College football's top defenses to square off when No. 2 Michigan visits No. 9 Penn State
By TRAVIS JOHNSON Associated Press
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — As their teammates filed out of practice earlier this week, Penn State defensive ends Adisa Isaac, Chop Robinson and Dani Dennis-Sutton lingered at the far end of the facility.
The ninth-ranked Nittany Lions’ most disruptive defenders stutter-stepped and bull-rushed their way around and through assistant coaches, putting in extra work before their biggest game of the season.
Penn State, boasting the country’s second-ranked defense, seeks to upstage Michigan’s top-ranked defense when the No. 2 Wolverines (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten, No. 3 CFP) visit Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
“This is a statement game from our defense because you know a lot of people around the country believe that Penn State is unable to take the next step,” cornerback Kalen King said. “And I feel like this game is the perfect opportunity for us to go out and prove ourselves against a powerhouse team like Michigan.”
The Nittany Lions (8-1, 5-1, No. 10 CFP) also want to keep their conference title hopes alive. The Wolverines, who’ve arguably been just as good on offense as they have been on defense, can snuff them out.
They’ve foiled everything every opponent has thrown at them so far.
Michigan is allowing just 6.7 points and 231.4 total yards per game. No team has taken a single snap inside Michigan’s 10-yard-line this season.
But the Wolverines know this game won’t be as easy.
“They’re a super-talented team,” Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy said. “They’re well coached. It’s going to be a good one for us to see where we’re at.”
The Wolverines are in control of their fate. They play at Maryland on Nov. 18 before hosting No. 3 Ohio State in the season finale. For that game to mean more, Michigan must deal with Penn State’s rising offense, which has played well since Ohio State shut it down in a 20-12 loss on Oct. 21.
The Nittany Lions have scored 30 or more points in every game except the one in Columbus. They have scored 84 points and totaled 746 yards in the last two weeks.
“It’s one of those games where we can’t kill ourselves with mistakes because they’ll capitalize,” Penn State quarterback Drew Allar said. “We just have to do a good job of just, you know, eliminating all the unforced errors that you know can come back and bite us.”
Since Michigan’s alleged sign-stealing scheme became public nearly three weeks ago, coach Jim Harbaugh and his players have had to deal with the distraction.
Zak Zinter, an All-Big Ten offensive guard, has embraced the outside noise.
“There’s a lot of noise going on outside the building,” he said. “If someone thinks we’re the villain, I’m fine with being the villain. Sometimes, the villain wins and takes down the superhero.”
McCarthy has had good chemistry with wideouts Roman Wilson and Cornelius Johnson who’ve combined for 60 catches, 1,011 yards and 11 touchdowns.
It’s cause for concern for a Penn State secondary that’s allowed an average of 280 passing yards and two touchdowns per game over the last three weeks.
King said he was taking preparations personally after struggling to contain Marvin Harrison Jr. in Columbus.
“That loss, it brought us closer,” King said. “I feel like this stretch in November is really where we going to do a lot of our talking.”
Michigan running back Blake Corum hasn’t faced a defense like Penn State’s this season.
“Penn State is a great football team,” Corum said. “Great defense, top 10 in every category.”
Corum is pretty good, too. He has an FBS-high 16 touchdowns, scoring each on the ground.
Even though the Wolverines will be facing a ranked team for the first time since losing to TCU in the 2022 College Football Playoffs, Harbaugh insisted the previous foes put up a fight.
ODDS AND ENDS
Michigan is the least penalized team in the country and is averaging just 2.7 flags per game.
Penn State’s offense has used wristbands to call plays a few times this year and will do so again on Saturday.
Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football