in, win that moment,” he said. “We’ve got to start doing things with a winner’s mentality, and that’s pretty much it. We’ve just got to win the day. Come to practice every day, work, and just go 1-0.”
Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions stop turning the ball over. This has been a theme all season, and quite possibly the biggest reason for Penn State’s winless record.
Michigan wins if: the Wolverines corral another first-half lead against the Nittany Lions. Penn State has proven it can mount a second-half comeback, it just hasn’t been enough to win.
Count on: the Nittany Lions coming out fighting. This is only a hunch, though after five games, chances are Penn State will be keyed up for a win.
Keep an eye on: tight end Brenton Strange. The freshman made his first career start against Iowa, catching a 28-yard touchdown pass from Sean Clifford. With Freiermuth out for the rest of the season, it’ll be imperative for other receivers to step up and provide more reliable options beyond Dotson.
Trivia tidbit: Sean Clifford is only 81 yards away from 4,000 career passing yards.
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