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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe we already in Week 7 of the college football season. The Michigan State Spartans, coming off of a loss to the Northwestern Wildcats, will look to rebound this week, but that is easier said than done as the Penn State Nittany Lions are easily the toughest opponent the Spartans have seen so far this season.

MSU will look to retain the Land Grant Trophy. The game will be the first 3:30 p.m. kickoff for MSU this season, and is the first road game for the Spartans since Week 4 against the Indiana Hoosiers.

Let’s get right into game preview mode.

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2018 Record — 3-2 (1-1 Big Ten)

Offense (per game basis)— 389.8 total yards, 266.8 passing yards, 123 rushing yards,

Defense (per game basis)— 339 yards allowed, 305.2 passing yards allowed, 33.8 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored (per game basis): 27.2
Cumulative Points Allowed (per game basis): 23.4

Current S&P+ Ranking: 31st

Penn State
2018 Record — 4-1 (1-1 Big Ten)

Offense (per game basis) — 510 total yards (yikes!), 248.8 passing yards, 261.2 rushing yards

Defense (per game basis)— 354.4 yards allowed, 192.6 passing yards allowed, 161.8 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored (per game basis): 49.6 (also yikes!)
Cumulative Points Allowed (per game basis): 21

Current S&P+ Ranking: 7th

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan State leads 16-15-1
Last Michigan State Win: Nov. 4, 2017 (27-24)
Last Penn State Win: Nov. 26, 2016 (45-12)
Michigan State all-time record: 697-455-44
Penn State all-time record: 882-388-42

Previous Game Results (Quick Hits Recap)

Northwestern 29, Michigan State 19
Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats seem to have Michigan State’s number. Northwestern took an early 14-3 lead on back-to-back big play touchdown passes from Clayton Thorson in the first half, but MSU battled back to take a 19-14 lead deep into the third quarter. Thorson took the lead back with another touchdown pass, and Northwestern added another score late, while MSU and its uninspired play-calling didn’t score again. There was a questionable illegal forward pass called on the Spartans early in the fourth quarter, which negated a big gain, and seemed to be a turning point.

Just a quick reminder:

Ohio State 27, Penn State 26

Penn State had the almighty Ohio State Buckeyes on their heels, but couldn’t finish. The Nittany Lions raced out to a quick 13-0 lead after a 93-yard pass from Trace McSorley to KJ Hamler in the second quarter. Ohio State got a crucial score right before halftime, then took a 14-13 lead in the third quarter. Penn State responded with two touchdowns, but failed a two-point conversation attempt. The Buckeyes then scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to regain the lead at 27-26. OSU was then able to stop PSU on fourth down on the Lions’ final possession.

It is homecoming for Penn State on Saturday, and the stadium will be striped out with blue and white.

Key Matchups

KJ Hamler vs. MSU Secondary: Redshirt freshmen Hamler, a Michigan native, is a legitimate threat against a poor MSU passing defense. He has great speed and leads PSU with 308 receiving yards and four touchdowns, while averaging about 23.7 yards per catch. He also has been used as a punt and kickoff returner. Whether it’s Justin Layne, Josh Butler or another Spartan guarding Hamler, he absolutely cannot get free or behind the defense. Hamler exited the Ohio State game, but is expected to play.

Trace McSorley’s dual threat ability vs. MSU defense: It’s not only the MSU secondary that needs to worry about McSorley. While his passing game prowess is enough to worry about, McSorley’s scrambling ability and knack to make plays is something the front seven need to be well aware of. Michigan State’s top-ranked rushing attack is facing a Penn State team averaging more than 260 yards per contest, and McSorley has rushed for 410 yards and six scores this season. In the passing game, the quarterback has thrown for 1,050 yards and 10 touchdowns, while averaging 7.6 yards per attempt.

Penn State’s running game vs. Michigan State’s running game: Michigan State’s 109th-ranked rush offense faces Penn State’s 67th-ranked rushing defense. The Spartans, likely to be without LJ Scott once again, need to show up here this week. If MSU controls the trenches and keep the ball away from PSU’s offense, good things will happen. But this is unlikely to happen with MSU’s poor o-line play and nonexistent running game. On the flip side, MSU easily has the best rushing defense in the nation, while Penn State ranks 11th nationally rushing the football. Something’s got to give here. This game will be won in the trenches.

Game Info

Time: 3:30 p.m. EST
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Location: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pennsylvania
Weather expectations: Cloudy, 50 degrees, winds blowing west/northwest at 11 miles per hour


Hear me out: Penn State is a much better football team than Michigan State, but that doesn’t always matter in this matchup. This year’s meeting has some eerily similar traits to last year’s meeting. For example a two-loss Michigan State team, coming off of a loss to Northwestern the previous week, is playing a Penn State team coming off of a one-point loss to Ohio State the previous game, and nobody expects the Spartans to win. I know there is a plethora of problems with MSU, but I also feel that it would be the most Michigan State-esque thing ever to go into Beaver Stadium and come out with a win this week. I am not saying MSU will win this game, but don’t be surprised if this is a close, competitive and hard-fought game throughout. Remember, Appalachian State took Penn State to overtime. Nothing is certain

If Michigan State wants to win, it cannot allow McSorley and the Penn State offense to get loose in the passing game. The Spartans need to keep McSorley, who is dangerous with his feet, in the pocket and collapse it from there. The coverage needs to be much better. The run defense has its toughest yet test this week, but it is No. 1 in the nation for a reason, and I expect that level of play to continue. Offensively, the turnovers need to the stop. Red zone play-calling needs to improve and Brian Lewerke must make better decisions. MSU needs to get something, anything, from the ground game, and Felton Davis III needs to continue to be featured in the passing game. If MSU can execute these things, an upset may ensue.

For more on Penn State, check out Matt Hoeppner’s “Get to know the opponent” piece, or McLain Moberg’s “The Only Questions” article.

Similar to last year, can Michigan State rebound after a loss to Northwestern with an unexpected win against Penn State? Let us know in the poll and tell us why or why not in the comments section.


Which team wins in Happy Valley?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Michigan State
    (45 votes)
  • 75%
    Penn State
    (138 votes)
183 votes total Vote Now