College football: Michigan’s top-ranked defense poses obstacle for Penn State

James Franklin spent one season (2009) on the Maryland football coaching staff with Don Brown, which was long enough to learn why the Michigan defensive coordinator is so effective.

“I would describe Don as a greedy defensive coordinator,” said Franklin, the Penn State head coach. “Most defensive coordinators are going to try to take something away, but when they take something away, they’re giving you something.

“Don doesn’t believe in that. Don is going to overload the box. A lot of guys are going to be on the line of scrimmage in blitz demeanor. They’re going to try to take your run game away. They’re going to take all the easy throws away. It’s going to be press coverage.”

No. 2 Penn State (3-0 Big Ten, 6-0) expects to receive its sternest test so far against No. 19 Michigan (2-1, 5-1) in the White Out game tonight at 7:30 at Beaver Stadium (TV-ABC).

The Nittany Lions are averaging nearly 40 points and 460 total yards a game, but they haven’t seen a defense that has as much speed and talent as the Wolverines.

Michigan ranks first in the nation in total defense, limiting opponents to 223.8 yards a game, and is eighth in points allowed (14.7). It’s surprising, considering the Wolverines lost 10 starters on defense from last year when they routed Penn State 49-10.

“They’re relentless and aggressive,” Franklin said. “Don’s big thing is they’re going to solve their problems with aggression.”

Penn State’s offensive line hasn’t handled pressure well in the last two games against Northwestern and Indiana. The Wildcats and the Hoosiers crowded the line of scrimmage to stop running back Saquon Barkley and contained him for the most part.

Quarterback Trace McSorley, though, passed for 315 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana and for 245 yards and one touchdown against Northwestern, which played well off the Lions wide receivers and allowed short and intermediate completions.

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Rest assured that the Michigan defense will not play that way.

“They’re pressing and playing tight coverage on the line,” McSorley said, “not letting your receivers to get a clean release. They’ll try to hold them up and make your routes take a little longer, so their front seven can get a pass rush and create havoc that way.”

Penn State’s defense also has outstanding numbers in Brent Pry’s second season as defensive coordinator. The Lions rank first in the nation in points allowed (9.0) and ninth in total yards allowed (285.2).

They’ve beaten their opponents with their increased team speed and depth and by rallying around the ball. Linebacker Jason Cabinda and free safety Marcus Allen are the leading tacklers, and end Shareef Miller has been the most consistent pass rusher.

“I think Brent really understands and sees the big picture,” Franklin said. “He understands motivation and morale. He understands how to take advantage of our strengths and hide some of our weaknesses. He gets it.

“You’re going to be watching two of the best defensive coordinators in college football, which probably doesn’t get any more Big Ten than that.”

Unlike the Penn State offense, the Michigan offense has struggled, ranking 79th in the nation in scoring (27.2) and 86th in total offense (376.3 yards). The Wolverines have scored just 13 touchdowns on offense, the second-fewest in the Big Ten behind Illinois, and haven’t thrown a touchdown pass in 21/2 games.

“It’s going to be a defensive game,” Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer said. “This team is going to be very challenging. We have to stop their run plays. We have to play physical and run to the football like we do. Hopefully it comes out good.”

This article is written by Written Rich Scarcella from Reading Eagle, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].