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

by on October 25, 2019 2:00 PM

Penn State heads to East Lansing this weekend looking to go 8-0 and turn the tide against a Michigan State team that has had the Nittany Lions' number the past few seasons. A win would go a long way toward a Big Ten East title hopes and even farther toward reversing the perception that Penn State has a much better time against the lower half to the Big Ten than the other Top 3 in the East.

Of course none of this matters when the ball is kicked; all that matters is what happens on the field for the next few hours.

And here are the keys to Penn State heading home with another win and a victory against both Michigan teams in the same season for the first time this decade.

Get Back There: 

Penn State has given up nearly 700 yards through the air while the Nittany Lions have averaged 2.5 sacks per game against the Spartans in their last two meetings. Getting into the backfield will be a key in this one and Penn State's vaunted defensive line will want to live up to its billing in East Lansing. The Nittany Lions are fifth in total sacks this season, but take away the 10 earned against Purdue and that number drops to 18 sacks, which is 35th in the country. Then again, that's how many sacks Alabama has. Point remains the same, get to the quarterback and everything gets easier from there.

Minimal Lull: 

Penn State's offense is going to have a dry spell. That appears to be a trait this season that won't be going away between now and the end of the year. The question now becomes less about "if" the lull will happen as much as it is what the Nittany Lions can do to jumpstart things back out of the lull. You can't keep the Golden State Warriors from hitting threes, but you can limit the number of open ones you give them — in similar terms, Penn State can limit self-inflicted wounds on offense if it wants to turn things around when the lull hits. 

This comes back to the season's keyword: consistency.

Flip It:

If we're working under the assumption that rain and two familiar foes won't lend themselves to a very high scoring game, field position will once again come into play. If Penn State is smart it won't make Blake Gillikin punt the rugby-style kick and just let him take care of things the old-fashioned way. When he does that he's among the best in the business. When he doesn't it constantly feels like a block in the making. With how good Penn State has been playing defense, this doesn't have to be complicated: give the Spartans a long field to work with and take your chances. Football is a complicated sport, but it isn't rocket science.

Don't Cough Now:

Penn State turned the ball over six times this season, a mark bettered by only nine teams across the country. Turnovers are a part of the game, but it doesn't matter what you did the last week, just what you did right now. If the Nittany Lions can win the turnover battle yet again, it'll go a long way in what could be a lower scoring game. Michigan State, on the other hand, has coughed up the ball and lost it on nine occasions. Both teams have made good on a combined total of 22 turnovers. Seven of Michigan State's 12 forced turnovers have come the way of fumble. So no matter which Nittany Lion has the ball, coughing it up is ill-advised. As always.

Your Turn:

For the most part Penn State has made its money on offense with the same handful of players each week. At some point, a new face will need to step up to give defenses another weapon to consider because KJ Hamler can't do it all on his own. Justin Shorter isn't exactly a new face, but he also hasn't been a huge part of the game plan any given week. His big frame and otherwise reliable hands make him a prime candidate to breakout in the second half of the season. Of course, he has to stay healthy and make the most of the chances that he gets. So far though he might have the most reliable hands on the team. They just haven't been targeted that much.



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