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ND: Though the news this week is about Joe's return, the team is focused to send out those that are not coming back next year on a really high note. The team has a pretty tough challenge with Michigan State coming to Happy Valley. The Spartans are trying to finish off the season with only one blemish to keep their Rose Bowl hopes alive.
MH: I don't think there should be any shock about Paterno stating his intention of returning for 2011. The question is what Spanier opts to do once his contract is up next season. As for Michigan State, they are having a dream season by Spartan standards. MSU hasn't been to the Rose Bowl in 23 years and have never been in the BCS, so the Spartans have a ton on the line heading into Beaver Stadium.
Who: No. 10 Michigan State at Penn State
When: November 27, 2010 at 12pm ET or 9am PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: Penn State leads 14-12-1
Line: Michigan State favored by 2
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: People think about football on Thanksgiving Day but the day after Thanksgiving has some great, great games. Boise State faces off against Nevada on Black Friday and the game is in Nevada. Boise State is still hoping to get some luck to get into the BCS title game but the game against Nevada is going to be really tight for the Broncos. Despite their experience and strength on defense, the Broncos will struggle with the Wolfpack offense. Vai Taua is the 7th leading rusher in the nation and their QB, Colin Kaepernick, is averaging 89.45 rushing and almost 220 passing yards per game. The Wolfpack will keep this game very close but Kellen Moore will pull out a win late that will keep the Broncos' hopes alive.
MH: Plus you have the Iron Bowl with No. 2 Auburn going to No. 11 Alabama. Also, No. 21 Arizona goes to No. 1 Oregon. Saturday is also playing host to an interesting Big 12 matchup of No. 13 Oklahoma heading to No. 9 Oklahoma State. With the Big 12 as we know it going away, I expect some fierce battles to close out the season in an attempt to get the conference title.
ND: Sorry, I'm not one of the guys that think that Alabama can beat Auburn. I think Bama's secondary will get exposed because the LBs will be too concerned about Cam Newton running. But, I am looking for the SEC to generate another upset though. I really like Arkansas beating LSU. And, as everyone knows, I'm a huge Mallett fan. LSU got a little lucky beating Ole Miss last week but going on the road to play the Razorbacks is not going to be easy. I like Arkansas not only winning this one but winning in very convincing manner.
MH: I may be way off here, but I think a resurgent Colorado squad could stun No. 15 Nebraska and their hot-headed coach. The Huskers imploded against Texas A&M; sure they are playing for a spot in the title game, but nothing would satisfy the team staying behind in the Big 12 more than sending Nebraska to the Big Ten with a big season-ending and conference-ending "L."
ND: The Lions are coming off of a nice offensive performance against Indiana where they had a very balanced attack. McGloin had a fantastic day throwing as would be expected considering Indiana's poor secondary. On a couple of occasions, the Lions used the middle of the field, which is something that I think they need to continue this week against Michigan State. McGloin has also done an excellent job getting the ball to a variety of receivers. Just when teams think that he's locked into Moye, he utilizes Brackett more. The key for McGloin success has been time in the pocket and his ability to settle his feet before delivering the football. The offensive line deserves much of that credit and I think McGloin has done a really good job of executing the play action and then getting into a good stance quickly.
Michigan State has a solid defense. They are not great at any one particular thing but they do pretty well getting pressure on the QB, they can defend the run well and their secondary is pretty good as well. In the passing game, the offensive line will have to contend with Jerel Worthy. He is becoming one of the best interior defensive lineman in the conference. He's a big body and he's been great at getting penetration. With Klopacz banged up but expected to play, the Lions will have to ensure that the guard helps out on Worthy. Chris L. Rucker is the best corner that the Spartans have. After missing time due to serving a prison sentence for DUI, he has come back and has done well to get back into the flow of things.
Mark, the Lions have got a really nice running attack with Royster, Redd and Green. Royster is the reliable guy that can pick his way through to get a good gain. Meanwhile, Redd is the elusive guy that seems to have the flair for the dramatic. He has adjusted incredible well to the speed of the college game and any concerns about him not being a top-flight back because he didn't play in a great league has obviously been squelched. The guy that they're going head-to-head with this weekend is Greg Jones. If you are looking for a prototypical Big Ten linebacker, Jones is it. He's fast, he is great at stuffing the run and he can cover a ton of space.
I think the Lions with a balanced attack will keep the Spartans on their heels. If the Lions can move the ball on first down and can give McGloin some time to make his reads and set his feet, the Lions should be able to get some points up on the board.
MH: Matt McGloin has really surpassed most reasonable expectations and has shown a prowess for managing the Penn State offense. He's cool under pressure and has generally protected the ball well. Against Indiana he showed an impressive ability to sell the screen and spread the ball around to nine different receivers. Against Michigan State I expect PSU to come out balanced and leverage the screens and intermediate routes to pull out the linebackers and try to open up lanes for Evan Royster, Stephfon Green and Silas Redd.
Michigan State has a solid defense, but they are coming off a horrid performance against Purdue put 31 points on the Spartans and led most of the game. This should refocus the MSU defense, but Penn State has more weapons than the Boilers. I expect that D'Antonio and his crew will bring pressure on McGloin to force some quick decisions, so the offensive line will have to step up again and give him time to deliver the ball. Aside from Derek Moye and Justin Brown, I think Brett Brackett's size could play a significant role as it has previously, particularly off the corner routes. As you pointed out the Lions have to get their blockers out and account for Greg Jones in space; he's quick and aggressive and will make plays. It's critical that Penn State protects the ball.
