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Game Preview: Youngstown State Penguins vs. Michigan State Spartans

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of an impressive road win against the Northwestern Wildcats last week, the Michigan State Spartans take on the Youngstown State Penguins on Saturday at Spartan Stadium for MSU’s 2021 home opener. The game kicks off at noon Eastern Time (12:01 p.m. to be exact) and can be watched on the Big Ten Network.

Youngstown State is a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision opponent, and the first FCS foe that Michigan State has faced off against since Furman in 2016. Michigan State is 6-0 all-time against FCS opponents, including 2-0 against Youngstown State.

On paper, this looks like it should be an easy victory for the Spartans, but strange things can happen in any given college football game. Can the Penguins put up a fight? Here is the game preview:

Tale of the Tape

(Note: Each team has only played one game so far, so averages are based off of that game)

Michigan State:
2021 Record — 1-0 (1-0 in Big Ten)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 511 total yards, 185 passing yards, 326 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 400 total yards allowed, 283 passing yards allowed, 117 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 38 (38 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 21 (21 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 34th

Youngstown State:
2021 Record — 1-0 (0-0 in Missouri Valley Conference)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 463 total yards, 112 passing yards, 351 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 490 yards allowed, 352 passing yards allowed, 138 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 44 (44 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 41 (41 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: N/A (FBS teams only)

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan State leads 2-0
Current streak: Michigan State with a two-game winning streak
Last Michigan State Win: Sept. 14, 2013 (55-17)
Last Youngstown State Win: N/A
Michigan State all-time record: 711-470-44 (.598)
Youngstown State all-time record: 425–286–17 (.595)

Uniform Watch:

A more standard look for Michigan State this week, as the Spartans will wear green tops (white lettering and numbers) and white pants (with what appears to be a green stripe down the side). MSU will also go with the green helmets with white Spartan head logo and facemask.

With the game taking place on Sept. 11, the helmets also feature a red, white and blue ribbon on the back that says “9.11.01” and “9.11.21” in remembrance of the tragic events that took place 20 years ago to the day.

Youngstown State will also rock patriotic helmets for the game, with the American flag pattern and colors within the team’s “Y” logo and a “9.11.01” sticker on the back. The Penguins have not specified uniforms to my knowledge, but will likely wear white tops with hints of red throughout.

Previous Game Results

Michigan State 38, Northwestern 21

Fans and analysts alike weren’t quite sure what to expect from this new-look Michigan State team full of transfers in 2021, but the Spartans started the season with an impressive road win in Evanston, Illinois and led the game from wire-to-wire. Kenneth Walker III was the star of the show (and has since won multiple weekly awards), rushing for 264 yards and four touchdowns on 24 attempts, including taking the opening play of the game 75 yards for a touchdown — his first ever touch as a Spartan. The Michigan State defense played a “bend but don’t break” game, giving up a few explosive plays, but ultimately keeping Northwestern off of the scoreboard for long periods of time throughout the game.

Prior to the game, there was much debate about who would start at quarterback for MSU between redshirt sophomore Payton Thorne and graduate transfer Anthony Russo, but it was Thorne who won the job, and he played an efficient game. The Spartans racked up 511 yards of total offense, including 326 rushing yards, while giving up 400 yards to the Wildcats, including 283 yards through the air.

Youngstown State 44, Incarnate Word 41 (overtime)

Youngstown State won a wild one at home in overtime against fellow FCS foe, Incarnate Word. The game saw 953 combined yards of offense between the two programs. While Kenneth Walker had an incredible game for MSU last week, YSU’s Jaleel McLaughlin had an outstanding performance rushing the football last week as well with 29 carries for 242 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw added 81 yards and two scores on the ground. Crenshaw also threw for 112 yards and a touchdown. Outside of McLaughlin, it was kicker Colt McFadden who was the hero. He sent the game into overtime with a 41-yard field goal as time expired and then hit a 27-yarder in the extra period to win the game.

