Nittany Lions take undefeated record to East Lansing to face rested, upset-minded Spartans
After a big home win last week, Penn State is taking their undefeated record on the road to East Lansing. Michigan State has stunned Penn State each of the last two years and, in doing so, has effectively ruined any outside shot of playing for a Big Ten championship for the Nittany Lions. The Land Grant Trophy will be up for grabs, and Penn State is looking to bring it home with them for the first time in three years.
Michigan State (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) has the benefit of getting a bye week to p[repare for this game while Penn State (7-0, 4-0) was getting worn down by Michigan. The body blow factor could come into play for Penn State, as Michigan State is a team designed to wear them down a little more if their game plan goes as expected. With Penn State's offense prone to hit some in-game walls, how many short drives can Penn State afford to have? Can Michigan State take advantage?
Penn State at Michigan State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Penn State -6.0
When Penn State Has the Ball
Penn State's offense is a bit of a mixed bag of potential home-run plays and a sluggish unit that hits walls against good defenses. Last week against Michigan, Penn State used their big-strike passing game to jump out to a 21-0 lead on the Wolverines before Michigan's defense started to slow things down and force Penn State to have some quick drives resulting in punts. Any time KJ Hamler is on the field, Penn State has a potential big play waiting to happen. Hamler scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown last week when he got behind the safety for an easy, 53-yard touchdown. Michigan State will have to be careful not to allow Hamler to get down the field with nobody in front of him, otherwise, it could be a touchdown waiting to happen.
Sean Clifford may not have a ton of big numbers compared to other top quarterbacks around the country, but the sophomore is continuing to gain confidence against stingy defensive teams that could work well for Penn State moving forward. Michigan State's defensive line should be able to find moments where they can bring pressure on Clifford and that could lead to a slow start on the road for the Penn State offense (just like a few weeks ago against Iowa), but Clifford has shown the ability to work his way through tough moments and find his receiver for a big first down or touchdown when needed (like last week against Michigan).
Penn State's running back by committee saw less production than expected from Noah Cain but did get a big run by Ricky Slade. Expect to see more rushing duties being split among a handful of backs, perhaps one of Penn State's deepest positions on the team.
When Michigan State Has the Ball
The Spartans have been up and down on offense this season, but the lack of production against the three best teams on the roster should be a bit alarming for Michigan State. Michigan State scored just seven points against Arizona State, 10 points against Ohio State, and was shut out by Wisconsin two weeks ago. With Penn State bringing another solid defense to the field this week, Michigan State's offense will be challenged once again. Brian Lewerke and the Spartans offense, however, has had two weeks to get things worked out after a couple of blowout losses, and the extra energy of playing at home could lead to a couple of good early drives to put Penn State in a hole. If Michigan State can't strike early, things could be rough all game long for the home team.
Penn State gave up more than 13 points for the first time this season when the Nittany Lions gave up 21 to Michigan last week. If not for a dropped pass by the Wolverines, Penn State would have given up 28 points, 21 of which came after halftime. If Michigan State can play a good running game the way Michigan did last week, then Michigan State can drag Penn State into another scrum that is low on scoring and focused on Michigan State dominating the time of possession.
Penn State has played two good defensive battles the last two weeks, and they'll have to find a way to win a third one this week. Expect Penn State to have to brace Michigan State starting off with some extra incentive as the Spartans look to bounce back in the win column at home after a bye week. But as long as Penn State avoids falling behind by double digits after the first quarter, Penn State should be able to plug away to establish themselves a bit. But like the last two years in this series, this one will be won, or lost, in the fourth quarter. Penn State survived last week and gave up a late rally at Iowa. Can the Nittany Lions avoid letting the win slip away from them again, against a team that has stunned them the last two times? This time, yes. They will.
Prediction: Penn State 23, Michigan State 16
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.