Previewing The Enemy: No. 7 Penn State vs. Michigan State
By: David Abruzzese and Ethan Kasales
Michigan State Offense
Michigan State is nothing to write home about offensively for the most part despite almost knocking off No. 2 Ohio State last weekend in East Lansing.
Senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor’s long wait hasn’t exactly paid dividends. The Lima, Ohio, native’s accounted for 1,852 yards, 16 touchdowns, and nine interceptions on the year, but has struggled to consistently move the chains — especially while under duress. Expect him to be handing the ball off to sophomore sensation LJ Scott with regularity. As the focal point of the offense, Scott’s tallied 935 yards and six touchdowns, and should receive a hefty workload despite likely having to face a loaded box on most occasions. He’s shifty, can take a beating, and holds an extra gear that kicks in once he finds space. He was Ohio State’s Achilles Heel, so expect the focus to be placed on No. 3.
In the receiving game, R.J. Shelton and tight end Josiah Price lead the way along with stud freshman Donnie Corley. Shelton leads the team in yards with 715 and five touchdowns, while the 6-foot-4, 248 pound Price also has five touchdowns to his credit. He’ll be a tough matchup for Manny Bowen, who’ll likely be tasked with guarding the hulking senior. Michigan State struggles up front, which should allow the Lions to pressure O’Connor early and often. But don’t be mistaken — there’s plenty of talent on this team, and there’s a chance it could come alive if the Lions aren’t ready.
Michigan State Defense
Co-defensive coordinators Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel have had a hard time getting much production out of their pass-rushing game this season with only 10 sacks. The graduation of Shilique Calhoun certainly had a hand in said struggles, but the Spartans also lost his heir apparent Malik McDowell to an injury against Illinois three weeks ago and he hasn’t been back in the lineup since. Instead, Michigan State has turned to a pair of freshmen (one true) at defensive tackle in Raequan Williams and one-time Nittany Lion recruiting target Mike Panasiuk.
The Spartans currently rank third in the Big Ten in pass defense behind only Michigan and Ohio State, allowing just 189.8 yards per game through the air. Their veteran secondary deserves plenty of respect from Joe Moorhead and the Nittany Lion receivers, thanks in large part to the play of junior safety and Monroeville Gateway (where Terry Smith coached high school ball) product Montae Nicholson. He’s second on the defense with 78 total tackles, behind only linebacker Chris Frey, who’s been all over the place with 90.
True freshman Justin Layne, a four-star receiver prospect from the Class of 2016, was converted to corner one game into his career, and the move has paid off for both parties. He’s starting opposite senior Darian Hicks, while classmate Donnie Corley is also seeing some time playing both ways. Redshirt senior linebacker Riley Bullough is the heart and soul of this defense, and it certainly runs in the family. His older brother Max, who now plays for the Houston Texans, filled the same role when he was in East Lansing. The youngest brother, Byron, is a redshirt freshman linebacker for the green and white, too. Mark Dantonio’s Spartans have given up 103 points to its opponents in the fourth quarter, while scoring only 59 of its own, heading into Senior Day in Beaver Stadium.