Know Thy Enemy: Forget winter, Saquon Barkley is coming
Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes, from the eyes of the Spartans to the eyes of MSU football’s next foe. The State News asks the opposing team's student newspaper a few questions and see football through a different lens.
The battle for the Land-Grant Trophy is on.
No. 7 Penn State rolls into town featuring Heisman Trophy-hopeful tailback Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley, among a talented cast.
The Nittany Lions are reigning Big Ten champions and have had a successful season thus far, amassing a 7-1 record, 4-1 in the conference. Their College Football Playoff lives aren't quite dead after a slim one-point loss to Ohio State last week.
All in all, Penn State should be MSU's toughest test yet as the two land-grant schools face off at Spartan Stadium.
To better understand life as a Nittany Lion, The State News interviewed Matt Martell, the football editor of The Daily Collegian and asked him four questions on Penn State football.
Q: Everyone knows who Saquon Barkley is, all the hype that has surrounded him. But in reality, how good is he and how worried should Spartan fans be?
A: Right now, he is the best running back I've seen in college football from watching it, since watching Reggie Bush at USC. Just the way he moves around, he can chance the game on any given play. He has the ability to score a touchdown on any play. It's hard to be surprised watching him anymore, but I still am. That's the crazy part. So for MSU fans, should be worried about the constant change. If it's a close game and he gets the ball, I wouldn't feel comfortable as an MSU fan. And the other thing is, with the way Penn State has played this season, he gets the ball early, I wouldn't be shocked if he scores early and gives Penn State an early lead.
Q: Despite the mere one-point loss to Ohio State last week, Penn State still has looked consistently impressive this season. Overall, though, what are the Nittany Lions’ expectations going forward now that they no longer control their own destiny?
A: Right now, it's hard to process. The reason I say that is because nothing aside from the actual result of a loss has changed, if that makes sense. This was the game, this past week, was the game that if Penn State was going to lose heading into this season, this was the game that everybody circled. Really, it's the reality of Penn State is actually losing a game that has changed things. As far as predictions, I don't know if the goal has changed at the end. It's just that maybe the mood is a little dimmer because Penn State realizes the team isn't invincible. The way the game ended itself led to this sort of damper mood. At the time, Penn State was up by 15, 18, 15 and then Ohio State came back and Penn State couldn't move the ball and boom, you lose by one point. It's somewhat shocking, just being the press box, seeing how quickly Penn State fell apart and Ohio State rose to win that game. I think the sudden change is what has led to this. But the end goal of College Football Playoff I don't think have changed.
Q: For both the offense and the defense, who is one player that will be an X-factor to this game against MSU? Where how they play will largely determine Penn State’s fate?
A: This week I'd say the biggest factor for Penn State is Ryan Bates, the left tackle. Because Bates left last week's game with an injury against Ohio State. Bates' status is interesting because in the series when he was in, Penn State could move the ball. After he comes out for the second time, after he realized he could not play, the final two drives Penn State had, they ran seven plays for negative nine yards. So all the success Penn State has, offensively, comes from the offensive line. If the offensive line can keep Michigan State, which is a very good defense, out of the backfield. The way Penn State likes to run the ball, and pass the ball, is based on a lot of read options. If the read options don't have time to develop because the defensive line is already in the backfield, McSorley can't decide whether he wants to keep the ball or hand it off to Barkley because both reads are blown up by the defensive line, it's going to be a long day for Penn State.
On defense, I'm going to look at a guy like Jason Cabinda and the other linebackers. I want to say Cabinda because the entire defense kind of flows through him as the vocal and on-field leader of that unit. If Penn State wants to get back to being as strong of a defense as it was up until this Ohio State game, they're going to need Cabinda to perform.
Q: What is your score prediction and why?
A: I think it's because Penn State, right now, knows that it can lose. And there's a lot of built-up emotion. Football especially is a sport that I think emotion has the biggest impact on. Because you fly to the ball, you hit harder on defense. There's more gang-tackling there. Or as an offensive lineman, you're fighting somebody, you're driving harder. There's a lot that emotion has to play in football. Now that Penn State realizes it's not invincible and that it has to win pretty much every game the rest of the year to have a shot at that end goal, College Football Playoff. Penn State's going to come out firing to prove that last week was a one-point fluke. I think Penn State is the more talented team and I think, coming together, it's going to be tough. Now I think that Michigan State does score against Penn State than Penn State allowed through the first seven games of the year on average because of Ryan Buchholz if he's not healthy. Becuase of certain flaws that Ohio State exposed on Penn State's defense that Michigan State can follow up in expose as well. It'll take a bit of adjusting for Penn State's defense to do. In the end I think Penn State is a more talented team with a lot more at stake right now after the loss.
Penn State 33-21