Before leaving for the bye week — he didn't call it an off week — Penn State coach James Franklin allowed himself to look ahead. Yes, the coaching staff self-scouted and recruit this week. But it also began the process of devouring film of No. 4 Michigan before visiting Ann Arbor on Oct. 15.
"We've done what we needed to do up to this point to be 5-0," Franklin said after last week's win over Northwestern, "but we have to get better."
No. 10 Penn State has won its first five games for the second consecutive season, though the last time went south. For quarterback Sean Clifford, who is 5-0 for the third time as a starter, these are moments to savor and capitalize upon, especially in his case.
"It doesn’t feel any different," Clifford said about this start compared to 2021. "We've been here and done that. It's the standard to be 5-0 at this point.
"... I don't have many [games] left, and it's really important for me just to take it in every single day, because I'm definitely going to miss it. It's been a blast. When it goes into this week, we're focused on getting better, focusing on Penn State, getting a head start on Michigan and then rolling right into next week."
The Lions have a tremendous opportunity at Michigan, especially if the teams meet as unbeatens for the first time since 1997 (Michigan visits Indiana on Saturday). Clifford has won a lot of games as a starter but is 0-5 vs. AP Top-10 teams. And Penn State is 2-13 vs. teams ranked in the top 10 under Franklin.
So is Penn State ready for Michigan? As Franklin said, "We have done what we needed to do up to this point."
"We're playing a really good Michigan team on the road," Franklin said after the Northwestern game. "We haven't spent a whole lot of time on them yet. Obviously, I haven't watched them, but our objective is to be ready come next Saturday. That's when we have to be ready. Not today."
The Lions have plenty to assess before heading to Michigan, notably a passing offense that ranks 49th nationally in quarterback rating and is tied for 63rd in completion percentage (63 percent).
Further, Penn State's run defense will get another real assessment against Michigan. The Lions rank second in the Big Ten in yards allowed (79.8) but also have defended the second-fewest run plays (27 per game) in the conference.
Meanwhile, Michigan's Blake Corum leads a run game that averages 221.8 yards and 39.6 carries per game. Michigan also leads the Big Ten with 19 rushing touchdowns, albeit against a soft non-conference schedule.
To prepare, the Lions practiced through Thursday (Franklin called it an extra practice) before taking a Friday-Saturday break. The coaches went recruiting ("You'd better be preparing for the future, or you'll fall behind," Franklin said) before reconvening Sunday to begin game week.
In addition, Franklin's analyst staff has been getting a head start on Michigan since the preseason.
"There's a lot of work that goes into that," Franklin said of preparing for Michigan. "I have a ton of respect for them, their program, their organization and their coaching staff. But we have done what we needed to do up till this point. By being 5-0, we’ve won a lot of different ways. I think there's value in that. I'd love for them all to be pretty wins and sexy wins, but that’s not the game we play."
The Penn State-Michigan game kicks off at noon ET on Oct. 15 at Michigan Stadium. It's the Fox Big Noon game of the week.
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