With a perfect season on the line, Michigan has every reason to get pumped entering Happy Valley.
Turns out, so does Penn State.
While the Nittany Lions (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) are struggling with two losses in their last three games, second-year coach Bill O’Brien wants his team to embrace what’s ahead today.
The game is sold out, with a crowd of more than 100,000 fans expected at Beaver Stadium. The game is on national television (5 p.m., ESPN), and the Nittany Lions have a chance to show the nation that even an undermanned roster can go play-for-play with one of the top teams in the Big Ten.
“We’ve got Nittanyville going crazy over here,” O’Brien said. “I think it would be crazy to think this is just another game. I think this is a great opportunity for our team. Our kids are really excited.
“We know it’s a big rivalry and a big game.”
O’Brien hasn’t backed down from a challenge since he took over the scandal-ridden program, and the No. 18 Wolverines (5-0, 1-0) seem like a minor speed bump in the big picture of building the program back into a model of success.
With an upset win, the Nittany Lions would be sky high.
The Wolverines, of course, care more about keeping their shot at the Big Ten title firmly alive. The Wolverines have hardly looked impressive, extracting wins over Akron and Connecticut, and if this game gets tight, it could be tough to pull one out in front of a wild crowd. Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan texted coach Brady Hoke about how the Wolverines could handle the noise.
“Sometimes we will be standing face-to-face, and I won’t be able to hear myself think or hear you talk,” Lewan said. “So it’s a great atmosphere. Penn State’s awesome; it’s a fun place to play.”
Penn State has won the last three games in the series, including a 41-31 decision in 2010 at Beaver Stadium.
Just how is Penn State going to slow down Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner? Gardner is a dual threat for the Wolverines, averaging 270.8 yards of total offense this season, which ranks second in the Big Ten. He’s rushed for a score in nine straight games and has thrown or run for at least two touchdowns in nine of the last 10 games.
“Do you really think,” O’Brien asked, “I’m going to tell you what we do in practice to prepare for Devin Gardner?”
Penn State’s Allen Robinson leads the Big Ten in yards per game (124.2) and receptions (7.6), and is tied for first in receiving scores (5). He is seventh in the nation in receiving yards and 12th in receptions.
“He got stronger, he’s faster, he improved his speed, which is really hard to do,” O’Brien said. “We’ve moved him around, so he’s become smarter in our scheme.”