Two weeks after losing its first game of the season, Penn State returns to action this weekend with a home game against Michigan State for a Big Ten East Division showdown in Happy Valley. Michigan State is also looking to bounce back from a loss suffered last weekend at home, against Northwestern.
With each having lost one game in conference play already this season, both teams need to win this weekend to remain in the hunt for a possible shot at the Big Ten championship. Michigan State will get its own crack at Ohio State later this season, but Penn State must get some help in order to avoid coming down to a tiebreaker scenario with the Buckeyes.
With both teams in need of a win this weekend, who has the upper hand?
Michigan State at Penn State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Penn State -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Michigan State’s offensive line woes
A year ago, Michigan State allowed the second-fewest sacks among Big Ten teams. This year, Michigan State has already allowed 12 sacks in five games after giving up 21 all of last year. Brian Lewerke has been under pressure this season, and the stats show that the recipe for beating Michigan State lies with taking advantage of the offensive line. Lewerke has been picked off six times, often seeming to force some plays under pressure that just have not been there for him. His six interceptions are the second most by a Big Ten quarterback this season.
If Penn State can clamp down on Lewerke the way it handled Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins, it could be a long afternoon for the Michigan State offense.
2. Penn State at home coming off a bye week
While Michigan State was having a tough battle at home last week against Northwestern, Penn State was taking the week off after its loss two weeks ago against Ohio State. Penn State has had some sluggish starts to games this season, and the defense has had some issues, so there has been work to do during the bye week. James Franklin is 2-3 coming off bye weeks at Penn State but has won the last two at home.
Since 2009, Michigan State is 13-2 in its next game after a loss if you throw out the 2016 season entirely. The Spartans have already bounced back from a loss this season with a road win.
3. If running the ball is a difference, Penn State has the decisive advantage
Penn State’s running game is off to a solid start this season even after losing Saquon Barkley to the NFL draft. As a team, Penn State is already on pace to have more rushing yards and more rushing touchdowns than it did last season. That is partly because the offense without Barkley is slightly more traditional when it comes to running the ball, with Miles Sanders proving to be a reliable option on the ground. Trace McSorley is also piling up yards on the ground after rushing for a career-high 175 yards against Ohio State.
Penn State will be challenged by Michigan State’s Big Ten-leading rushing defense, which is allowing just 33.8 yards per game and has given up only four rushing touchdowns this season. However, the Spartans bring the league's second-worst rushing offense to Happy Valley. Penn State’s rushing defense has been far from spectacular, but the Lions did hold Ohio State to a season-low 119 rushing yards two weeks ago.
Penn State may not admit it, but this is a bit of a revenge game after losing in East Lansing last season. Having a bye week to rebound from the tough loss to Ohio State should bode well for Penn State at home this weekend. Trace McSorley remains one of the best players in the Big Ten and should be able to make more than enough plays to hurt Michigan State’s chances of walking away from Beaver Stadium with a win. Michigan State’s offense is out of sorts, and Penn State should be able to take advantage.
Prediction: Penn State 34, Michigan State 20
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.