Penn State closes out the 2014 regular season by facing old friend Michigan State at home Saturday. The Nittany Lions and Spartans squared off to wrap up Big Ten play every year from the time PSU joined the conference (1993) until divisional play began in 2011.
Now that the divisions have been expanded and realigned, and Penn State and Michigan State are on the same side of the conference, they are once again meeting to close out the regular season.
It has been an interesting year for the No. 8 Spartans (9-2, 6-1), who at times have looked as good as anyone in the nation. The defending Rose Bowl champs' only losses are to national powers Oregon and Ohio State, and at points in both of those games MSU seemed poised to pull off the victory.
To get a Scouting Report on Michigan State, we went to THE expert covering the team, Mike Wilson of our sister site Spartan Digest. Below, he answers five pressing questions.
J.T Barrett and the Buckeyes beat MSU.
1. How did a defense with so much talent give up 46 points to Oregon and 49 to Ohio State?
MW: The simple answer -- and one that many wanted to point to -- was speed, but that was less of the issue. What both teams did well was put pressure on Michigan State's safeties and took advantage of them, to an extent. The way MSU plays leaves its corners on islands and safeties up close to the line. Both Oregon and Ohio State found ways to put them in conflict and beat the Spartans downfield. Simply: They out-schemed -- but mostly out-executed -- the MSU defense.
QB Connor Cook
2. Connor Cook has been remarkably efficient this year. Which opponent gave him the most trouble (and why)?
MW: I think it was Nebraska. He has not had a very good completion percentage against the Huskers in either matchup with them in his career. I think the press-man style the Huskers played gave him some trouble above all else, but he also missed some throws -- which is what you get with Connor Cook, some really good and some really not so good.
TB Jeremy Langford
3. How do you see MSU's strong ground game matching up with Penn State's strong rushing defense?
MW: I love this matchup, but that is not to say I think MSU runs for 200 yards or anything. I love it because I know Michigan State's players have been excited for the opportunity to try and prove their identity of running the ball. I think MSU is going to try to utilize other elements of its rushing attack other than strictly running backs. They used the jet sweep a lot early in the year in a variety of formations and getting the ball out in new ways. That misdirection comes back later in the game in other ways. I also think Cook will be involved in the run game, which is something MSU has sought to do in recent weeks. With those, they will try to set up the halfback runs. If they can get Penn State spread out a little bit more, they could have some success. It is a tall order certainly, though.
4. Is Mark Dantonio there for the long haul?
MW: It sure looks that way. For Michigan State folks, Dantonio really has been a dream hire. From the mentality he brings to the dedication to MSU, he is about the best that MSU could have hoped to have when it hired him in 2007. Oh and he has been winning.
The PSU-MSU rivalry is back on.
5. We're back to the Penn State-Michigan State end-of-the-season matchup. Do Spartan fans view the Land Grant Trophy game as a legitimate rivalry?
MW: I think without a doubt, yes. I know when the new divisions came out and MSU was given Indiana as a protected rivalry the general reaction was frustration to not see it be Penn State, which long had been that final game of the year matchup. I think the return of this game, especially to close a season, is very welcome from the Michigan State perspective.