EAST LANSING — Michigan State will face its first ranked team of the season when they head to Penn State this weekend. The game will be played at 3:30 p.m. in Beaver Stadium. With their recent loss to Northwestern, the Spartans have fallen outside of the Top 25.
This will be the 33rd contest between the two universities, with MSU leading the all-time series, 16-15-1. Michigan State has beaten the Nittany Lions four out of the last five times, including their walk off victory last year at Spartan Stadium.
Penn State is coming off of their bye week after a heartbreaking one-point loss to Ohio State. The loss snapped a 16-game home winning streak for PSU. MSU will look forward to playing on the road despite the 10-6-1 advantage Penn State holds over the Spartans in such games.
“I think you have to play away games in this conference and you’ve gotta look forward to playing away. That’s a great atmosphere over there, we've gone over there and won before. I think it’s fun,” said Dantonio during his opening statement this morning.
The Spartans are 3-2 (1-1 B1G) but to Dantonio and his players it feels like they should probably be undefeated. MSU had plenty of opportunities to win both games but failed to do so both times.
“I feel like we should be 5-0. My message to our players is, play like it,” said Dantonio. “Play like we are 5-0 and keep the same mindset going forward.”
Mark Dantonio needs his team to stay confident despite letting one slip away against the Wildcats. If they falter, it could mean a big loss in Pennsylvania.
Coach pinpointed physical health, mental health, and leadership as areas of focus after a tough loss and was clearly concerned for his players.
“My focus has always been on big picture things,” said Dantonio. “So when I look at our football team I ask myself, where are they at in terms of away from football?”
Among other things, the injuries are piling up for the Spartans this season in all areas of the game. Dantonio knows that it’s certainly effected his team to a certain extent but says he plans on getting guys back into the fold eventually. Although he wouldn’t go over an injury report, per usual.
The one player he would comment on was Jake Hartbarger, who is now done for the season.
“Jake is — in all general purposes I believe done for the year because I think to throw your with right leg up in the air when it’s been broken is probably an issue. We can get a medical redshirt on him for him to be able to punt next year and that’s the intent.”
Defensively, the Spartans are still the number one ranked rushing defense in the nation and it’s not even close. But their pass defense is 122nd out of 129. MSU has a lot of work to do if they plan on competing with Tracey McSorley Saturday afternoon. He’s averaging 209.8 yards per game with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Not to mention his ability to run the ball has been a focal point of their offense all year. Both running back Miles Sanders and Tracey are top-10 rushers in the Big Ten, with McSorley rushing for 175 yards against Ohio State. Meanwhile, the Spartans haven’t had a running back hit 200 total yards yet. But according to Mark Dantonio, the MSU defense is fine.
“What I’ve always thought is you want to be less than five yards per attempt. So two of the games we actually accomplished that, the other games we did not,” said Dantonio. “The answer for that is they’ve hit some deep balls on us.”
After being hit twice on the deep ball against Clayton Thorson and the Wildcats, the Spartans have some work to do if they want to keep the PSU receivers in front of them. Penn State’s average attempt is 13.8 yards down the field which is further than anything MSU has faced so far this year.
“I think McSorley is an excellent player. He buys time. He’s going to scramble,” said Mark Dantonio when asked about Penn State’s offense. “He’s going to launch it — so they are a challenge offensively, and he creates that dynamic, that multiple run/pass-guy type quarterback, and he’s got a toughness aspect to him, too.”