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Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Michigan State

After a lackluster performance last week against Illinois, our staff isn’t optimistic about the Nittany Lions’ chances against the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans in Senior Day.

Here’s what we think:

Ben Berkman (season record: 6-5): Michigan State 24, Penn State 7

Michigan State’s two losses come to the second- and sixth-ranked team in the country. It features the sixth best scoring offense, a top 25 scoring defense, and averages over 240 rushing yards a game. Penn State shouldn’t have any chance to beat the Spartans.

But on a Senior Day dedicated to those who stayed through the sanctions, maybe the Nittany Lions will come out with a spark they haven’t played with all year. I don’t expect it, but here’s to hoping. The offense line is healthier every week, and with it the rushing attack has improved. If Akeel Lynch can lead a balanced first possession to a touchdown, maybe Penn State’s defense can hold off the Spartans’ attack for some time.

This might be the biggest test for Penn State’s defense. Michigan State senior running back Jeremy Langford has eclipsed 100 yards in his last eight games after a slow start. Quarterback Connor Cook hasn’t thrown an interception in his last five contests. If Mike Hull, in his final career home game, and troops can limit Langford and force Cook to turn the ball over, maybe Penn State will have a chance. But I don’t see it happening.

David Abruzzese (season record: 6-4): Penn State 17, Michigan State 16

WILL YOU GUYS JUST WIN THIS ONE, PLEASE?!

I’ve been loyal throughout the season, and have always believed that our boys in Blue and White can pull one out, but last week was like watching a car accident. I want to believe for one more week, however. Just one more damn week. I know there are no laurels to be rested upon, because there really hasn’t been much recent success, but damn it, crazier things have happened.

Mind you, I’m no fool. I know very well that defensive end Shilique Calhoun is going to bruise and batter Christian Hackenberg to the point where Hack might not want to come back onto the field. I mean, this is the same guy that delivered a spinebuster to our old pal Rob Bolden over at Eastern Michigan. I know very well that running back Jeremy Langford and quarterback Connor Cook will not be stopped, but merely slowed down. I know this is a good team. What I do believe though, is that Penn State’s defense will do just enough to send these seniors out the right way, and that the offensive line will do just enough to open enough holes for Akeel Lynch to barrel through. I can also tell for a fact that Sam Ficken is pissed that the Groza committee left him off their shortlist, and that he’ll do what he can to raise a symbolic middle finger their way, showing them that he deserved a spot.

This group of seniors went through a hell not to many can imagine. I believe that this team will find a way to win. Something magical will unfold in Beaver Stadium on Saturday. Just like coach Franklin said, it’s happened before, and it can happen again.

Let’s get it done boys.

CJ Doon (season record: 6-2): Michigan State 27, Penn State 10

With this being the final home game of my college career, it’s admittedly very difficult to predict this game without letting my emotions impact my thought process. Even though I won’t be in attendance on Saturday (I’ll be at Madison Square Garden to watch the Penn State hockey team take on Cornell), I can’t help but feel a mixture of sadness, excitement, frustration, and hope for a brighter future.

After the sanctions were announced, it was clear this season would be the one where the punishment would have its most crippling effect. Despite fighting with one hand tied behind its back, the team has put together a winning record while competing in one of the nation’s premier football conferences (albeit during a down year). Sure, the offense has been anemic, Hackenberg has regressed, and a Penn State football team just loss to an Illinois football team coached by Tim Beckman, unquestionably the nadir of a three-year recovery period from the NCAA’s quest to make an example of the program. Things don’t feel great right now, and it won’t get much better this weekend. After a season like this, featuring three losses by a combined eight points, its only fair to feel both emotionally and mentally exhausted. And that’s the sense I’m getting from the players as an outside observer of this team.

Universities only grant you so much access to student-athletes, so everything I write in this space is merely speculation. Without a clear leader on the sidelines, in the huddle, or in pre-game warmups, former Onward Stater Devon Edwards said it best when he called the team “utterly rudderless.” Unlike the vocal leaders of the 2012 team, fiery guys like Mauti, Zordich, and McGloin, the 2014 team lacks passion and a sense of urgency. For every tribal scream or celebration after a big play two years ago, there’s a pout, a shrug, or a listless jog back to the sideline after yet another mistake this season. This is the second-youngest team in the country, so it’s fair to say they simply lack the veteran players capable of leading a team. Mike Hull, Anthony Zettel, and C.J. Olanyian are great players in their own right, but they’re just not the kind of guys to get in someone’s face or gather the team together for a pep talk. Franklin, for all his energy and motivating prowess, can only do so much. Gone are the days where we saw a quiet presence like Deon Butler step up and deliver a truly organic, unrehearsed display of leadership that galvanized the team.

