GAMEDAY: No. 2 Penn State, No. 19 Michigan set for primetime

UNIVERSITY PARK – Back from a restful bye week, No. 2 Penn State football (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) returns to Beaver Stadium, set to host No. 19 Michigan (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) in a Penn State White Out Saturday.

The Nittany Lions and the Wolverines will meet in a primetime matchup set for 7:30 p.m. on ABC with Chris Fowler (pxp), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst) and Maria Taylor (sideline) on the call.

Earlier this week, head coach James Franklin called Saturday’s matchup a real challenge for the Nittany Lions, as the two storied programs prepare to collide with a variety of intriguing storylines coming to life under the lights.

At the midpoint in the year, Penn State storylines have continued to take shape, including an explosive offense, an efficient special teams unit and a powerful defense highlighted by a secondary loaded with ball hawks who have proven key in pivotal moments.

Outscoring opponents 76-0 in the first quarter, Penn State’s defense is limiting opponents to a national-best 9.0 points per game. In the big plays category, Penn State ranks within the top 25 nationally and second in the Big Ten with 38 plays of 20 or more yards.

Turning toward Michigan, the Wolverines head to Happy Valley for their second weekend on the road, coming off a 27-20 OT win at Indiana last week. Ranked within the top 10 of nine defensive categories in the NCAA standings, Michigan’s defense is tops in FBS in total defense (223.8 avg.), third down defense (20.5 pct.) and passing efficiency defense (88.85). At the midpoint in the year, the Wolverines have also limited five of six opponents to a season-low points total an all six to a season-low in yardage.

Regardless of what the statistics say though, Franklin and the staff have stressed focus above all things this week, with University Park buzzing ahead of the Penn State White Out, the Nittany Lions’ highest AP poll ranking in nearly 20 years and ESPN’s College Gameday [MORE: College Gameday Info] taking over the Old Main lawn.

“My message for the team this week is, they’ve earned these things,” Franklin said. “These things are nice. The rankings are nice. The fact that ESPN and College GameDay is coming is nice. The fact that this is a white-out is nice. At the end of the day none of those things matter. It’s about our preparation.”

What To Watch For – Penn State

Franklin noted that Saturday’s matchup will bring some interesting chess matches between coordinators, also putting on display, as he says, two of the best defensive coordinators in college football. Having coached together at a previous stop, Franklin was quick to note Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown’s success.

“Don’s big thing, it shows up on tape they’re going to solve their problems with aggression. That’s something I remember years ago Don talking about. It still shows up on tape. His answer for the game of football is to be aggressive, be aggressive in the way he calls the game, be aggressive in how their players play. They’re a big wreck-the-decision-maker, try to get to the quarterback as much as they possibly can and either sack him or make him uncomfortable in the pocket, and don’t give any yards away, no free-access throws.”

2. Penn State is tops in the Big Ten and second in FBS in turnover margin at plus-12. With 17 takeaways in the in the first six games marking the most for the Nittany Lions in a six-game span since 1993, the mark is also tied for third in FBS. With the Nittany Lion secondary contributing a Big Ten leading nine interceptions, it’s more than just the secondary that has helped Penn State make take such a significant step forward.

“I don’t think it’s just our secondary,” Franklin said. “I think it’s our D-line. I think it’s the linebackers. “Christian is a senior and has been playing since his freshman year. Grant is a senior, has been playing since his freshman year. Amani, his role just continues to grow every season. I think those guys have had a dramatic impact. But, again, to play really good defense, all three phases, D-line, linebackers, secondary, all got to be coordinated and working together.”

3. Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki enters Saturday’s matchup looking to eclipse a career milestone. Coming off of the win, Gesicki is 249 yards shy of the record.

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