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Penn State Football: Five Things To Watch As The Nittany Lions Face Michigan State

by on October 12, 2018 2:00 PM

It seems like it has been forever since Penn State last played and for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions that can be a good and a bad thing. On the one hand it's a chance for rest and reflection, and Penn State probably won't be this healthy again the rest of the year. It's also a chance to get better at the little things and study film, a chance to get better with a little more time to do it than normal.

But it can also be a momentum killer. While Penn State certainly didn't win its last game out, it's hard to argue that the Nittany Lions didn't play some of their most complete football of the year relative to the competition. That loss to Ohio State won't go away as quickly as Franklin would like it to, but all in all it wasn't a bad performance.

Maybe moral victories are a thing of the past for this program, but given the team that took the field two Saturdays ago, and how it had looked at times in the weeks prior, it's hard to argue with the broader results.

Now it's back to business as Penn State hosts Michigan State in a game that isn't quite as marquee as it looked on paper at the start of the year, but a chance to get a big win in the Big Ten East all the same. This is what I'm watching.

Looking good:

Penn State's defense played its most complete game of the season against Ohio State aside from a few missed tackles and an empty tank of gas in the fourth quarter. While Penn State doesn't want to make a habit of taking the final quarter off, if this unit can continue to look like it did for 75% of the Ohio State game, that's a good sign for Brent Pry.

So really the task and question is simple. Can Penn State's defense play that good against a team not named Ohio State? If so, the sky is the limit.

Make it happen:

Michigan State allows just over 30 yards on the ground per game this year which as you might imagine is quite good. Miles Sanders and Trace McSorley are both a 30-yard threat on any play so this game will be as much about the battle in the trenches as it is anything else. if Penn State can run the ball it will win, but at the same time if it can pass the ball as well as it did pre-rain delay last year, then running the ball might not matter. Either way it's a big afternoon for Sanders, McSorley and maybe even Ricky Slade to get Penn State going on the ground to open a balanced attack.

Kicking:

Jake Pinegar looks like a kid who should be good at kicking, but so far he has been hit and miss, mostly miss. That might just be a matter of practice and experience, and Saturday could prove to be one of those games where field goals matter. This is a pretty binary thing to look for, but it's important all the same.

1% better?:

Can Penn State look even better than it did against Ohio State? Can the drops go away, can the tackling improve, can the whole team play four quarters? This might not come with an obvious answer, but it'll be key to any sort of run this team is going to go on moving forward. Drops are the easiest way to tell along with depth players making a bigger impact, but it's not the only thing. This might be hard to describe, but you'll know it when you see it.

Simmons:

Shane Simmons is back. How does he look? The plan right now is 10-15 snaps, but don't be shocked if he plays his way onto the field for more of them. It has been over a year now since he has played in a real game, so getting healthy reps is all he really needs to do on Saturday. Everything will be a plus for Franklin and company.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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