Penn State offensive tackles Rasheed Walker and Caedan Wallace will face their greatest task of the season Saturday.
Defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo have combined for 15 sacks for ninth-ranked Michigan (5-1 Big Ten, 8-1), which meets the No. 23 Nittany Lions (3-3, 6-3) at noon at Beaver Stadium (TV-ABC).
The 6-5, 250-pound Ojabo leads the Big Ten with eight sacks and four forced fumbles, and the 6-6, 265-pound Hutchinson has seven sacks, third in the conference. They’re two of the main reasons why the Wolverines rank sixth nationally in scoring defense (17.1 points) and total defense (311.0 yards).
“Both of them are extremely talented,” Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford said. “They have speed off the edge, but they also have some pretty good moves that come with it. Both of them are also very good against the run.”
Clifford has been sacked 11 times in the last three games against Maryland, Ohio State and Illinois. In the six games before that, the Lions allowed just nine sacks. Walker and Wallace will have their hands full against Ojabo and Hutchinson.
“It’s just a little bit of enhanced focus there,” Clifford said. “I’ve got trust in both guys, Rasheed Walker and Caedan Wallace, my two tackles, and honestly the whole offensive line to handle that.
“But at the same time, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. They have a lot of talent up front, and you’ve just got to prepare for that.”
Michigan’s defense has improved dramatically under first-year coordinator Mike Macdonald, the former Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach. Last year under Don Brown, who was fired, the Wolverines allowed 34.5 points and 434 total yards per game after finishing in the top 12 in total defense in Brown’s previous four seasons.
Clifford said Michigan has mixed pass coverages well this season, unlike the man-to-man coverage Brown almost always employed.
“They’re just a little bit more multiple in their scheme,” Clifford said, “and I think that’s working for them. They’ve obviously had success in it. They’ve got the players to do it.
“It’s fun for me because you’ve got to put in that time, that film study throughout the week, to be prepared to go in and know that you’re confident in yourself and your teammates.”
The Wolverines rank 10th nationally in pass efficiency defense and have held opponents to 184.1 passing yards a game, but they haven’t faced many exceptional quarterbacks or receivers.
Clifford passed for 724 yards and four touchdowns the last two weeks against Maryland Ohio State. Jahan Dotson ranks among the national receiving leaders in every category after he caught 11 passes for a school-record 242 yards and three touchdowns against the Terrapins.
“I’m really excited about the matchup,” Clifford said. “Obviously it’s gonna be a little bit of a different look just because it’s a new defensive coordinator. The new guy (Macdonald) is doing some good things. Their defense is super stout. They play with speed, but also a lot of aggression.”
Penn State coach James Franklin said he hopes Walker and Wallace can protect Clifford and give him time to find open receivers.
“I think for the most part the pass protection has been pretty good,” Franklin said. “There are times when we need to be firmer. There are times when we need to be better with our hands or our footwork and finishing.
“I think we need to be more consistent and more physical in the run game. Then maybe that makes them (Hutchinson and Ojabo) less effective in the pass game, so they’re not just pinning their ears back and coming off that edge every single down.”
Source: Berkshire mont