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Get to Know the Opponent: Penn State

MSU plays their third straight top ten opponent this weekend.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody enjoy their bye week? Good. The Spartans are back and ready to resume their season with yet another top ten opponent, this time coming in the visitors from Happy Valley.

When last we saw Penn State they were hanging on for a win at home against Michigan. Now they travel to East Lansing where the last time they came to town was the long weather delayed game that ended in Matt Coghlin playing slip-and-slide. Let’s hope for more of that this weekend (the winning, not the weather).

School: Pennsylvania State University (Penn State)

Nickname: Nittany Lions

Conference: Big Ten (East Division)

Location: University Park, PA

Head Coach: James Franklin (6th season)

Record: 7-0 (4-0 in Big Ten)

Mascot: The Nittany Lion

All Time Series: Michigan State leads 16-15-1 (MSU has won five of the last six)

Rivalry Trophy: Land Grant Trophy

A 7-0 start and back-to-back wins over ranked Iowa and Michigan have Penn State thinking Indianapolis and beyond. But the road does get easier for PSU, who plays at MSU this week, at undefeated Minnesota next week, and travels to Columbus the second to last game of the season.

Team Stats

The Nitanny Lions have put plenty of points on the board so far this year, averaging an even 40 per game, tenth best in the country. However, a good chunk of that comes in two massively lopsided games against Idaho and Maryland. Against Pitt, Iowa, and Michigan, they are averaging just 20.7 points per game, so the better defenses have been able to slow them down.

Penn State is 52nd in the nation in rushing offense at 178.29 yards per game, and 55th in yards per attempt. This should come as some relief as the Spartans are coming off facing two of the top rushing attacks in the nation.

Through the air PSU is 44th overall, averaging 261 yards per game. However, they are 16th in the country in yards per pass at 8.8 yards per attempt, and they are also 16th in passer rating, having thrown 17 TD’s against just two interceptions.

On defense, Penn State is third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 10 points per game. In consecutive games MSU will have played the current top three scoring defenses in the country. Up until last week no team had scored 20 points against Penn State’s defense.

PSU is fourth in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 66.29 yards per game, and they lead the country in yards per carry against allowing less than two yards per attempt.

Against the pass it gets a little easier. Penn State is 59th overall allowing 215.9 yards per game through the air. They are better in yards per attempt, where they rank 22nd, and even better in opponent passer rating, checking in at 15th overall. They have more interceptions (six) than passing TD’s allowed (four).

The Penn State defense can get after the quarterback too. They are tied for fifth in the country with 28 sacks, and are tied for fourth nationally with an average of four sacks per game.

Players to Watch

Junior quarterback Sean Clifford has had a solid season after taking over for Trace McSorely. Clifford is averaging just under 250 yards per game through the air, and has a 16/2 TD/INT ratio. He is averaging 9.5 yards per attempt and completing 63% of his passes.

Clifford is also the second leading rusher on the team, with 269 yards on 70 attempts (most on the team). He runs the ball 10 times per game at a 3.84 yards per carry average. This is pretty similar to McSorely in that regard, as Trace was the second leading rusher each of the last three seasons in Happy Valley.

Freshman running back Noah Cain is the top running back in terms of attempts and leads the team with 329 yards. He averages 5.31 yards per carry and has a team high six rushing touchdowns. But PSU spreads the ball around, with four different backs logging at least 30 carries in addition to the quarterback carries.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

KJ Hamler is the big threat in the receiving corps. They junior has a team high 32 catches for 563 yards and seven touchdowns. He is averaging 17.59 yards per catch. He also handles kick return duties.

In the red zone they look for tight end Pat Freirmuth, who has 20 catches for 231 yards and four touchdowns.

On defense, Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney both have 5.5 sacks to lead the team. They are also one and two in tackles for loss with nine and 6.5 TFL’s respectively.

John Reid and Tariq Castro-Fields each have two interceptions, and Reid took one of his back for a touchdown.