Tenth ranked Michigan State visits Happy Valley this weekend with a share of the Big Ten Title on the line. The Spartans have never beaten Penn State away from East Lansing, so the task ahead for MSU will be a tough one. It is a different experience for Michigan State, considering they have not been in this situation of playing for a Big Ten Championship this late in the season since 1990. I really am not sure if that will be a good or bad thing for this Spartan team. On one hand, they can just approach this game as just another one, and come out loose and aggressive. Or on the other hand, they may come out tight and passive because of what is at stake. I believe this team is “different” from previous Spartan teams, in which they will come out with the confidence and swagger of a team that belongs in this situation. Michigan State will also need some help to clinch a Rose Bowl berth this weekend. Spartan fans everywhere will be rooting for Michigan (?) this Saturday to upset the eight ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. The only way that MSU would go to Pasadena, is if our defensive juggernaut rivals beat OSU in Columbus, or win against them for the first time in six years. I myself was swayed this week and will be rooting for Michigan to pull off the victory. I feel that the Wolverines do not have a chance, but if I have to cheer them on so that the Spartans can go the Rose Bowl, then this is a sacrifice I am willing to make, for the betterment of the team.
When Michigan State has the ball: The Spartans must be able to establish some kind of run game against the Nittany Lions, to take some pressure off of Kirk Cousins. He has really been carrying the team the past month, because the MSU run game has never been able to get it rolling like they did at the beginning of the year. I truly believe that Cousins has proved he is an elite quarterback, in which he has shown great intestinal fortitude throughout the year, never backing down from a challenge. He leads the 5th ranked pass offense in the Big Ten with 2,553 yards and 18 touchdowns. I expect a big play from Keshawn Martin this week. He is coming back from an injury that caused him to miss three games, and I look for Coach Dantonio to get him more involved on the offensive side of the ball. Whether it is through a trick play or just getting the ball into his hands on a sweep or quick stop, offensive coordinator Don Treadwell must find a way to get him the ball in open space. He is a dangerous weapon for the Spartans and someone else that Penn State must game plan for. Finally, Michigan State’s wide receivers must take advantage of a Penn State secondary that does not cover very well. I know it does not show in the statistics, but the games that I have seen Penn State play this year, their secondary has not played well at all. The athleticism and rout running ability of Spartan wide receiver’s Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham should give the Nittany Lion’s defensive backs fits all day, in which you know Cousins will find them if they are open.
When Penn State has the ball: Penn State has done two things it never has in the history of their program under Head Coach Joe Paterno: start a true freshman quarterback and start a walk-on quarterback. The latter, walk-on Matt McGloin, will look to manage the game as he has all year, against the 3rd ranked scoring defense in the Big Ten. He is 4-1 as a starter, in which he has thrown for 1,205 yards and 11 touchdowns, to only 3 interceptions. I am not sure that the Penn State coaches will put the game in McGloin’s hands this week, considering they have the all-time leading rusher at PSU, Evan Royster, at their disposal. Royster is a very tough runner between the tackles, but he also possesses the speed to run away from defenders. He has rushed for 831 yards this season and 4,229 yards for his career. The first and most important priority for the Spartan defense will be to stop Royster, and force McGloin to beat them. Hopefully, it will be tough sledding for the PSU running back, considering he is going up against the 3rd ranked rush defense of the Spartans, which is only giving up 125 yards per game. I look for Greg Jones and Eric Gordon to make plays all over the field, and force Penn State into becoming a one dimensional offense.
Michigan State has not been in such a monumental game in a very long time. The Spartans must get off to a fast start and not fall behind like they have in recent weeks. If they can weather the storm that is the first half and keep it close going into the fourth quarter, then I think Michigan State will pull off their first victory in Happy Valley…
Final Score: Michigan State 28 Penn State 24
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Written by David Lesmeister