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Michigan's offensive line is key to having any chance against Penn State

Penn State ranks second in nation with 27 sacks

Zach Charbonnet #24 of the Michigan Wolverines runs the ball as Stanley Green #7 of the Illinois Fighting Illini dives for the tackle during the first half at Memorial Stadium on October 12, 2019 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan football team have done a nice job turning the season around with three straight victories following a blowout loss to Wisconsin.

Michigan hasn't looked dominant the last two weeks, but it found a way to beat a top 15 team and pick up its first road win. When the dust settled, the Wolverines came out of the first half 5-1 with a chance to make some noise in the second half.

Saturday will be another chance for Michigan to make a statement as it travels to University Park to battle No. 7 Penn State.

The Wolverines are heavy underdogs heading into the game, and that's largely because of the apparent mismatch between Michigan's offense and Penn State's defense.

Overall, the Nittany Lions rank in the top five nationally in terms of total defense. But what makes them truly special is their strength up front.

Hassan Haskins #25 of the Michigan Wolverines breaks a tackle and eventually runs for a touchdown during the first half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 12, 2019 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

For Michigan to have any chance this weekend, the offensive line has to have its best game of the season.

Penn State ranked No. 2 in the country in sacks this season with 27, just one behind national leader Ohio State. No team has created more negative yardage on sacks than Penn State. In fact, the next closest team is 26 yards behind Penn State in that category -- 204 yards to 178 yards (Pittsburgh).

The Wolverines' offensive line has been a disappointment, allowing 11 sacks through six games, which is average nationally. With Jon Runyan, Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz and Michael Onwenu returning as starters and Jalen Mayfield taking over at right tackle, this was expected to be one of the best units in the Big Ten.

So far, their inconsistency has been a factor in Michigan's slow offensive start, but the last few games have shown signs of progress. Illinois never sacked quarterback Shea Patterson, and Iowa and Rutgers combined for just three sacks the previous two games.

Penn State will be the toughest defense Michigan has faced this season, so the offensive line needs to be consistently strong.

It's also critical for the line to open running lanes for Zach Charbonnet, Hassan Haskins and Tru Wilson. That trio combined for 287 rushing yards on 40 attempts against Illinois -- good for 7.18 yards per carry.

If Michigan can run the ball effectively, it will open up the offense as it did en route to 42 points last week.

That certainly won't be easy, though. Penn State is allowing the third-fewest rushing yards per game and the fewest rushing yards per attempt nationally. Only one rushing touchdown has been scored against the Nittany Lions this season.

So far, Michigan's rushing attack has been awful, averaging 4.06 yards per attempt. If that's all it can muster against Penn State, it will be a long night in Happy Valley.

Michigan's season-long goals are on the line Saturday. To pull an upset, it will need to be the team most people expected when the season began.

That means the offensive line, expected to be the centerpiece of the offense, needs to meet expectations, too.


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