Saturday is shaping up to be an exciting day of college football from start to finish. There are a number of games featuring ranked opponents pitted against one another. Among them is a Big Ten rivalry clash between No. 7 Penn State and No. 24 Michigan State.
Both teams are coming off heartbreaking losses, in different ways. MSU fell to Northwestern on the road in triple overtime, while Penn State coughed up multiple double-digit leads on the road against Ohio State. So we can safely say both teams will be coming into this contest with a vengeance.
The Spartans in particular would like to reclaim the Land Grant Trophy from the Nittany Lions after PSU smashed them in the season finale a year ago. It’s a tall task but it can certainly be done. Here’s how MSU can hand Penn State a second straight loss.
Trying to slow down Penn State running back and Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley is among the harder challenges for any team in college football. What’s made Barkley a major threat this season in particular has been his evolution as a receiver. Anything he’s lacking for in rushing yards, he’s more than made up receiving.
Lately, however, teams have shown the ability to contain Barkley. He’s been held to 100 yards from scrimmage in two of the last three games, which can be considered a huge success. Neutralizing him is vital and that is an understatement.
Michigan State should enter this game feeling very confident about stopping Barkley on the ground. The Spartans boast one of the best rush defenses in the country. In fact, they’ve allowed just 70.8 yards per game on the ground in five league games this season. And prior to allowing 368 passing yards to Northwestern, the Spartan pass defense was performing well also.
GROUND N’ POUND
If these two defenses hold true, it could be the makings of a classic Big Ten slug fest in East Lansing this Saturday. But for Michigan State, getting the ground game going should be of the utmost importance.
The Spartans have rushed for less than 100 yards in each of the last two games against Indiana and Northwestern after compiling over 400 yards on the ground in the two games prior vs. Michigan and Minnesota. This falls on both the running back trio, led by LJ Scott, as well as the mobile version of quarterback Brian Lewerke.
Penn State’s rush defense is solid but certainly not impenetrable. They’ve allowed 150+ yards on the ground in four of their eight games this season, including 200 last Saturday against the Buckeyes. Michigan State certainly has the ability to run the ball down your throat on any given Saturday, it’ll just come down to execution.
ANOTHER TEST FOR LEWERKE
As Michigan State fans continue to watch Brian Lewerke grow and develop as perhaps the next great quarterback at MSU, this Saturday will be another benchmark test for him.
Lewerke needs to find some semblance of success through the air, coinciding with the hopeful success of the rushing attack. The redshirt sophomore slung it around Evanston for 445 yards last week. While he’s certainly capable, he doesn’t have to rely on doing so IF (big if) Michigan State can move the ball on the ground and control the clock.
MSU needs to make Penn State respect the balance on offense to create chances for the Spartans. The Nittany Lions have done a fairly decent job defending the pass. Up until allowing 328 passing yards courtesy of J.T. Barrett, PSU had not surrendered more than 200 passing yards in a single game.
Best case scenario? Lewerke falls somewhere between “game manager” and “ol’ gunslinger” on Saturday.
- DATE: Saturday, November 4
- KICKOFF: Noon ET on Fox
- LINE: PSU -8.5
- O/U: 48