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Penn State Football: Previewing The Opponent: Michigan State

by on November 25, 2016 2:00 PM

It all comes down to this. A shot at a 10-2 regular season and if the cards fall the right way Penn State's entry into the Big Ten title game next weekend in Indianapolis. But first the Nittany Lions must dispatch a confusing 3-8 Michigan State team that has surged in its last three games.

If Ohio State beats Michigan it becomes a playoff game in Beaver Stadium and that makes Saturday all the more interesting just a few days after Thanksgiving. Here is what you need to know about Michigan State.

Last Week:

Michigan State nearly pulled off the shocker at home coming up just short against Ohio State 17-16. A failed two point conversion late in the game kept the Spartans from taking the lead and an interception on Michigan State's final drive sealed the deal. The loss comes after Michigan State kept the season's trend alive blowing out Rutgers on the road 49-0.

Penn State is coming off a 39-0 defeat of Rutgers in New Jersey.

The Offense:

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Despite their struggles this year it was been LJ Scott giving Michigan State's offense some life in 2016. The sophomore running back is just 65 yards shy of 1,000 on the year. He would become just the sixth sophomore in program history to break that mark in a single season. The Spartans have rushed for more than 200 yards in four of the past five games. During the first six games of the year Michigan State averaged just 136 yards on the ground per game.

Under center it's Tyler O'Connor who has passed for 1,852 yards 16 TDs and 9 interceptions this season completing 137 of 229 passes. O'Connor's primary target in 2016 has been RJ Shelton who has 48 receptions to his name for 715 yards and five scores. For comparison Chris Godwin leads Penn State with 42 catches for 627 yards and seven scores.

Nationally the Spartans' 25.2 points per game is 90th in the nation and 399 yards per game is 74th. Michigan State converts around 38% of the time on third down which is ninth best in the conference.

The Defense:

A long time staple of Michigan State's run to the top of college football the Spartan's defense hasn't been quite as stout in year's past. Due in large part to replacing five key starters it's still senior linebacker Riley Bullough who is doing much of the work in the middle of the defense, recently surpassing the 200 tackle milestone.

Outside linebacker Chris Frey leads Michigan State with 90 tackles on the year, 36 solo and three tackles for a loss.

Statistically the Spartans' give up 26 points a game which is 54th in the nation while 355 total yards is 29th best in the nation for total defense. Michigan State averages less than a sack per game which is nearly dead last in the nation and allows 166 yards on the ground per game, 61st in the nation. All told this unit has had its moments, but it isn't the elite defense of year's past.

The Player To Watch:

Michigan State hasn't been much of a passing team this year and with a recently renewed running game this contest could very well come down to how much Penn State is able to slow down LJ Scott. if the Nittany Lions can limit big running plays and keep Scott from breaking the 150 yard mark, they have a good chance to walk away with win No. 10 on the year.

The Prediction:

Michigan State is surging but Penn State has more to play for and has more experience playing well at home. It's senior day for Brandon Bell who ought to continue his outstanding play at linebacker this week and simply put this game means too much to the Nittany Lions. Michigan State will be a tough test, but Penn State is simply the better team. This game might very well look like Penn State's last trip to East Lansing, close at half but the Nittany Lions pull away in the final two quarters for a comfortable 42-20 win.



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