It’s far from bluster. When Michigan talks about preparing for the best offense the Wolverines have seen all season, it’s the truth.
At 451 yards per game, Penn State isn’t exactly setting any records, ranking 44th in the country thus far. But compared to Michigan’s first five opponents, the Nittany Lions might as well be the Denver Broncos.
Only Notre Dame’s offense (86th at 387.5 ypg) ranks in the top 100 nationally.
Central Michigan (110th), Akron (112th), Connecticut (119th) and last week’s opponent, Minnesota (106th), are decidedly a step slow on offense.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, a big-time reinforcement may becoming, perhaps as soon as Saturday in Happy Valley.
Linebacker Jake Ryan, out since spring practice in March with a torn ACL, has been cleared by doctors to return to the field and has a shot to play against Penn State.
“I think he’s getting closer,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “We’ll have a good practice with him (this week). Believe me, he’s wanting to play, and he seems to be feeling OK. But we need to make sure he can do the things he’s capable of doing.”
He was capable of quite a lot in 2012, finishing with a team-high 88 tackles (27 for loss) and 4.5 sacks while forcing four fumbles and recovering another. His mobility also made him a strong asset on passing downs.
That breakout sophomore campaign landed him second-team All-Big Ten honors in a conference with plenty of excellent linebackers. Penn State’s Gerald Hodges, now with the Minnesota Vikings, was also a second-team selection, highlighting the level of talent there.
Touted as a potential All-American for 2013 and named a team captain as a junior, Ryan saw that dream quickly dashed just a few days into spring ball.
That he might return to play just seven months later is a blessing for the Wolverines. But Hoke and the coaching staff are wary about rushing things, no matter how good Ryan looks in practice.
“Yeah, but it’s still playing football, and if you haven’t played in a long time, (it’s a concern),” Hoke said. “We’ve tried to get him in (in practice), but we can’t get him in for everything and we hadn’t early (in the season).”
Despite a 5-0 record and a No. 18 ranking, the Wolverines wouldn’t mind getting a little extra spark headed into hostile Beaver Stadium, which already had students outside starting the now-traditional campout on Tuesday.
Michigan struggled mightily against lowly Akron and UConn, trailing in the fourth quarter in both games. The Zips even made it to the Wolverines’ goal line in the final minute, just missing a winning touchdown and an enormous upset.
Concerns were eased a bit last week when Michigan opened Big Ten play by dismantling Minnesota. But the Wolverines know there’s still plenty of work to be done, with or without Ryan on the field.
“There’s no doubt he wants to be in there, he’s a captain on this team and that says so much about him being a leader and a captain as a junior,” All-America tackle Taylor Lewan said. “As far as him playing this week, that’s for the coaches to say.
“As far as he’s been playing, Jake’s Jake.”