While the Nittany Lions have shown an ability to play well against superior competition (Ohio State) and only lose one game by double-digits (Northwestern), the Spartans are not your average #B1G team. Michigan State was a legitimate playoff contender before its loss to Ohio State, and will almost certainly be heading to a New Year’s Day bowl game for the fourth time in the last five seasons. They boast the nation’s sixth-best scoring offense, and after watching Penn State struggle to contain Reilly O’Toole and the nation’s 92nd ranked scoring offense, I’m not as confident as I once was in the defense’s ability to slow down the Spartans.

In a roller coaster season that has come to define the last 15 years of Penn State football, the Spartans will put the final nail in the coffin in Beaver Stadium. But fear not, Penn State fans. Although it might not look it, this team is close to turning it around. Saturday’s game might be tough to watch, but there’s a bowl game coming up for the first time in three years. Smile, and enjoy the holidays with your family. It might feel helpless now, but a bright future awaits.

Mike Reisman (season record: 6-5): Michigan State 20, Penn State 13

The Spartans are clearly the better team, but also, this is a Penn State defense that has not once let us believe that the game is far out of reach, so I really can’t imagine this game getting out of hand. Honestly, I could see Penn State winning in some ridiculous fashion that involves a lot of luck and some sloppy Michigan State play, but I could also see the opposite, and Michigan State winning, like, 34-0. So this is in the middle. If nothing else, this season has taught me how bad I am at predicting games, so Michigan State will win, probably, and not by that much, maybe.

Doug Leeson (season record: 5-3): Michigan State 26, Penn State 19

Penn State’s D has allowed 30 points on one occasion. Michigan State has scored less than 30 points only twice this season, but it’s about to be three. Still, when Sparty’s offensive unit is on the field, I expect to see the highest quality two-way football I’ve seen all season. The Connor Cook-led offense won’t be the one to expose Bob Shoop’s genius unit, but they’ll be able to reach the red zone with some frequency.

Where the game gets iffy, as usual, is when the Nittany Lion offense gets involved. The Spartans’ defense is very, very good, and our offense is very, let’s say,… inventive. The 19 points I’m predicting are four Ficken field goals and one gritty, greasy, #attitude touchdown.

This is the last regular season game of my freshman year. It’s definitely been an interesting first season with the team, and the future is looking pretty damn nice. None of that will matter Saturday, though. I know, you know, and the team knows they have what it takes to pull off this win on Senior Day. For Ficken, Hull, Keiser, and the rest of the seniors, let’s go State.

Zach Berger (season record: 0-1): Michigan State 27, Penn State 10

Michigan State has lost to two teams this season — Oregon and Ohio State. Both of those teams are currently ranked in the top six nationally.

The Spartans have an absolutely filthy offense led by prolific quarterback Connor Cook, who hasn’t thrown multiple picks in a game since early September. Cook will be sure to take advantage of the Nittany Lions secondary. Expect a lot of passes thrown to Tony Lippett, who is by far and away the best receiver on the team. Oh, and let’s not forget about Jeremy Langford, who is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has 17 scores on the year.

On defense, Michigan State is again pretty damn dominant, and that doesn’t bode well for a stagnant Penn State offense that struggles to pick up yards through the air or on the ground.

Nothing in the world would make me happier than a Penn State victory to finish the season, but it’ll take a miracle.

Stephane Hardinger (season record: 5-2): Michigan State 23, Penn State 10

One of these teams is good (only losses coming against elite teams in Oregon and Ohio State), and the other one lost at home to Maryland and Northwestern and at Illinois. One of these teams has an explosive offense led by Connor Cook (he of the 21/5 TD/INT ratio), Jeremy Langford (he of the 5.7 yards per carry and 17 TDs), and Tony Lippett (he of the 56 catches, 1071 yards, 10 TDs, and two-way starting ability — seriously. The other has only topped 20 points once in regulation since September. While both teams have good defenses, Penn State’s offense is bad and Michigan State’s offense is good. It sounds childishly simple, but that will be the difference as the Spartans should be able to win in Beaver Stadium relatively comfortably. The environment will likely be more subdued than usual due to the Thanksgiving break, which can only help the visitors. Let’s hope they put us in a decent bowl game.

Noel Purcell (season record: 5-3): Michigan State 40, Penn State 9

It’s gonna be ugly for my last game in the student section, but I’ll enjoy every moment of it.

Tim Gilbert (season record: 7-3): Michigan State 17, Penn State 0

It’s my last game in the student section, at least as an undergraduate, so I’m prone to picking Penn State on blind belief here. But I am so thoroughly unenthusiastic about this team after last week that I’ll do the normal thing and let the tale of the tape guide me. Michigan State is a superior team, playing for a New Year’s Six bowl against a team riddled with question marks. After Illinois, I do not have enough faith in this offense to predict that it scores a lone point against a defense like the Spartans’. The Lions will limp into some shitty bowl game after this loss, meaning Penn State’s worst season since 2004 actually has a chance to be of the winning variety — not that it deserves to be.

Photo by: Bobby Chen

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