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October 12, 2013

Keys To The Game: U-M at Penn State

Keys To The Game

The Basics
Quote of the Week
The Teams: Michigan (5-0) at Penn State (3-2)
The History: Michigan holds a 10-6 all-time advantage in the series. Penn State has won the last three meetings.
The Depth Charts: Penn State and Michigan
The Place: Beaver Stadium, State College, Penn.
The Time: 5:00 p.m. EST
The Line: Michigan -3
The Broadcast: ESPN
The Updates: Follow the game on The Fort or follow us on Twitter: Borton, Balas, Spath, Reid and Sullivan.

"We've on from Indiana. Our guys are very, very excited about the opportunity they have Saturday night against a great Michigan team, a 5-0 team coming here, 108,000 fans. Our guys are very focused on Michigan, learning the game plan, studying Michigan and our guys are going to show up and play hard Saturday night."

-- Penn State coach Bill O'Brien on the Nittany Lions getting past their dissappointing 20-point loss to the Hoosiers and looking ahead to the Michigan showdown.
The Essentials
By the Numbers
  • Game Preview: TheWolverine.com speaks with Penn State play-by-play commentator Steve Jones about Saturday's game. Click here to listen to the podcast.
  • Staff Predictions: No one on TheWolverine.com's staff sees a win in Penn State's immediate future. How do we think the game will go? Click here to find out.
  • Matchups: TheWolverine.com takes a look at the most important matchups on the field, including the the defense vs. wide receiver Allen Robinson and red zone performance. Click here to read the rest.
  • Recruiting Roundup: TheWolverine.com recruiting editor Tim Sullivan takes a look at Michigan targets who are visiting Happy Valley for a Penn State visit this week. How could this weekend work for both teams?
8: The number of Wolverines who have played in a game at Penn State: Taylor Lewan, Quinton Washington, Jibreel Black, Cam Gordon, Thomas Gordon, Courtney Avery and Jeremy Gallon. Michigan will have to fight the crowd noise in one of the most hostile venues in the country.
45.4: The percentage of Penn State's passing yardage accounted for by all-Big Ten weapon Allen Robinson. Shutting down Robinson will be the key for the Wolverines' defensive hopes of shutting down the Nittany Lion offense.
496.5: The average yardage allowed in Penn State's two losses this year: a 34-31 loss to Central Florida and a 44-24 loss at Indiana. The Nittany Lions' defensive numbers are inflated by wins over Eastern Michigan (No. 106 nationally in total offense) and Kent State (No. 111).

Five Players To Watch
1. Devin Gardner, redshirt junior quarterback: The embattled Michigan quarterback turned in the first turnover-free contest of his young career as the Wolverines' starting quarterback last weekend, efficiently managing the offense in a 42-13 win over Minnesota. Gardner may be asked to do a little more this weekend, especially with his legs against a Penn State defense with a propensity of giving up big plays on the ground. Can Gardner put together another turnover-free performance? If so, it will be difficult for the Nittany Lions to keep up.

2. Blake Countess, redshirt sophomore cornerback: Countess has been outstanding thus far in 2013. Coming off a terrible ACL injury that forced him to miss all but a series against Alabama in 2012, Countess has been on fire. He is tied for No. 1 nationally in interceptions with four and leads the country in interception return yards (149), just 33 yards behind the Michigan single-season program record. Countess will have a lot on his plate Saturday, facing perhaps the best receiver Michigan will see all year in Penn State's Allen Robinson.

3. Allen Robinson, junior wide receiver: Robinson is a massive part of the Penn State offense, already boasting 38 catches for 621 yards and five touchdowns. He has had at least seven catches for at least 129 yards and a touchdown in four of Penn State's five games this season, with the exception being a three-catch, 43-yard outing in a 37-0 blowout win over Kent State in which Robinson hit the bench early. He is going to be a load, because true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg relies on him so heavily. If the Wolverines can shut him down, they can effectively shut down the Penn State offense.

4. Devin Funchess, sophomore tight end: Is Funchess still technically a "tight end"? If he has a few more games like last weekend's, in which he lined up all over the field and beat several cornerbacks while split wide, he might need a new title. The Wolverines have searched for another weapon in the passing game besides fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon, and they may have finally found it. Funchess' progress will force defenses to lighten up on Gallon, who has received a ton of attention in the last few weeks from opposing secondaries.

5. DaQuan Jones, senior defensive tackle: The Michigan interior offensive line is still very much a work in progress, even after promising developments last weekend against Minnesota. The Wolverines have surrendered 37 tackles for loss in five games (105th nationally). Jones is going to be a big test for the guys inside. He ranks second in the Big Ten with 6.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks. The Wolverines will have to keep him out of the backfield in order to get the run game going.

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