Friday, January 28, 2022

Preview: MSU takes on Penn State on senior day with bowl implications on the line

November 27, 2021
<p>Senior wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. (25) tries to bring in a pass in the end zone during the game against Penn State Oct. 26, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 28-7.</p>

Senior wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. (25) tries to bring in a pass in the end zone 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

Last weekend, Michigan State had its Big Ten and National Championship dreams crushed in a humbling 56-7 blowout loss to No. 2 Ohio State. The loss dropped the Spartans to 9-2 on the year and eliminated them from the Big Ten East title race. 

Everything that could go wrong for Michigan State did last Saturday. The Spartan passing defense, which came into the game allowing the most yards in the country, allowed Ohio State redshirt freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud to throw for 432 yards and six touchdowns in just over a half. Mercifully for MSU, Ohio State sat its starters for most of the second half after taking a 49-0 lead into the half.

The offense, which has usually been the saving grace for Michigan State this year, had its worst performance of the year. The only time MSU scored was in the second half after the game was all but decided. Freshman wide receiver Keon Coleman caught his first career touchdown after replacing junior wide receiver Jayden Reed in the second half.

On top of suffering the biggest loss to the Buckeyes in school history, the Spartans left Columbus even more banged up than it entered the game. Reed left the game at the end of the second quarter with a lower leg injury and stood on the sidelines with a boot on his right foot for the second half. Heisman candidate Kenneth Walker III only carried the ball six times in the loss and is “banged up” according to Head Coach Mel Tucker.

It was also the third straight game where starting senior left tackle Jarrett Horst and junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor missed due to undisclosed injuries. Defensively, weekly team captain and senior safety Xavier Henderson also missed the second half against Ohio State with a shoulder injury. Junior linebacker Quavaris Crouch played sparingly with a large knee brace on after missing the Maryland and starting freshman defensive tackle Simeon Barrow hasn’t played since the Purdue game.

The status of these key players for the Spartans will not be known before Saturday’s game against Penn State. One of the core tenets of Tucker’s coaching philosophy in college is not announcing injuries to avoid tipping off opponents and it has been no different in the final week of the regular season.

Michigan State now sits at No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings following the loss. A New Year’s Six Bowl is still on the table with a win this weekend, but a loss would drop the Spartans below 12, making them ineligible for one of the nationally-renowned bowls. 

The biggest news coming out of East Lansing this week came on Wednesday, when Tucker officially signed his 10-year, $95 million contract to stay at MSU through 2032. The deal ties Tucker for the second-highest paid coach in college football going forward with Penn State’s James Franklin, who signed an identical contract extension on Tuesday.

The $95 million men will square off on Saturday to see who can get their first win after the extension. Michigan State will have a chance to reach 10 wins for the first time since 2017 with a win. 25 seniors will be honored by Michigan State during MSU’s senior day as they possibly suit up to play in their final game in Spartan Stadium.

Scouting the Opponent

Penn State enters the season finale sitting at 7-4 on the year. The Nittany Lions were ranked as high as No. 4 in the AP poll in early October after early wins against Wisconsin and Auburn. Last Saturday, Penn State battled through a team-wide sickness to beat Rutgers 28-0.

Penn State had 21 players sit out with the flu and another 14 players play with flu-like symptoms according to Franklin. Starting senior quarterback Sean Clifford left the game after the first quarter due to worsening flu symptoms.

Despite that, the Nittany Lions were able to comfortably beat Rutgers. They were led, once again, by the defense. Penn State boasts the best scoring defense in the conference, only allowing 15.55 points per game (4th in the country), and have three shutouts on the season.

Much like Michigan State, the Penn State defense has thrived with its back against the wall. Penn State’s opponents have only scored on 62.2% of its trips inside the 20-yard line, which only trails Georgia for best red zone defense in the country. 

The struggles for them have come on the other side of the ball for Penn State. They have not had a running back rush for over 100 yards in a game yet this season, putting the pressure on Clifford to do everything offensively. 

The senior quarterback has thrown for 2599 yards and 17 touchdowns through 11 games this year. His favorite target has been the lightning-quick wide receiver Jahan Dotson, who ranks second in the Big Ten with 1045 receiving yards. It is yet another week where MSU’s struggling secondary will have to face off with the Big Ten’s best at receiver. 

The regular season finale will take place at 3:30 on Saturday in Spartan Stadium. The game will be aired on ABC.

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