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Preview: The battle for the Land Grant Trophy, Gruff Sparty returns

December 11, 2020
<p>Junior safety Dominique Long (9) pounds his chest during the game against Penn State Oct. 26, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 28-7.</p>

Junior safety Dominique Long (9) pounds his chest during the game against Penn State Oct. 26, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 28-7.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Gruff Sparty.

The battle for the Land Grant Trophy.

Penn State (2-5) and Michigan State (2-4) meet in Happy Valley once again.

Recent matchups between the pair have produced some of the best games in Spartan fans' recent memories, a rain-delay upset win over the Saquon Barkley led Nittany Lions or a Felton Davis III touchdown to win the game in Beaver Stadium.

But this year, instead of a white-out there will be only parents in the stands. Last week, Penn State won 23-7 over Rutgers and MSU got thrashed 52-12 by Big Ten Championship bound Ohio State.

This game is about playing for pride as both teams have struggled this season. Here is a key matchup and a prediction ahead of Saturday's game:

Key Matchup: Penn State run game vs. MSU defensive line

There are a lot of factors in this game to take into account.

Payton Thorne will likely fill in for Rocky Lombardi after he was injured against Ohio State. The Spartans scored their only points of the game on Saturday after Thorne took the helm under center.

But maybe the most important factor Saturday is Penn State's ability to run the football.

It's been something they've leaned on for years with guys like Barkley, Miles Sanders and then Journey Brown, until his medically motivated retirement from the game of football.

PSU ran for 248 yards against Rutgers and five different rushers carried the seed. It wasn't a work of art since it took 57 attempts. But Penn State dominated the line of scrimmage against RU and had four different runners with runs of more than 10 yards.

MSU's defensive line struggled last week with a half-backup offensive line as Ohio State was out three starters.

For this game to remain close for the Spartans, who are a two-touchdown underdog, Antjuan Simmons, Noah Harvey, Naquan Jones and Jacub Panasiuk and the rest of the MSU front-seven will need to be making plays consistently.

If PSU can establish a run game, this talented team, despite missing star linebacker Micah Parsons and other contributors due to opt-outs and otherwise, then the Nittany Lions should win. But MSU's strength, despite what the numbers might show, has been defense all year — specifically the front four and linebackers.

PSU has, however, struggled to throw the ball all year (12 touchdown passes to nine interceptions on the year between Sean Clifford and Will Levis). This is one destined to be won in the trenches.

Also as pictured below, MSU football will be returning their special Gruff Sparty logo helmets for Saturday's game.


What's the word

"I don't and I know our fans don't want excuses," Head Coach Mel Tucker said. "We want results. So, we're looking forward to Penn State and going into this game it's all about execution. All about execution is what it's going to come down to. It will take a commitment. It's going to take mental and physical toughness to deliver at our highest level so we can play to our fullest potential. And we have to do it consistently. Consistency and performance is how you become successful, and we're a very inconsistent football team. I'm proud of our team for continuing to come together. Based upon yesterday's practice, I see the guys are hungry and they want to get better. That's a great sign."

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That's what Tucker said on Tuesday ahead of Saturday's game. A consistent message to a team and program that has struggled to put out a consistent performance each game is crucial to MSU's success.

Prediction: Penn State 28, Michigan State 24

Penn State is the more talented football team right now. Tucker hammered on recruiting in his weekly press conference and it's obvious he has already made strides in that department with recruiting talent and size to compete with the national powers.

But it's not 2022 or 2023, when many of those recruits will begin to make an impact. Penn State rolls at home but Thorne helps the MSU offense make strides and keeps it close enough to cover the spread.

Penn State wins and MSU awaits their ninth-game opponent.


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