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Lion In Wait: Penn State Versus Michigan State

Lion In Wait is Onward State’s football column for Penn State conference games.  Published Friday at 5 P.M. [Late on Thanksgiving Break] before games featuring Big Ten opponents, LIW emphasizes the game from a fan perspective.

Here we are at the end of the regular season – one game left. What have we learned? Well, you guys are angry. Whether it is about Daryll Clark’s undesirable record in big games, the student ticket system, or the opponents we typically schedule – Penn State fans have a few bones to pick.

I think this is a good thing.

Allow me to explain. On the aforementioned three issues, I fall under the majority of opinion – yes, it’s frustrating to see Penn State’s touchdown leader throw interceptions in critical points of the season’s most anticipated games; yes – the new system, in a word, blows; and yes, I wish we had played someone like Boise State rather than Eastern Illinois in our out-of-conference schedule. Some may look at that and say that the storied Penn State football program is facing problems on many fronts. I see it from a different perspective – we’re in good shape because we consider these things threats.

We’re angry because we care. And that is a much better situation than apathy for a fan base. Yes – a nine or ten win season is not what we were looking for this year – but it’s wonderful that this is the worst-case scenario for the 2009 Nittany Lion football team. We have it a lot better than most any other school, and we still bitch and moan like we haven’t been to a bowl in years. This may be irritating to those outside of the Penn State faithful, but it’s encouraging that we’re conscious of the need to maintain a certain standard of quality. Demanding that it’s “students’ job” to show up in the stands early, and stay until the end is, objectively speaking, unreasonable. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.

We are…

History Lesson

The rivalry with Michigan State has generally been referred to as manufactured – I’m not going to argue with this. In my experience, Penn State fans care a lot more about how we fare in comparison to the Buckeyes and Wolverines, not the Spartans. However, recent history has provided a more interesting storyline than in year’s past – last year’s 49-18 beatdown in a snowy Beaver Stadium provides plenty of motivation for Michigan State. At the same time, memories of a 2007 loss in East Lansing where Penn State blew a 17 point lead en route to missing the Outback Bowl are still fresh in fans’ mind. Yes, the Land Grant trophy is ugly and few fans care about who gets it, but this game is bigger than the traditional match up between these ersatz rivals.

Public Enemy Number One

Keyshawn Martin – Wide Receiver/Kick Returner #82

Martin not only ranks fifth in the nation in kick return average (31.7), he’s also the Spartans’ Wildcat Quarterback. Against Purdue last week, he accumulated 73 yards on a mere three carries. Granted, the Lions’ defense is more stout than the Boilermakers’, but Martin is a genuine home-run threat on both the offense and special teams.

The X-Factor

Special Teams

You know, it’s a bad sign when your 82-year-old coach jokes that he’ll have to field punts.

“I’m going to try to go out there and show those guys how I used to catch punts and run for touchdowns every time I got my hands on the ball,” Paterno said. “(We’ll) see if we can beat Michigan State on a punt return.”

Though horrible punt fielding didn’t change the result of last Saturday’s game against Indiana, field position will play a much larger role in an underrated Spartan team. If special teams can maintain the improvements on kick coverage and not fumble the ball, we should be able to put on an impressive display for BCS committee members.

Tips Tip For The Game

It’s always hard writing this part of the column for away games – after all, most of us will be watching the game on television, and I can only give you so many suggestions on what horribly fattening snacks to consume and alternate ways to excrete. My best tip I can offer is more of an attitudinal piece of advice – though the team has been disappointing in their high-profile match-ups, remember that we’re probably in a much better position than where most of us would have forecasted after the Iowa loss. At worst, we’re slated for a January bowl game against an exciting SEC opponent.

The line has been set at 3 in favor of Penn State for this week’s game in East Lansing. If memory serves correct, the Nittany Lions have never been the underdog this year – even in the two losses, home-field advantage and inflated expectations designated both Iowa and Ohio State as the upset pick.

Penn State 27
, Michigan State 21. Though a lot of pundits are quick to bring up the second-half meltdown against the Spartans in 2007, something tells me Penn State is more focused this time around. Instead of the Outback Bowl being the best outcome after this weekend – it’s the fallback. A BCS bid is at stake, and it’s unlikely the Lions will let it slip away.

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About the Author


Mark McColey is a Senior majoring in Advertising and Labor-Employment relations. Among his loves are Penn State Football, The Steelers, The Penguins, The Simpsons, Tina Fey, and Arrested Development.

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