.The Nittany Lions took care of business a week ago against Rutgers. Setting up Penn State’s quest for 10 wins nicely against Michigan State on Senior Day. We took a brief look at this game last week when we previewed the final two contests for the Nittany Lions. A balanced attack on offense has been working for Penn State in this second half of the season, but that will continue to be a little bit more difficult without star wide receiver Parker Washington. Washington will not be available for the remainder of the season with an injury. However, in Washington’s absence, the trio of Penn State tight ends has stepped up. Let’s see what is needed on Penn State’s quest for 10 wins.
Penn State’s Battle for the Land Grant Trophy
Not only is Penn State looking for its 10th win, but the Nittany Lions want to bring home the Land Grant Trophy after it’s been in East Lansing for the past year. How will Penn State achieve this goal? It starts by keeping up the pace on offense and defense. Something that the Nittany Lions have been building since the fourth-quarter meltdown against Ohio State.
Michigan State’s Struggling Rush Defense
The Michigan State Spartans enter Beaver Stadium sitting at 5-6 with only three Big Ten wins. The Spartans are coming off of a close loss to Indiana a week ago. The Nittany Lions open as an 18-point favorite. With arguably one of the nation’s best freshmen duo in the backfield, Penn State’s run game is poised for yet another big day against a struggling Michigan State rush defense. This struggle is in part due to the practice plan that the Spartans have had to resort to. In his weekly press conference, Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker indicated that the team doesn’t tackle at practice during the week. Due to injuries and the eight suspended players for the Spartans, they just don’t have enough players to risk injury at practice. This has been going on for four weeks and it shows.
Against Illinois, the Spartans allowed 153 rush yards. A week later against Rutgers they allowed 224 rush yards. Then, last week against Indiana Michigan State gave up 257 rush yards and four rushing touchdowns. To put this in perspective, Rutgers is averaging 133 rushing yards per game. The Nittany Lions held the Scarlet Knights to just 32 rush yards a week ago. Further, Indiana is averaging only 101 rush yards per game and was held to just 65 rush yards against Penn State this season. Despite this, Michigan State has forced 10 fumbles this season. Six came against Western Michigan and Akron to start the year, but with two young backs, this is something that the Nittany Lions need to be mindful of.
This is all against running backs that aren’t on the same level as Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen for Penn State. Senior quarterback Sean Clifford will have his last home game this weekend and needs to keep his running backs effective. To do this, the Penn State offense needs to continue spreading the ball around. In Washington’s absence, Penn State utilized eight different receivers against Rutgers, in addition to Singleton and Allen. Mitchell Tinsley and Brenton Strange led the way in receptions. Keeping the passing game as an option will likely allow Singelton and Allen to have another record-setting day at home.
Manny Diaz’s Defense
This will be the tale of two completely different defenses this week. The Spartans are struggling mightly on this side of the ball, whereas, Penn State is starting to come into its own. The defensive front is dominating opposing offensive lines and the secondary is shutting down the passing attack. Freshman linebacker Abdul Carter is living up to the #11 that he wears. Last week against Rutgers, Carter came away with two tackles for loss and one sack. He was constantly disruptive in the backfield even when he didn’t come away with a tackle or sack. He has become a nice compliment to Curtis Jacobs. Jacobs also had two tackles for loss and a sack a week ago. In addition to tallying a forced fumble. Both linebackers will look to be disruptive again this week against Michigan State.
The Penn State secondary is self-titled “The No Fly Zone”. Without star corner Joey Porter Jr. a week ago, the Nittany Lion secondary forced an interception and only 135 pass yards. This is under the average for the Rutgers passing attack. It is unlikely that Porter Jr. will return for Penn State this week, but that shouldn’t be an issue. The Spartans have thrown 11 interceptions this season, with starting quarterback Payton Thorne being responsible for 10 of those. Keeping Thorne uncomfortable is key for another strong Penn State defense outing at home this week.
In Penn State’s quest for 10 wins, fans want a New Years Six bowl game this year, but that is not even an option without a big win this week. Control the controllables. That should be Penn State’s motto this week. Secure a victory against Michigan State at home on Senior Day. This is all the Nittany Lions can do. Then hope that games fall in Penn State’s favor.