ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan faced its first significant challenge in a 45-28 win last weekend against Colorado. Within a matter of minutes, the Wolverines had to figure out how to defend against the pass, and then how to extricate themselves from a stingy pass defense.
The Buffaloes caught Michigan flat-footed at times, and accrued 164 passing yards en route to a 14-point lead after the first quarter. Furthermore, Colorado’s defense pushed Michigan off-balance. Quarterback Wilton Speight completed only two of his first nine passes, and the Wolverines had an uncharacteristic 16 passing yards going into the second quarter.
Fifteen minutes into its final nonconference game, Michigan faced its first deficit of the season. Yet in unfamiliar territory, the Wolverines picked apart what began as a stifling pass defense, then rallied for a double-digit win.
That prepared Michigan for this weekend.
The No. 4 Wolverines (3-0) will face a similar challenge when they host Penn State (2-1) Saturday at Michigan Stadium in the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams.
Colorado, Michigan tight end Jake Butt said, gave the Wolverines a basis for preparation.
“(Penn State) will be a good challenge,” Butt said Monday. “We haven’t really dove into the film yet. We’re going to hit that today. But Penn State always has a good defense. Any time you’re facing a good secondary, or a good defense overall, it’s a great challenge.
“Colorado had an All-American caliber cornerback [Chidobe Awuzie] that was doing a really good job. They can prepare you a little bit, but every team is different. Penn State’s going to do some different things, I’m sure.”
While Penn State has had its noted struggles in its nonconference schedule — just last weekend, Penn State was without seven defensive starters at points during the game, including four who didn’t play at all — the Nittany Lions wield the Big Ten Conference’s No. 2 pass defense, surrendering 168.7 yards per game. No. 1 in the Big Ten? Michigan, at 156 yards per game.
Penn State gave up 286 passing yards to Temple quarterback Phillip Walker, but intercepted Walker on Temple’s final drive with 25 seconds left in Saturday’s 34-27 win over the Owls at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State gave up only 91 yards passing to Pitt in a 42-39 loss Sept. 10 in Pittsburgh, and grabbed two interceptions in a 33-13 win over Kent State in its season opener Sept. 3 in State College, Pa.
Michigan, meanwhile, will have to tinker with its own defense against a no-huddle, spread offense that is second in the Big Ten in passing (276 yards), led by quarterback Trace McSorley (58-for-90 passing, 828 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions).
“You can count on changes, adjustments being made,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said of his own team’s defense. “It’s a good system, the no-huddle system’s a very good system. It’s got its pros and cons, but Penn State’s offense, they have a very good quarterback, a very good running back (Saquan Barkley), and very good players that are very good for that system.
“Its another challenge for us, and why we treat every game like a championship game. Every opponent on our schedule comes in with a strong will to defeat us.”