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The Only Questions: Q&A with Penn State

Get to know the Nittany Lions

Ohio State v Penn State Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans are set to take on the Nittany Lions during their homecoming and annual Stripe Out game Saturday afternoon in Beaver Stadium.

The Spartans will look to keep the Land Grant Trophy in East Lansing after an exciting walk off victory against Penn State last year. While the Nittany Lions will look to return the rival trophy to their shelves in Pennsylvania.

As usual, we’ve brought in Aaron Yorke from the Black Shoe Diaries to walk us through what we can expect from Penn State this weekend.

After the one-point loss to Ohio State two weeks ago, James Franklin went off and said “We will no longer be comfortable being great,” and that they will “find a way to take the next step.” He also said he believes Penn State is a great program albeit that the Buckeyes are elite. What do you make of his comments after the game? And how did the fans react to his opening statement?

I think most fans -- at least the one in my feeds -- are still upset with the team’s failure to convert on fourth down on its final drive. It’s not as though Penn State was blown out by Ohio State. It had the Buckeyes on the ropes and failed to seal the deal due to poor tackling and an inefficient offense. I hear a lot of fans blaming that failure on the coaching staff, but there’s no question that Penn State wouldn’t be the program it is today without James Franklin. In order to get on Ohio State’s level, he’s going to have to get better at managing the game, but also deepen the team’s talent pool in the trenches. With a stronger offensive and defensive front, Penn State might have held up in the fourth quarter.

Walk us through that last play. It’s fourth and five and Penn State is across midfield. What did you think of the call? Why do you think Franklin elected to not have the ball in McSorley’s hands after the game he had?

I think the ball could have been in Trace McSorley’s hands, since it looked like an option call with a smoke screen to the left of the formation. However, Ohio State blew up the play by pressuring McSorley into handing the ball off and then having a great player in Chase Young smash into the running lane. Even though I would have much preferred a straight pass call that gave McSorley the opportunity to pass or scramble, the Lions were have a lot of success running the ball on passing downs in that game. Had Young not shot the gap, the play may have been a successful one.

The MSU run defense vs. McSorely / Sanders: Who wins the matchup? Why?

Up until the Ohio State game, Penn State got plenty of production on the ground by handing the ball off to Miles Sanders. From the way Michigan State has stopped the run this season, I expect the Lions to struggle to get Sanders going again. However, McSorley provides a unique wrinkle because of how good he is at pulling the ball back and picking up big chunks in the option game. He could get loose for a few solid gains, even if the running game isn’t at its peak efficiency. That said, Penn State will probably have to win this game through the passing game, which hasn’t been as consistent as fans would like.

The Spartans defense is twofold -- their the best in the nation against the run but the statistics show they are ranked 122nd against the pass. How do you think Tracey McSorely and the Nittany Lions will look to take advantage of that?

The biggest factor in the passing attack will be KJ Hamler. Look for Penn State to try to get him the ball in space on run-pass options the way it against Ohio State. The Buckeyes did a good job shutting down the play for the most part, but they also allowed a 93-yard reception when Hamler got loose. Another wide receiver, Juwan Johnson, had a solid ending to 2017 but got off to a slow start this year. Hopefully his five catches and 61 yards -- including on spectacular one-handed grab -- against Ohio State are a sign of things to come. A revelation recently has been freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth and his ability to make plays in the seam. He’ll probably got a couple of looks deep down the middle. As far as game plan is concerned, I expect the Lions to implement the RPO early and then attack the Spartans based on what they’re giving up. Based on prior performance, that ought to mean lots of throws for McSorley in the second half.

Who’s one player, that Spartans fans might not know, who will make a huge impact during this game? Why?

Besides Freiermuth, who could have a career day against this Michigan State pass defense, I’d look out for Amani Oruwariye. He’s Penn State’s top cornerback and he made his presence felt with two key interceptions in Penn State’s first two games. He doesn’t have another pick since then, but he came oh-so-close to breaking up Binjimen Victor’s game-breaking reception for the Buckeyes. Every time I watched it back, I kept wondering how Victor hung onto the ball with Oruwariye’s hand right between the receiver’s hands. Anyway, Oruwariye will be key in keeping Felton Davis III from having another big day against Penn State.

Prediction time: Final score? Who wins? Why?

The Penn State defense took a big step forward in its last game when it showed the ability to slow down an Ohio State offense that has looked unstoppable at times. Still, old issues arose in pass coverage, and that allowed the Buckeyes to come back at the end. Besides the pass defense, Trace McSorley and the receivers must have a great game against a struggling Spartan pass defense if the Lions are to emerge victorious. I expect that the Lions make enough big plays to win, but it probably won’t be easy unless McSorley busts loose in the running game again.

Penn State 31, Michigan State 24