Monday, November 28, 2022

Preview: Bowl eligibility hangs in the balance as Michigan State takes on Penn State

November 24, 2022
Redshirt senior Jayden Reed, 1, breaks through the Hoosier defense during Michigan State’s last game at home against Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 at Spartan Stadium. Indiana ultimately beat the Spartans, 39-31.
Redshirt senior Jayden Reed, 1, breaks through the Hoosier defense during Michigan State’s last game at home against Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 at Spartan Stadium. Indiana ultimately beat the Spartans, 39-31. —
Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

In its final game of the regular season, and Michigan State will travel to Happy Valley to face No. 11 Penn State, battling for the Land-Grant Trophy and bowl eligibility.

Despite bowl eligibility looming large, Head Coach Mel Tucker wants his players focused entirely on Saturday’s game and not what the results could mean for the program. 

“I don’t think there’s any reason to continue to harp on that (bowl eligibility) because that’s really talking about the end result,” Tucker said. “What we really need to focus on as a program and as players and coaches is what we need to do every single day to prepare for that opportunity.”

Last weekend, the Spartans very nearly secured their sixth win of the season with a home game against Indiana. Despite holding a 24-7 lead at the half, Michigan State collapsed and the Hoosiers stormed back for a 39-31 double overtime victory. 

Looking at the numbers, the offense and defense actually both had strong days. MSU’s offense earned 540 total yards in the afternoon, including an eye-popping 242 rushing yards. For a team that has been inconsistent offensively throughout the season, such a balanced showing was a welcome change of pace. Other than a tipped interception in the third quarter, redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne had a decent day.

The defense also had a solid showing. Indiana put up just 288 yards of total offense, with only 31 of those yards coming through the air. The glaring issue for the unit was containing explosive plays, especially on the ground, but overall it was not a terrible performance.

However, in the end, an awful showing from special teams (namely, the field goal unit) ultimately doomed the Spartans.

Wednesday afternoon, charges were filed against seven of the eight players suspended after the tunnel incident at the Big House a few weeks ago. While it is not yet clear what Michigan State will do with the charged players, it is likely that they will miss Saturday’s game against Penn State. 

With plenty of injuries across the lineup (sixth-year senior offensive guard Matt Carrick, fifth-year offensive tackle Jarrett Horst, sixth-year senior offensive lineman Brian Greene, junior defensive end Jeff Pietrowski Jr., senior defensive end Khris Bogle and sixth-year senior tight end Tyler Hunt are a handful of the players that did not warm up against Indiana last weekend) and the aforementioned suspended players, MSU will travel to Happy Valley with a very thin roster. 

In fact, Michigan State did not put on pads and hit in practice for the fourth straight week. 

“We’re not going to be putting on the shoulder pads and hitting,” Tucker said. “We just can’t afford to do that right now.”

Scouting the opponent 

Penn State doesn’t quite match up to the likes of Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten East, but with a 9-2 record, the Nittany Lions certainly are a talented squad. 

Led by veteran quarterback Sean Clifford, PSU’s offense has done a good job balancing the rushing attack and the passing game. Overall, the Nittany Lions rank 37th in total offense, averaging 434.5 yards per game. 

Penn State ranks 44th in both passing and rushing offense (250.4 and 185, respectively). The charge to that effective ground game has been led by a pair of freshman backs: Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. While the two have essentially split the carries thus far, Singleton has over 100 more yards than Allen, averaging a yard more (6.5) per carry as well. 

Penn State’s defense is just as well-rounded as the defense. The front seven is especially lethal, ranking 10th in the nation in sacks per game (averaging just over three). That unit also boasts the 21st rushing defense. 

“They’ve got very talented defensive linemen, they've got some good pass rushers, and linebackers are solid,” Thorne said. “They’re all pretty much interchangeable.

While not quite as strong, the secondary is also strong. The unit gives up just over 210 yards per game, good for 48th in the FBS. 

“They’re one of the best secondaries in the country,” Thorne said. “They’ve got good corners that will get up in your grill and press you, their safeties are sideline to sideline.”

In total, Penn State’s defense ranks 23rd, allowing just 323.6 yards per game. 

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On top of all that, Beaver Stadium is sure to be rocking Saturday afternoon. It’ll be the first time Michigan State has played at Happy Valley with fans in attendance since 2018.

“It’s a crazy environment,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Cal Haladay said. “They’ve always got the place rocking. Everything about it is just loud.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. on FS1.

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