What you need to know: Penn State vs. Michigan State

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: vs. Michigan State, 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on BTN.

Records: No. 8 Penn State 4-1, 1-1 Big Ten, Michigan State 3-2, 1-1 Big Ten.

Last week: Penn State had a bye, while Michigan State absorbed a 29-19 defeat to Northwestern.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, which saw a record crowd of 110,889 fans against Ohio State two weeks ago.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 55 degrees and partly sunny.


Overview: Two weeks ago, Penn State was ranked ninth and hosting Ohio State. Even with a loss to the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions have moved up a spot after three higher-ranked teams suffered setbacks when Penn State was on a bye last week. Michigan State, meanwhile, looks like it might win only six or seven games and finish the season out of the rankings. Michigan State seems to be good when everyone thinks they’ll be bad, and vice versa. Even if that trend continues — Penn State is more than a two-touchdown favorite — it’s difficult to imagine Michigan State slowing down the Penn State offense, which again is one of the best in the country. Also on tap for Saturday is the team’s annual Stripe Out game, with Homecoming serving as the festive backdrop to what should be a great day at Beaver Stadium.


The line: Penn State –14.5

All-time series: Michigan State leads 16-15-1.

Last time they met (2017): The Spartans collected a 27-24 win with a last-second field goal after the game in East Lansing was delayed by more than three hours.

Throwback classic (2005): Penn State secured a 31-22 road win en route to the Orange Bowl. Michael Robinson had a workmanlike performance of 105 passing yards and a touchdown, to go along with 90 rushing yards and another score on the ground. Notably on defense, Alan Zemaitis had three interceptions for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions can exploit the Spartans’ porous pass defense. Michigan State is allowing 305 passing yards per game, with Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson scorching the Spartan defense last week for 373 passing yards off of 31-of-47 passing. Thorson also threw three touchdowns.

Michigan State wins if: the Spartans gain 225-plus rushing yards and keep the ball out of Trace McSorley’s hands. Often during this season, Penn State has had trouble stopping run the run, even against a lower-tiered opponent such as Illinois. Michigan State is averaging a modest 123 rushing yards a game, so if the Spartans can close to doubling that number, they have a legit chance of pulling the upset.

Count on: a focused Penn State squad. Following the loss to Ohio State, James Franklin was frustrated and angry, reflective and insightful all at the same time, somewhat famously saying that the team would be done being comfortable being great. With an extra week to prepare and no need to travel this week, look for the Nittany Lions to have a sharp first half and possibly a sizable lead going into intermission.

Keep an eye on: the postgame celebration. The winner receives (or retains) the Land-Grant Trophy, so if Penn State can get the win, look and see if the television cameras show the annual prize, which serves as one of the most unusual-looking trophies in all of college football. If nothing else, it’s definitely as heavy as it looks, evident by player quotes when Penn State rolled Michigan State two years ago and the Nittany Lions hoisted the trophy at Beaver Stadium.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State has been ranked in the AP poll for 31 consecutive weeks, which is the seventh-longest active streak.

Prediction: Penn State 42, Michigan State 24

*Season record: 4-1

*Season record against the spread: 3-2

*HappyValley.com season records


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