Shawn Annarelli

Penn State Must Conquer Michigan Duo

Created on Oct. 11, 2013 6:28 PM EST

Don’t turn over the ball.

Don’t throw the ball into triple coverage.

Don’t hold the ball low and loose.

Don’t blindly throw a pass while being sacked.

Just don’t do it...any of it.

Unfortunately for Penn State and Michigan, their opponents have protected the football better than they have this season. The two Big Ten rivals are tied for 97th in the nation in turnover margin with both team minus-3 in the turnover battle on Saturdays.

Maybe, just maybe, that will be the story of this Saturday’s game in Happy Valley. I wouldn’t count on it, though, because even when Michigan (5-0, 1-0) and Penn State (3-2, 0-1) lose the turnover battle, they curiously still win.

Regardless, the duo that Penn State will to stop in order to win this week is Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan and elusive quarterback Devin Gardner. Maybe a better way to put that is that Penn State's defense can’t get stopped by Lewan on its way to Gardner.

The problem is, Penn State doesn’t match up well against either player.

Aside from senior tackle DaQuan Jones, who leads the Nittany Lions with two sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss, no other defensive lineman is a threat to consistently get in the backfield, including undetectable defensive end Deion Barnes, who was once thought to be a potential breakout star.

Penn State’s defensive ends have accumulated just 2.5 sacks in five games, so they’ll be lucky to get just one against Lewan, a 6’8” 315-pound mammoth with the potential to be one of the top picks in the 2014 NFL Draft.

The Nittany Lions have also shown susceptibility to getting exposed by quarterbacks that no one has ever heard of before. That is, until they play Penn State. Central Florida’s Blake Bortles threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 win over Penn State and Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld had 321 yards passing and two touchdowns in a 44-24 rout of the Nittany Lions last week.

Now, Penn State has to face Gardner, a quarterback that is better than either Bortles or Sudfeld and one who can beat the Nittany Lions with his arm or his legs on any given play.

While Gardner has struggled with eight interceptions in five games, he’s the type of dual threat the Nittany Lions haven’t faced yet this season. He throws for over 200 yards every game and regularly adds 50 to 100 yards on the ground.

That’s troubling for Penn State’s defense, one that uncharacteristically cannot tackle this season.

If Penn State can’t find a way to get to Gardner in the pocket, they’re in for another embarrassing outing at the hands of the unbeaten Wolverines.

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