PSU will need some sustained drives to keep Michigan State's defense guessing and allow for a multitude of options to keep those drives alive at critical moments.
ND: With the exception of the long run and the long catch and run by Doss, I thought the Lions defense played decent last week. They were able to get pressure on Chappell and they did a nice job against the run. I really liked seeing Gerald Hodges getting more playing time. He is getting better and better with each snap of the ball and he could be a really key contributor in this game. All of the linebackers are going to need to have their best game of the season if they want to slow the Michigan State running attack. The Spartans are averaging 169 yards on the ground with Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell averaging almost 150 of that per game. Baker gets most of the carries and he's a small shifty kind of guy where Bell is the big bruiser. But, Baker has done a nice job running in between the tackles. The Penn State defense, meanwhile, has not performed well against teams that can run the ball well. PSU is yielding 164.73 yards per game on the ground. But, more importantly, PSU has lost to every opponent that is ranked in the top 75 in rushing offense. This Lions squad has not stuffed the run like the ones over the past 5 years.
Kirk Cousins leads the Spartan passing attack. Cousins is a smart QB that stays within what the program asks him to do. The Spartans throw a ton of flanker screens in order to get the ball to Dell, Cunningham and Martin. The Spartans use Martin in a similar way that the Lions used Derek Williams; they try to get the ball into his hands either running the ball or right at the snap via the pass in order for him to use his athleticism to gobble up yards. Counsins numbers on paper look really good because of these quick throws. But, when he tries to throw the ball down the field, he has struggled. In particular, he has struggled when he has been under pressure. The Lions have an opportunity here to get try to get a pass rush on Cousins to force a turnover. Hodges looked really good on his blitzes last week and the likely return of Mauti will help in this area as well. But, the secondary has to come up big in this game. They have to tackle really well in space and they have to attack the football the second Cousins throws the ball out to the WRs.
I think MSU is going to move the football really well on the ground but I think the defense will come up with a couple of INTs that will help the offense out with a shorter field.
MH: The Spartan running game is what concerns me here. Penn State is middle-of-the-pack when it comes to rushing defense in the Big Ten, and MSU is middle-of-the-road when it comes to their rushing offense, but I suspect the Spartan coaches will look to take the pressure off of Cousins to make deep throws by letting Baker and Bell handle the load early.
This will make it critical for the Lion defensive front to step into their lanes and blast into the ball-carriers to plug up the extra yards. The linebackers will be critical here, which is why I am hoping we see an early dose of Gerald Hodges and Nate Stupar to help get into traffic quickly to back up the front four. It also sounds like Michael Mauti could get back into action, although the coaches may be hesitant to rush him back. I do think some well placed blitzes will help the Lions, but they need to be disguised and timed well. It will be critical for the front four to get pressure on Cousins, which is where I am expecting Pete Massaro to step up and have a solid outing.
If Penn State can get MSU into some third and long situations, it should pose some opportunities to snuff out some drives and get a jump on field position. As you pointed out Nirav, Cousins has struggled somewhat under pressure, but the Lions' defense has to look to force some turnovers in this one.
ND: The Lions got a key punt block and TD. That was exactly the type of momentum change that the team needed. Wagner is going to be a real key in this game. His range could help the Lions out in order to get some points up on the board. Michigan State's special teams are a mixed bag. They are terrible on kickoff returns but Aaron Bates is one of the better punters in the nation. He's averaging 45.11 yards per punt. The Lions need an excellent game from the return game in order to help the offense get some solid field position.
MH: It looks on paper that PSU has the edge on special teams. I agree that Collin Wagner's leg could be a significant factor in this game. I'd love to see Devon Smith break open a big return, but he has to keep his legs in front of him, it's a rare run where he doesn't outrun his legs and trip up. Some short fields would dramatically help Penn State in this game.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: I'm going with the best of the best against the best of the best. Greg Jones is one of the best LBs in the nation and in the Big Ten. He's been amazing over his career. Meanwhile, Silas Redd is going to be one of the best RBs in the Big Ten in the years to come. I can't wait to see how Jones performs against the speed and shiftiness of Silas Redd. Redd has been a real sparkplug for the rushing attack but Jones is going to try to snuff out that spark.
MH: I am going with Penn State's front four against MSU's Baker and Bell in the backfield. These two provide some changes of pace, so the defensive front will have to keep alert on what MSU dishes out. If they can plug up the ground game with short runs it will force the load onto Cousins' arm.
Keys to the Game:
ND: Both teams really want to run the ball. I think the key to this game is going to be whichever team can force the other offense to throw the ball as their only means of moving the football. The Spartan rushing attack is pretty impressive and the Lions need to shut it down, which is something they have not been able to do well in recent games. The team that moves the ball on the ground will win this game.
MH: I think this game comes down to field position. Both teams have defenses that can stop drives, but whoever can get some opportunities with some short fields should be able to put points on the board and get some early momentum in the game.
ND: Penn State has done well against the Spartans in recent years and has been able to force a ton of turnovers in the fight for the Land Grant Trophy. The same will be happen this year and the Lions will pull off a signature upset for the year.
Penn State 27 Michigan State 21
MH: The noon kickoff has me a tad concerned, but given that this is home and Senior Day, I think the Lions come to play and send guys like Royster, Brackett, Wagner and Ogbu out with a close win.
Penn State 23, Michigan State 17
Until next time,
Fight On State!