Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Michigan State
Penn State is traveling to Michigan State this Saturday for the final game of the regular season. Our staff is fairly certain the No. 5 ranked Spartans will walk away with this land grant victory.
Ben Berkman (season record 10-1): Michigan State 33, Penn State 17
Nearly everything would have to go right for Penn State to have a chance Saturday at Michigan State. All-conference quarterback Connor Cook, currently a game-time decision would need to ruled out. The Spartans, looking ahead to a Big Ten championship showdown with Iowa, would need to come out flat and unprepared. James Franklin would need to manage timeouts and play calling much better than he has the past two weeks – both seemingly winnable losses marred by admittedly awful coaching decisions. And Penn State’s offensive line would need to better protect Christian Hackenberg (who was sacked four times) and open running lanes for Saquon Barkley (whose 14 rushes after his 56-yarder went for a total of 12 yards).
Unfortunately for Penn State, a game in which the Nittany Lions put all of its pieces together, especially on the road against one of the nation’s best teams, has been unachievable this season. It’ll be a 7-5 regular season for Penn State, and a trip to another middle-tier bowl game.
Patrick Koerbler (season record 8-1): Michigan State 30, Penn State 16
Whether or not Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is healthy enough to play, I have a hard time seeing the Nittany Lions pull out a victory. This is a Spartan program that is playing for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game, and then potentially a College Football Playoff berth. Of course, Penn State could come out and James Franklin could actually coach to win the game rather than just trying not to lose it, but that’s ultimately unlikely. Expect the Nittany Lions to keep things reasonably close like they usually do, but for Michigan State to pull away at some point in the third quarter.
Doug Leeson (season record 8-3): Michigan State 31, Penn State 14
Penn State’s defense is still really talented and pretty well managed, but for the third week in a row, it’ll get exposed a few times due to fatigue. That fatigue is a result of the offense getting off the field with drives that last less than a minute and don’t go past three downs (and yes, I just watched the Eagles lose on Thanksgiving because of that same problem).
Michigan State toppled the Buckeyes last week and is now trying to play its way into the Big Ten Championship and eventually the College Football Playoff. Penn State is trying to be in a decent bowl, not a bad one. The Spartans, especially at home, have more to play for which makes this an easy pick.
Another free prediction: The next time we see Penn State, it’ll be in Nashville for the Music City Bowl against Arkansas. Stay tuned for when real bowl destinations are announced December 7.
Jacob Abrams (season record 8-3): Michigan State 30, Penn State 17
At least the Nittany Lions are going bowling. That’s the only positive for Penn State fans as the team heads to East Lansing for its matchup against Michigan State to close out the regular season.
Unfortunately for Penn State, Carl Nassib is shaken up. The former walk-on sensation barely saw he field against Michigan, and it could happen again for the second week in a row. If Nassib is limited, expect the Spartans to take advantage by using the rushing duo of LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes. While the Nittany Lions will still have Zettel and company, Penn State could get burned from the Spartans’ ground attack.
Hackenberg will have to throw a lot in this game in what could be his last for the Nittany Lions. Penn State faces a Michigan State defense that held Ohio State to 86 rushing yards, which could spell trouble for Saquon Barkley. Michigan State’s strong run defense will force John Donovan to go through the air for the majority of the game. Penn State has the weapons to succeed, it just depends if it’ll have the right play calling for a upset win on Saturday.
Ethan Kasales (season record 8-2): Michigan State 34, Penn State 20
Despite the fact that Ohio State fans are cheering the Nittany Lions on to victory this Saturday for likely the first and last time, I just don’t see James Franklin’s squad pulling this one off on the road.
As much as I’d like to think the Penn State offense will be able to turn things around, given the fact that playing conservative serves literally no purpose at this point, I’m fairly certain we’ll see the same puzzling (to put it nicely) vanilla play-calling.
Whether or not Michigan State has QB1 Connor Cook (shoulder injury) under center shouldn’t matter that much, as Mark Dantonio’s fifth-ranked Spartans are simply too good in all three aspects to trip up with a Big Ten Championship Game bid on the line.
Matt Coleman (season record 7-3): Michigan State 35, Penn State 14
Remember how the Temple game was impossibly difficult to watch? This one may be just as difficult. After a devastating loss to Michigan last week which left a sour taste in everybody’s mouth, a loss to Michigan State this week will only make that sour taste worse with the fact that the Nittany Lions lost their last three games.
Let’s face it. Michigan State beat Ohio State last week with a backup quarterback, and whether or not he or Connor Cook play against Penn State, it just doesn’t matter. Both Tyler O’Connor and Connor Cook are capable of beating the Nittany Lions’ defense, and both of them will if they get the chance.
Another great thing Sparty did last week was shut down Ezekiel Elliot. That doesn’t bode well for Saquon Barkley. Without a solid run game established, Michigan State can bank on the fact the game will be on Christian Hackenberg’s right arm the whole time. A few pass rushes on the Nittany Lions’ offensive line will have Hackenberg hitting the ground more than a few times. He’ll be scrambling most of the game, which isn’t his game anyway. Don’t expect much from the offense this week.
This game will be a blowout, and there’s no better way to put that. At least we still have a bowl game to look forward to.