Skip to main content
Publish date:

Penn State vs. Michigan State Football Prediction and Preview

Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Michigan State Spartans Football Prediction and Preview

Nittany Lions, Spartans vie for Land Grant Trophy and end-of-season momentum in East Lansing on Saturday

The Michigan State Spartans saw their hopes and dreams of winning a Big Ten championship, and a long-awaited return to the College Football Playoff, go up in a blaze last weekend on the road against Ohio State. This week, as the regular season comes to a close, the Spartans (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) hope a return to their home field will do them well as they look to avoid an upset loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Penn State (7-4, 4-4) hasn't had quite the season it had imagined, but the Nittany Lions have the kind of defense that keeps them in every game they play. Close calls have tripped them up four times this season, and Penn State's run defense should be in for a battle against the Spartans and running back Kenneth Walker III. And with James Franklin having a fresh new long-term extension signed, the scrutiny over the Nittany Lions may only be increasing from here on out.

Will Penn State be able to pick up a win on the road in the battle for the Land Grant Trophy, one of the most awkward trophies there is in college football? Or will the Spartans end their terrific regular season with a win at home?

Penn State at No. 12 Michigan State

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: ABC
Spread: Pick 'Em

When Penn State Has the Ball

If there is a big key to success against the Michigan State defense, it comes through the air. The Spartans have the nation's worst pass defense, which was a big reason for recent losses to Purdue and Ohio State. This will be an area where Penn State has to thrive. Sean Clifford is slotted to return to the starting lineup after leaving last week's game early due to injury and illness. Franklin was encouraged by the production of backup Christian Veilleux last week, but Clifford is the quarterback of this team.

Recommended Articles

Penn State has the receivers to do some damage against the Spartans as well with Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington a solid combo for them. Expect Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to want to get his tight ends involved too, as Clifford should have some time to spread the ball around. Penn State will need the passing game to move the ball because the Nittany Lions have struggled running the football all season. That won't be about to change against the Spartans.

When Michigan State Has the Ball

The best part of the Michigan State offense comes on the ground in the form of Walker. The junior running back has rushed for 1,498 yards this season with 17 touchdowns. His Heisman Trophy chances likely came to an end last week after a tough performance against Ohio State, but he should be lining up a solid day on the ground against Penn State. The Nittany Lions have the seventh-best rushing defense in the Big Ten, but teams that are known to run the ball well have done so against them. Wisconsin, Auburn, Illinois, Ohio State, and Michigan all rushed for at least 140 yards on Penn State this season.

Payton Thorne has had a commendable season at quarterback as well. Thorne's play this season has helped create a well-balanced offense for Michigan State with 2,611 passing yards and 22 touchdowns to eight interceptions. And if anyone will be looking to bounce back this weekend, few would be looking to do so more than Thorne, who completed just 14 of 36 pass attempts in the loss to the Buckeyes.

Final Analysis

The line on this game has been incredibly tight all week, and that may be pretty telling on this one. Penn State has the passing attack to give Michigan State a handful to deal with, but the Spartans can grind their way to a home win with their advantage running the ball. The Nittany Lions haven't lost any game by a lopsided margin, and that isn't expected here either. But they are probably going home with a tough setback as Michigan State closes out the regular season with a hard-fought victory that goes down to the wire.

Prediction: Michigan State 26, Penn State 24

Podcast: Week 13 Preview, Predictions, and Picks Against the Spread

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB, on Instagram, and Like him on Facebook.