Key Matchups

Jaleel McLaughlin/Demeatric Crenshaw versus Michigan State’s front seven: While Crenshaw isn’t a huge threat in the passing game (he had just 12 attempts last week), he and McLaughlin combined for more than 320 rushing yards against Incarnate Word. These two have to be the focus players for the Michigan State defense. If the Spartans can contain McLaughlin and Crenshaw and force other players to try to beat them, then MSU shouldn’t break much of a sweat this game. If however, McLaughlin and Crenshaw bust loose like they did last week, this game could get a lot more interesting — especially if Youngstown State is able to use its rushing attack to set up the passing attack.

Kenneth Walker III/MSU offensive line versus Youngstown State defense: The coaches and players at Youngstown State watched the film. They know what Walker is capable of doing. Can the YSU staff scheme a defense to be able to stop Walker and company? It’s unlikely, given the talent gap between the teams. YSU gave up nearly five yards per rushing attempt last week and didn’t face somebody with Walker’s skill set. Jarrett Horst and the improved-looking Michigan State offensive line should have its way against the Penguins’ front seven and clear big holes for Walker once again. Will Walker have another big day, or will he be pulled from the game by halftime if MSU is up by a lot of points? We will soon find out.

Payton Thorne versus Youngstown State secondary: Thorne won the starting quarterback gig and played a good, but not spectacular, game against Northwestern. He made good decisions, protected the football and placed his throws where only his receivers could get it for the most part. He wasn’t perfect and missed a couple of throws he should have hit, but he showed why Mel Tucker and the staff were comfortable giving him the starting nod. This week, against a much weaker opponent (at least on paper), it would be nice for Thorne to show a little bit more arm strength on downfield throws and to give MSU fans a little more glimpse of what he has in his arsenal.

Game Info

Time: Noon (12:01 p.m. Eastern)
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Location: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Michigan
Weather expectations: Mostly sunny and around 76 degrees at kickoff, with a high of 85 degrees for the day, winds blowing south/southwest at 14-18 miles per hour
Line: Michigan State -26.5


Michigan State is 6-0 all-time against FCS opponents, outscoring the opposition 245-53 in those meetings (an average score of 41-9). This obviously looks like a cakewalk on paper for the Spartans. FBS teams are meant to easily defeat FCS teams, but that isn’t always the case — just look at last week when five FCS programs upset FBS programs: Tulsa, Colorado State, Vanderbilt, Washington and UNLV all lost in those matchups. The Youngstown State players are going to come in ready with something to prove. A lot of them may play with a chip on their shoulder because most of them weren’t recruited at the FBS level. These players want to show off what they can do on a more national audience on the Big Ten Network.

I am not going to pretend to know a lot about Youngstown State, but if there were any takeaways from last week’s performance, it’s that Jaleel McLaughlin and Demeatric Crenshaw are dangerous with the ball in their hands. Expect to see a lot of run-pass/read option plays from the Penguins on offense. Defensively, this team gave up 490 yards, including 352 passing yards, to Incarnate Word. YSU also allowed 138 rushing yards and 4.9 yard per carry, so it’s more than fair to expect a much better offense like Michigan State’s to have its way with Youngstown State’s defense.

But defensively, will Michigan State give up some explosive plays like it did last week to Northwestern? Can the Spartans contain McLaughlin and Crenshaw? Again, the Spartans should be able to do that, as MSU has the much more talented roster. With that said, It wouldn’t be totally shocking to see the Penguins move the ball, however, the Spartans should be able to keep YSU off of the scoreboard for the most part.

Expect a comfortable win by Michigan State, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Youngstown State won’t put a scare into the home crowd at Spartan Stadium a time or two throughout the game.

For additional insights into Youngstown State, check out our “Get to Know the Opponent” article.


Which schools wins?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Youngstown State
    (4 votes)
  • 96%
    Michigan State
    (104 votes)
108 votes total Vote Now