Penn State returns home against Michigan State this week. Both teams are looking for their third win of the season and both have their eyes set on taking home the Land Grant Trophy. The Nittany Lions have not won at home this season, which is very uncharacteristic. However, Saturday is Senior Day and Penn State did just win its 900th game last weekend which is good momentum entering a matchup against Michigan State. Hopefully, these two factors help lead to a win at home on Saturday.
Penn State Returns Home Against Michigan State
Penn State and Michigan State have been on similar paths this season. The Nittany Lions started 0-5 while Michigan State had an early-season win over in-state rival Michigan and then failed to keep that momentum going. The Spartans lost their next two before beating Northwestern, only to get trampled by Ohio State a week later. Head coach Mel Tucker is in his first year at the helm of the Spartans and beating Penn State and securing the Land Grant Trophy would be a good end to a lackluster regular season. On the other hand, the Nittany Lions are looking to keep the momentum of two wins going to hopefully finish the 2020 season without a losing record.
Spartan Offense Against Improving Penn State Defense
The Nittany Lion defense has not been the best this season, but the unit has slowly started to improve throughout the last few games. Last Saturday the Penn State defense held Rutgers to seven points. The Scarlet Knights hadn’t scored below 20 points all season entering the matchup. Head coach James Franklin praised the defensive front in his weekly press conference stating, “I think the overall factors in that game were starting fast, obviously going 1-0. I thought we were tough and physical against a team that I think is tough and physical. We did that on both fronts, our O-Line, and D-Line, really linebackers, tight ends, and safeties.” The defensive front will have to have that same dominating presence this week against Michigan State.
Tucker has not revealed who the starting quarterback will be for the Spartans this week. Rocky Lombardi has started all six games for Michigan State this season, but the redshirt junior suffered an injury last week in the second quarter against Ohio State. Payton Thorne played the remainder of that game and it is still unknown if Thorne will get the nod this week or not. Thorne ended the day last week 16-for-25 with one interception and a rushing touchdown. Regardless of who starts under center on Saturday, the Spartans have a turnover problem on offense. Thorne has thrown two interceptions this season in addition to Lombardi’s nine. However, Michigan State is very good in the red zone this season so the Nittany Lion defense will need to be very efficient and keep the Spartan offense out of the red zone on Saturday.
Keep the Run Game Going
Last week against Rutgers the Nittany Lion run game finally showcased what it can do. That is in large part to the play of the offensive line. Penn State rushed 57 times for 248 yards and one touchdown. Devyn Ford returned for the Nittany Lions and rushed for 65 yards on 11 carries for the lone rushing touchdown. True freshman Keyvone Lee led the group with 95 rushing yards on the day. However, Lee had the same amount of rushing attempts as backup quarterback Will Levis. Franklin stated that Levis rushed 17 times largely in part due to the weather in New Jersey.
While there needs to be more of a balance at the quarterback position, the run game needs to continue to succeed. The Spartans rank 63rd in rushing defense according to the NCAA. The run game allows for time to be taken off the clock, winning the possession battle is something that the Nittany Lions need to continue to do to keep their hopes of going .500 alive.
Who: Penn State vs. Michigan State
What: Battle for the Land Grant Trophy
Where: University Park, PA
When: 12:00 pm ET, ABC