The Michigan State Spartans wrap up the regular season the way the regular season should be ended, with the battle for the Land Grant Trophy against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The stakes are also pretty high in terms of the standings in the Big Ten East, as the winner could finish as high as third in the division. But let’s be honest, it’s really all about that sweet, sweet trophy. On to Penn State.
School: Pennsylvania State University (Penn State)
Nickname: Nittany Lions
Conference: Big Ten (East Division)
Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
Head Coach: James Franklin (seventh season)
Mascot: The Nittany Lion
All Time Series: MSU leads 17-16-1
Rivalry Trophy: Land Grant Trophy
Penn State started the season by losing its first five games. It was a fast fall for a team that started the season ranked. But the Nittany Lions have bounced back to win their last two games against Michigan and Rutgers. They are clearly hoping to keep that momentum going to finish the season strong.
PSU is scoring 24.7 points per game, which ranks 89th nationally. The Nittany Lions have crossed the 30-point threshold just once this year, in the first game against Indiana, which went into overtime. The Spartans have not yet made it to 30 points this year, in case you were wondering.
On the ground Penn State ranks 63rd in rushing offense at 171 yards per game, but is 91st in yards per carry at 3.87 yards per rush.
Through the air the Lions are 52nd overall averaging 241.6 yards per game, but once again are lower on a per attempt basis. PSU is 82nd in the country averaging 6.8 yards per attempt and has thrown 12 touchdowns against nine interceptions, which leaves the Lions in the bottom half nationally in passer rating as well.
Teams have been able to get to the quarterback against PSU. They have allowed 23 sacks this year, which is 101st overall, and are 113th in sacks per game at 3.29.
PSU has also been sloppy with the ball, checking in at 101st nationally with 15 turnovers. They have nine interceptions to go along with six lost fumbles. Overall they are minus-nine in the turnover battle.
Defensively Penn State is middle of the road in scoring, allowing 29.1 points per game.
They are a respectable 37th in overall rushing defense, allowing 135.71 yards per game on the ground and 38th in yards per carry at 3.80 yards per rush.
Moving the ball through the air isn’t any easier, where PSU is 22nd overall in pass defense at 191.7 yards per game. The yards per attempt numbers are right there as well checking in at 23rd overall allowing 6.5 yards per pass attempt. They have allowed 10 touchdowns picking off two passes.
Players to Watch
Junior quarterback Sean Clifford leads the offense and has completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,366 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Clifford is also the team’s second leading rusher, with 276 yards and two touchdowns on 3.41 yards per carry.
Will Levis, a sophomore quarterback, has also gotten some time this year, mostly in running situations. He has 186 yards and a touchdown on 58 carries, and has thrown 47 passes on the year for 325 yards.
The leading rusher in terms of yards is freshman running back Keyvone Lee, who has 322 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 5.55 yards per carry. Lee also has eight catches for another 47 yards out of the backfield.
Sophomore running back Devyn Ford also has three touchdowns on the ground and 274 yards overall and has averaged better than 18 yards per kickoff return.
Through the air the top two receivers both have over 30 catches this year. Jahan Dotson leads the team in catches with 37, yards with 587, and touchdowns with six. His average of 15.45 yards per catch is a team high as well. Dotson is also averaging over 13 yards per punt return on special teams.
Freshman Parker Washington is second in all those categories with 31 catches for 378 yards and four touchdowns.
On defense, senior Shaka Toney leads the way with four sacks and is second on the team with 5.5 tackles for loss.
Jayson Oweh has a team high 6.5 tackles for loss and is fourth on the team in total tackles.
Junior linebackers Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa are the team leaders in tackles, both averaging over six per game.
On special teams a pair of juniors have handled the place kicking duty. Jake Pinegar is eight-for-11 on field goals and 15-for-16 on extra points. Jordan Stout has made just two of his five field goal attempts.
Stout handles the punting duty mainly, and is averaging over 41.5 yards per kick this year.
That’s it for Penn State. Let’s hope the Spartans can win back another rivalry trophy and salvage a decent regular season in a season that has been anything but regular.