The Five Spot: Penn State

Taking a look at the five keys and five key players for the Spartans against Penn State on Saturday


Find a way to run the ball

Penn State will be the stiffest run defense that Michigan State has seen this season, but the fact remains: MSU will want to run the ball and this will be a pride game for the offensive line to win up front and open up holes. Expect Michigan State to mix up the run game with jet sweeps, quarterback runs and the like to open things up.

Convert in the red zone

Penn State allows just 16.2 points per game, but moreover is incredibly stingy in the red zone. The Nittany Lions allow teams to convert those opportunities into touchdowns just 42 percent of the time – the best in the Big Ten. Michigan State needs to put points on the board when it has the chance, so red zone touchdowns will be important.

Play up

Michigan State has been consistent and steady the past two weeks since losing to Ohio State and seeing a lot of goals fall off the table. This game figures to be tougher than the previous two and Michigan State still has goals to play for in this one. A 10-win season and a likely bid to a very solid bowl game are on the table.

Get pressure on Christian Hackenberg

Penn State’s biggest weakness has been allowing pressure on Hackenberg. The Spartans are among the best in the nation at getting into the backfield and getting sacks. If Michigan State can do so Saturday, they are going to do well defensively and be in a good place.

Handle the environment

Michigan State has been to Oregon this season, but has not seen a tough road environment other than that this season. Penn State and Happy Valley will prove a test as it is one of the better environments out there.


Jeremy Langford

Langford has rushed for more than 100 yards in 15 straight games against Big Ten teams. It would be a fitting end to do so against the nation’s No. 1 run defense to really make that streak stick with by finishing strong.

Tony Lippett

Lippett has been big for Michigan State on the offensive side, but his importance is two-fold now. Lippett has stepped in to start at cornerback now, too, and he needs to be good and consistent – with the latter being the goal at the position and why he has been moved.

Donavon Clark/Connor Kruse

Another factor in the run game, Clark likely will play a prominent role in making it happen. If Travis Jackson does not play, Kruse will slide to left guard and Clark will move inside from right tackle to right guard. He needs to be on his game.

Shilique Calhoun

This is a game for Calhoun to really pin his ears back and make a huge mark – and a case for the NFL, if that is what is on his mind for after the season. He can really come out and make plays against a struggling offensive line and a quarterback that is not the most mobile.

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