I asked Aaron Yorke to give you some basic info on where Penn State sits heading into a relatively low-hyped matchup against Michigan. Vegas doesn’t believe in Penn State, but this is most definitely an improved offense from last year. Read up on the Nittany Lions. Thanks y’all. - Graham
PSU has an incredibly engaged fanbase. What are the expectations the fanbase has, record-wise?
AY: I’m thinking that the average fan is hoping for eight wins or more this season. With the Lions coming up just short against rival Pittsburgh, that means Penn State must take care of business against Maryland, Rutgers, Indiana and Purdue while winning two of five against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Iowa. There are a lot of tough opponents on that second list, but I don’t think that’s asking for too much if the offense continues to put up big numbers.
Pitt was a loss, but PSU played well. What's been the reaction from the fanbase about this game?
AY: There’s a lot of concern for the run defense after James Conner led the Panthers to 341 rushing yards. And now it seems all three starting linebackers will be out of action for the Michigan game. On the other hand, it was a good sign to see the Lions rally on offense late in the game and not give up until the bitter end. Trace McSorley made some costly errors but also some big plays that showed a lot of his potential. Penn State fans are hoping that the team can build on that offensive performance while correcting the mistakes that led to Pitt scoring four touchdowns in the first half.
Barkley looks like an All-American. How does PSU ensure that D-Line's can't just stack the box all season? Are there any specific plays or players that need to take pressure off the run game?
AY: McSorley has shown in the last two games that he’s capable of connecting with his receivers downfield, and that will go a long way towards opening up some space for Barkley. Until opponents start to respect the quarterback’s arm, look for Penn State to throw the ball early on in order to convince opponents to back off the line of scrimmage.
Compare Saq to any former PSU running backs or NFL running backs.
AY: Penn State hasn’t seen a back with this kind of upside since Larry Johnson was bowling over defenders in 2002. Barkley isn’t as big a back as Johnson was, but he does have the explosiveness and agility that make him enticing for NFL scouts. If he does make it as a professional, I see Barkley being more of a complementary player like Giovani Bernard or Ameer Abdullah than a true lead back, but those guys are few and far between these days. After catching just 20 passes last year, Barkley can boost his profile by becoming a bigger part of the passing game in 2016, especially now that Penn State has a more accurate quarterback on board.
The offensive line is deeply improved. What happened? Will the line improve even more in 2017?
AY: Some of the offensive line’s "improvement" is thanks to the presence of McSorley, who is able to avoid opposing pass rushers and get rid of the ball more effectively than Christian Hackenberg did last year. But some of that improvement is also due to the players being more experienced, so hopefully the unit will continue to improve in 2017.
The spread is something like 18 points. Appropriate? Where do you see this game going?
AY: Yeah, before I saw the line, I figured Michigan would be favored by about two touchdowns, so the line seems pretty fair. I think Penn State will struggle with the Michigan rushing attack as well as Jake Butt in the passing game. The Lions’ offense will help them cover the spread, though. 31-20, Michigan wins.