Saturday, June 6, 2020

Know Thy Enemy: 'This is the year that Penn State breaks its two-year losing streak.'

October 25, 2019
<p>Former senior tight end Matt Sokol (81) and former senior linebacker Byron Bullough (38) tackle Penn State wide receiver KJ Hamler (1) during the game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Oct. 13, 2018. The Spartans defeated the Nittany Lions 21-17.</p>

Former senior tight end Matt Sokol (81) and former senior linebacker Byron Bullough (38) tackle Penn State wide receiver KJ Hamler (1) during the game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Oct. 13, 2018. The Spartans defeated the Nittany Lions 21-17.

Photo by Anntaninna Biondo | The State News

Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State football's opponent.

Michigan State comes off a rejuvenating bye week to face it's third-straight top ten team, No. 6 Penn State. After the two tough losses on the road, the Spartans will be back on their home-field in the Spartan Stadium, kick off is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

This week The State News talked to The Daily Collegian student football reporter Ben Ferree to get the scoop on the undefeated Nittany Lions:

Q: Who has been a surprise player this season on the Penn State roster? Who should Spartan fans look out for?

A: Penn State’s roster is loaded with young talent and before the season it seemed like a number of younger players were poised for a breakout this season. But, instead one of the biggest surprises came from senior tight end Nick Bowers. Bowers has struggled with injuries throughout his entire career at Penn State but is finally healthy and is taking advantage of all the opportunities thrown his way. Bowers is often overshadowed by Penn State’s starting tight end Pat Freiermuth, who is one of the best tight ends in the country, which means he receives a lot of attention from defenses. Bowers only has five receptions this season but he averages more than 27 yards per reception making him a threat if defenses forgot about him.

Penn State is also running a two tight end set this season which features both Freiermuth and Bowers on the field at the same time.

Q: MSU is well-rested coming off of a bye week. How has Penn State been preparing for the road test in East Lansing?

A: Penn State is once again heading into a game against Michigan State following a tough stretch of games. In 2018, the Nittany Lions matchup came after an emotional home loss to Ohio State. In 2017, their trip to East Lansing followed games against Michigan and Ohio State. And this year, Penn State is coming off a trip to Kinnick (Stadium) to take on Iowa and Michigan. The difference between the last two years though, is the Nittany Lions are coming into East Lansing with confidence and momentum. In the past two seasons, the Nittany Lions lost to Ohio State prior to taking on a physical Michigan State team. That isn’t the case this season. Penn State physically dominated Iowa on the road and used a quick start to take down Michigan in the White Out game last week. These back-to-back victories over ranked opponents have this Penn State team full of confidence heading into an opponent that has troubled them in recent years. Both of these games were very hard fought and very physical, so it will be interesting to see if Penn State can bring that level of intensity and physicality for a third week in a row.

Q: Penn State is undefeated and picked to win the matchup, but are there any concerns in regard to MSU’s team? How will the Penn State adjust its game, if at all, for the fired up Spartans coming off two tough losses and a bye week?

A: James Franklin’s mindset heading into every week no matter who Penn State is playing is going 1-0 that week. Penn State’s coaching staff really does everything they can to make sure players treat every week the same, but at the end of the day, every week isn’t the same. The Nittany Lions are coming off two emotional wins, in huge environments and now have to travel to play a Michigan State team that hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations this season. And under Franklin, Penn State has struggled against the Spartans. Michigan State has won five of the last six meetings against the Nittany Lions despite Penn State arguably having more talented teams in a few of those meetings. Penn State isn’t going to adjust its game for Michigan State, it is going to do the things that have gotten it to 7-0 this season. You will see a very, very talented defense play fast and make big plays and an offense that is having its ups and downs this season with consistency but with players like KJ Hamler, the offense is a threat to score on any play. The one area Penn State could struggle in this game is on the offensive side of the ball.

As I mentioned, they have dealt with consistency problems all season and have really struggled to put points on the board in the third quarter. The reason it hasn’t come back to hurt Penn State, is that quarterback Sean Clifford has been fantastic taking care of the ball and not making mistakes that normally plague quarterbacks in their first year as the starter.

Q: What is your score prediction? (and why)?

A: Penn State 20-7

This is the year that Penn State breaks its two-year losing streak to Michigan State and brings the Land Grant Trophy back to Pennsylvania. Even though its appearance might make them want to leave it behind.

In previous seasons, this would be a game that the Nittany Lions would find a way to lose, a letdown game that would prohibit them from taking the next step as a program. But, this Penn State team is different than the ones from previous seasons. The Nittany Lions have passed every test they have faced so far this season and even though they are a young team they don’t play like it and have handled adversity so far.

Ultimately, Penn State’s defense is going to be too much for Brian Lewerke and the Spartan offense and will give them problems for all 60 minutes. This dominant play on the defensive side of the ball will allow Penn State’s offense to string together a drive or two combined with some big plays from Hamler, it will be enough for the Nittany Lions to sneak out of East Lansing with a victory.

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