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Get to Know the Opponent: Penn State

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The Nittany Lions score lots of points and their mascot is annoying.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Well things are about to get tougher for the Spartans, and considering how well things have gone so far, that is probably not a good thing. This week marks the first of the games against the “big three” divisional opponents. Michigan State will travel east to take on Penn State, who is looking to avenge last season’s loss at the hands of Matt Coghlin and the Spartans. Here’s what you need to know about Linebacker U.

School: Pennsylvania State University (Penn State)

Nickname: Nittany Lions

Conference: Big Ten (East Division)

Location: University Park, PA

Head Coach: James Franklin (5th season)

Record: 4-1 (1-1 in Big Ten)

Mascot: The Nittany Lion

All Time Series: 15-15-1 (MSU has won four of the last five)

Rivalry Trophy: Land Grant Trophy

Penn State is coming off a bye following a tough, one-point loss to Ohio State, their second in as many seasons. The Spartans meanwhile, are coming off a loss to Northwestern, their third straight at the hands of the Wildcats.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Battle for the Land Grant Trophy heavily favors whichever team happens to be ranked at the time of the game. MSU is 6-0 when ranked and taking on an unranked Penn State, whereas the Nittany Lions are 8-2 when ranked and taking on unranked Michigan State. The latter is the case this season, following MSU’s loss last week, so the trend favors the home team.

Team Stats

Penn State can score, and they can score a lot. They are fourth in the nation in scoring at 49.6 points per game. Although, they are not the highest scoring offense MSU has played this season, as Utah State is currently number two in the nation at 50.2 points per game. Still, the defense is going to have their hands full this week.

On the ground Penn State is 12th in the land averaging 261.20 yards per game, and they are 11th in yards per attempt at 6.02 yards per carry. That will be put to the test this week against MSU’s top ranked rushing defense.

Through the air Penn State is 54th in total yards at 248.8 yards per game, however, they are 20th in yards per attempt at 8.7 yards per pass. They also have 12 passing touchdowns against just two interceptions.

On the defensive side of the ball Penn State comes in at number 34 in the country allowing 21 points per game.

They have given up some yards on the ground this year, 161.80 per game, which ranks 67th overall. They rank a little better in per carry average allowing 3.89 yards per attempt, which is 52nd in the country.

Against the pass the Nittany Lions rank 33rd nationally, allowing 192.6 yards per game. But, they are 15th in yards per attempt allowing just 5.8 yards per pass. The PSU defense also has more interceptions (7) than touchdown passes allowed (5).

They have also done a good job getting to the quarterback, with 16 sacks through their first five games. That works out to more than three sacks per game is checks in tied for 14th in the country.

Key Players

For Penn State it all revolves around their senior quarterback Trace McSorley. The Nittany Lion signal caller is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt this year, but only completing about 53% of his passes. However, he has 10 touchdowns against just two picks. He is also a major threat in the run game, ranking second on the team with 410 yards rushing and tied for the team lead with six touchdowns. He averages 6.21 yards per carry.

Handling the bulk of the running back work this year is Miles Sanders. The junior takes over for Saquon Barkley and the transition has been seamless. Sanders is averaging over 107 yards per game, over six yards per carry, and has six rushing touchdowns. He has also caught nine passes for 58 yards, so he is a mild but not huge, threat out of the backfield in the passing game.

Receiver KJ Hamler leads Penn State in receiving yards (308) and touchdowns (4) as their big play receiver. He is averaging over 23 yards per catch, the fifth highest average in the country.

On defense, senior defensive lineman Shareef Miller leads Penn State with three sacks this year, after leading the team with five sacks a year ago. Miller also leads the team in tackles for loss with 6.5, on pace to better his team leading 11 TFL’s last year.

Amani Oruwariye has two interceptions this season to lead the team, halfway to his team leading total of four picks last year.