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. This week, The State News' Sam Sklar spoke with the Daily Collegian’s football reporter Justin Morganstein.
Michigan State had its doors blown off in a humbling 56-7 loss at Ohio State last week. The loss killed the Spartans' dreams of reaching the Big Ten Championship, but with a win this week versus Penn State, MSU can still reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2017 and play in a significant bowl game.
Here is a look at Penn State through the eyes of the Daily Collegian's Justin Morganstein as Michigan State wraps-up the regular season:
Q: Penn State came into the season with high hopes of being Big Ten contenders, but have somewhat been a let down with four losses on the season. What has been the issue with PSU this year?
A: I think it all started with the injury troubles in the Iowa game I would say. They started out really well, 5-0. They beat Auburn at home, they beat Wisconsin on the road, they have some good wins they picked up, but they go to Iowa and it was a top-three matchup at the time. Sean Clifford played arguably his best quarter of football in the first quarter and they were up 14-3. Then he gets hurt, then PJ Mustipher, their starting nose tackle and captain, gets hurt and they just have a bunch of injuries in that game. They would go on to lose that game pretty close and then it all seemed to fall apart.
The weeks following, especially the loss to Illinois at home which nobody was really expecting, but they were worried about Clifford’s health, he ended up playing. That proved not to be the right move. He was just ineffective. He was injured and didn’t look like himself and somehow, someway it got to nine overtimes, but they could not find a way to put them away. And ever since that Iowa game and Illinois game, it started gradually going downhill where they would end up losing four of five games.
Q: Kenneth Walker III lost some ground in the Heisman Trophy race after getting banged up last week versus Ohio State. If he’s able to go, who are some players to watch on Penn State’s defense that could be keys to stopping Walker?
A: I just talked about how the D-line struggled without Mustipher, and I actually think that the guys who have come in, a couple guys like Dvon Ellies and Coziah Izzard, have stepped in there and have kind of gotten better every week. They are both young guys and I think that they have stepped into Mustipher’s role really well alongside Derrick Tangelo.
At linebacker, I would say the guys to look out for, Brandon Smith, who’s gonna be a future NFL player. He’s 6’ 3”, he’s got the ideal build you want for a linebacker. You’ll see a couple hits on Saturday where you just go ‘My God I would not like to be hit by that guy.’ He’s a freak of nature, he’s a phenomenal athlete and will be an NFL prospect eventually. This is going to be the last regular season game for Jesse Luketa as well, who has made the transition from linebacker to (defensive) end, and he kind of plays that hybrid role a little bit. He is really active in stopping the run and has done a really good job of it this year as well.
Q: Jahan Dotson is an excellent receiver and will face the worst passing defense in the country on Saturday. What kind of receiver is he and what makes him so dangerous?
A: He is the pro’s pro. He is as professional as it gets. On the field, off the field, when you talk to him after the game he gives you every answer you wanna hear. Besides that on the field, I would compare him almost to a Keenan Allen type where his route running and his catch radius just screams NFL when you watch it on Saturdays.
What he also has developed this year is the speed as well. We never thought of him really as this speed threat. In the offseason, all the coaches were telling us 4.3 and 4.4s in the offseason and we’ve been able to see it. In the Maryland game, he had a pass over the middle in that record-breaking three touchdown game he had ... it was like an 80-something yard touchdown. He beat everybody down the field. It wasn’t even close. He showed that speed and to me that hasn’t even been one of his best attributes. The fact that he is continuing to develop all these things and bring all these new aspects to the game is really a credit to him. You can tell he is just such a hard working guy and he just loves the game of football.
Q: The flu ran rampant throughout the team last week with numerous players forced to sit out with sickness. What’s the latest update on the availability of some of Penn State’s players?
A: After the game (James) Franklin said that there were 35 total players unavailable. Sean Clifford tried to go in the first quarter and Franklin after the game said that he went after Sean after about three drives that were not really looking too good and he talked to him and said ‘I’m gonna go with Christian Veilleux’ who was the No. 3 quarterback to start the season, but was elevated to No. 2 before last week. He’s a true freshman out of Ontario and looked actually really good. It is going to be interesting to see this week as this flu develops if the quarterback situation changes at all. In my opinion, I think that it would be smart to give Veilleux those extra reps this week because to me he looked really good last week. I know it is Rutgers and you can’t put too much stock into it, but at the same time and after watching it again, he looked really impressive. He made some good reads, went through progressions well, and took what the defense gave him. To me, I thought he earned that second shot against Michigan State this weekend.
Of course, Sean’s health is going to have something to do with it because he has been banged up too as well as being sick. There are some other guys, some young guys, that are going to get some reps too because of this flu that is going on ... I am sure that it can’t be worse than last week because he said later in the week it literally looked like a hospital ward in the training room. It was not an ideal scenario for the last week.
Q: What is your score prediction for the game?
A: I would have thought a couple weeks ago that this would be a game that Michigan State wins pretty easily, but obviously the past week they got a little dose of reality ...To me, I do really think that Penn State takes advantage of Michigan State’s pass defense because it has been so poor. But at the same time, stopping Kenneth Walker is going to be huge because we have seen them give up big chunk plays to running backs this year. I like Michigan State in this game, but I like it close and maybe a little high scoring. I am thinking 30-24 Michigan State.
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