- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Wolverines haven't been perfect, but they've made plays when necessary to remain undefeated. Penn State has been a different story. Still, with a sold-out home crowd, this won't be the kindest of environments for Michigan. Here are five things to keep an eye on:
Which Devin Gardner will show up? After the Michigan quarterback tossed four touchdowns to one pick against Notre Dame -- along with throwing for 294 yards and rushing for another 82 -- his Heisman stock reached a peak. According to Bovada, at that point, Gardner was a 14-to-1 underdog. Now? Well, let's just say all that stock has since been sold off, because he's no longer even listed as an option. Gardner was a turnover machine against Akron and UConn, and he has been wildly inconsistent this season. After last week's game against Minnesota, it's not yet time to say he has turned a corner. But, if the same Gardner shows up that played in Week 2, then the Wolverines should have something to celebrate. If the Week 3 and and Week 4 Gardner shows up? Say good-bye to that perfect record.
Potential matchup of Allen Robinson vs. Blake Countess. This could be a pretty entertaining battle, as Robinson is the reigning Big Ten receiver of the year, and Countess already has come down with four interceptions this season. They're two All-Big Ten talents, and Penn State hasn't shown it has a receiving threat outside of A-Rob. If U-M decides to match Countess up with Robinson and Countess can get the best of him, there goes a player who has accounted for 45 percent of the PSU passing offense. It's certainly not going to be easy, however. Robinson is on pace for nearly 1,500 receiving yards. Even if the two don't match up against each other every play, they'll undoubtedly bump helmets throughout the game.
Third-down offenses. The Wolverines have had some inconsistencies on offense, but they've been just fine consistently keeping drives alive. They're atop the conference when it comes to third-down conversions, and they rank No. 11 nationally with a 53.7 percent conversion rate. Penn State, on the other hand, is near the bottom -- ranked No. 112 in the country -- with a 29.7 percent conversion rate. Central Florida got the best of PSU because the defense couldn't get it off the field, and the Lions are hoping to avoid a repeat.
Lack of depth. This will be a recurring issue for PSU until it returns to full strength in 2016. For this season, it has about 61 scholarship players -- 24 fewer than Michigan. Bill O'Brien didn't want to talk about that this week, but it undoubtedly will have an impact on the game. Linebacker Mike Hull is still recovering from an injury and isn't quite 100 percent. Safety Ryan Keiser is also questionable for the game, and that severely handicaps the personnel decisions of defensive coordinator John Butler. Lack of depth on defense could lead to a tired defense in the fourth quarter.
DaQuan Jones vs. U-M interior. If there's one bright spot to the Nittany Lions' defense, it's their 318-pound defensive tackle. And if there's one big concern on the U-M offense -- besides Gardner's inconsistency -- it's the interior of the offensive line. Center Graham Glasgow made his first career start last week and, with all the noise inside Beaver Stadium, it's no stretch to think there might be a few communication problems between him and his quarterback. Jones has the ability to take over a game, so he'll either be routinely double-teamed -- freeing up teammates -- or he could have a standout statistical performance. It's definitely a matchup to watch.
The Wolverines haven't been perfect, but they've made plays when necessary to remain undefeated. Penn State has been a different story. Still, with a sold-out home crowd, this won't be the kindest of environments for Michigan.